The Three Steps

Recent Posts: The Path of Life Daily Devotions

Matt 16:24-25 NKJV

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Three steps aren’t very many, not at all.  Yet so many will be born into our world, develop from embryo to senior citizen, from the flickering light in their father’s eyes to the last flicker in their own eyes, and never take these steps. Everyone answers the invitation of someone, some leader in their lives who has primary influence, to follow him or her.  Even a rebel will find another rebel to follow. One of the most remarkable themes in the Jesus Story is the readiness of 12 strong men, fishermen, tax collectors, and the like, and an impressive company of women in their prime, to answer Jesus’ call to “Follow me.”  Tax roles and fishing nets, and we know not what other implements of a productive life, were abandoned when these men and women heard the call of Jesus.

In Matthew 16, the account of this former tax official, we see more detail of what it meant and what it cost to agree to answer this simple call to a not-so-simple life. Let’s look at the whole passage:

Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

Matthew 16:24-27 NKJV

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26)

There is no ambiguity here or hidden meaning.  These are the three steps to life, a meaningful, impactful life here on earth, and to a peaceful, eternal adventure in the world to come.

Step One: Deny Yourself
This certainly is not the starting place we would choose.  Contemporary culture is tuned to a different standard pitch.  Secular educators, artists of all secular media, and it seems all the influences with the scopes of their weapons trained on us, are demanding that we put ourselves on the throne of our hearts and our own emotional inventories into the reference library of our minds.  I have lost count of how many times I have heard “news people” tenderly ask their interviewees “How did that make you feel?”  So, instead of taking bold, reasonable steps to a future of use and joy, we are instructed to bounce from urge to emotion, setting our life’s course by the shining stars of our imagination. Our instructors are celebrities whose looks are more important to us than any art they may produce.  As I stated in my essay on the sins of our nation, feelings have replaced facts in our thinking.[1]

“What’s wrong with that?” You may ask,  “Don’t my feelings count?”  We are witnessing the choices of a generation who have been trained at every stage of life to let their feelings guide them. To them delayed gratification is fool’s folly.  Yes, our feelings count but we must hold them on a lower shelf than truth.  What is more fleeting than our feelings? We don’t even examine what the source of our strong emotions might be.  If we subscribe to the illogical theology that the hearts of people are primarily good, we must realize even then that we don’t even know the source of our ever-present inner drives and our rotating, random impulses.  Why would we chart our life’s course by these flickering stars in their dubious courses?

Jesus, master of all the stars, provides us with the first of the three steps to a better life—“Deny yourself!” He is saying, “Face it—your feelings are simply unreliable!”  So much of the amazing confusion in our world today is the result of people faithfully denying revealed truth and embracing tempting, temporary impulses.  This is the source of gender confusion and the elevation of sexual desire to become the purpose and reward of life.  In the 1960s, the theme of my generation was, “If it feels good, do it!” I was surrounded by this “liberating” mantra in my college days. Looking back over these 50+ years, it is impossible to calculate the carnage wrought by such a philosophy.  Today the idea seems to be, “If I want this so much, it must be right for me.”  Supposed Christ-followers will confess, “If I want it so much, it must be God’s will for me.” Really, this is just a new stanza to an old, old anthem, first heard in a serpentine song in the Garden of Eden.

The first step toward a life in Christ is to deny ourselves.
We must face the fact of our fallenness.  Our feelings and our inmost desires are simply not to be trusted.  They make up the sand that Jesus warned about in the Sermon on the Mount.[2]  We can build our lives there but the inevitable storms with crashing waves, vicious winds, and driving rains are too strong for such poorly constructed dwellings.  Jesus said His life and Word were rocks solid enough to build upon. There will still be storms and winds and rains, but they will not bring down a life built on Him. [3]

If we really, really want something, that doesn’t make that thing good.  We are fallen creatures and that includes our dreams and impulses.  How can we tell the true from the false, the good from the terrible?  That is why we have the Word of God.  It is not the latest self-help book on the NYTimes bestseller list.  For all the centuries since the storms on Mt. Sinai, these words have guided believers to successful, joyful living even as they have warned of the folly of unbelief.  Take a look at the record of history.  God’s Word works!  Now in my 70s, I can look back on the lives of my grandparents, parents, siblings, and contemporaries, and observe the lives of my children and grandchildren to see a multigenerational witness to the strength of the Rock, Christ Jesus, and the dependable veracity of the Word of God.  Denial of my selfish impulses is a small price to pay for the peace and productivity of a life in Jesus.   Still, there is another step that we must take.

Step Two: Take Up Your Cross
I believe Jesus is referring to the surrendered life, not to a physical execution.  Just as the Cross was the Father’s will for Jesus, in the words of Jesus, “your cross,” refers to God’s plan for your life.  None of us walks this earth without a destiny God the Father has planned us for and equipped us for.  The “crucified life” is a biblical image for surrendering our life to the will of God and it is full of meaning for each of us.  In every age of the church, following Jesus has cost the earthly life of some believers.  The word “martyr” has its roots in the word “witness.”  These heroes of the faith speak to us from eternity to the veracity of the faith.  To “lose our life” in Jesus today is to find it forever.

To “take up your cross,” simply means to discover God’s plan for your life and build your life through the disciplines demanded by it.  Two passages of scripture speak to me of this:

Psalm 16:11 NKJV

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Ephesians 2:10 NKJV

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The Second step toward a life in Christ is to find God’s will and start doing it.
To take up your cross is to find your Path of Life and to get on the road to a life in Christ. We are each of us His handiwork created with a divine work planned especially for us by the Lord Himself.  On this path, we travel from assignment to assignment, from work to work that He has prepared in advance for us before we even came to exist. Another joy of this season of life for me is to see opportunities present themselves to me today that began in the heart of God for me 50 or more years ago!  On this path of life, we make lifelong friends, fellow cross-bearers with whom we are bonded spiritually.  Yes, it begins with self-denial, but this life continues in self-fulfillment as the will of God for us comes to fruition in a life of productivity and joy.  Now, on to Step Three.

Step Three: Follow Me!
Sometimes unthinking Christians attempt to live the Christian life according to the wisdom of man and not the truth of God.  It is likely that they do this without realizing.  As we study the Gospels, we find a Jesus who is constantly telling us how this life should be lived.  Jude advises us to pay attention to the truth once delivered to the saints.

Jude 3 KJV

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Paul warns the Galatians of the danger of attempting a spiritual life by natural means.

Galatians 3:3-4; 5:24-26 NKJV

Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This is exactly what it means to follow Jesus.

  • Consume His words.
  • Obey His commands.
  • Live the spiritual life He demonstrated for us.

Call this “holiness” or “integrity” or “wisdom,” fine. They are all accurate terms, but the main thing is

  • to follow His words,
  • to walk as He walked,
  • To exercise the disciplines He chose, and
  • To demonstrate both truth and compassion the way He did.

It is not some passive aggressive, weak-kneed lifestyle. It is humility or meekness which is defined in scripture as “strength under control.” It means to attempt the impossible demands of the Sermon on the Mount every day,

  • always turning the other cheek,
  • forgiving the unworthy,
  • loving and praying for your enemies,
  • refusing to entertain lustful thoughts, and
  • telling the whole truth,
  • all while holding a lighted candle in this dark and foreboding world.

This is not a life for the weak of heart but for the meek in spirit, like a champion knight fresh from a victory kneeling before his king, like a mighty steed clad in armor prancing with energy under the control of his beloved knight holding the reins—strength under control.  This is the Christ-life.  Step Three? Hear the voice of Jesus, “Follow ME.”

The third step toward a life in Christ is to focus on Jesus.
Come on! Be brave! Shrink from the pallid philosophies that shade our times and choose the deep, colorful hues of the Jesus-life.  Deny yourself. Take up your cross, and follow Him.

Semper Reformanda!

Stephen Phifer

© 2023 by Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved


[2] Matt 7:26-27 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” NKJV

[3] Matt 7:24-25 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. NKJV

The Three Steps

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.