“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
I will never forget when Jefferson spoke to me for the first time. It was my first day of active duty. I was supposed to go to Fort Benning in Georgia for Army Basic Training, but there was a clerical error and instead, I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
I was bused to Fort Knox with a group of recruits. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we were escorted by screaming Drill Sergeants to a large warehouse building. We were told to take off our civilian clothes and put them in a bag. As we stood there in our underwear, a corporal came by and handed us a uniform.
After we dressed, we were marched to get a haircut from barbers whose only cutting tools were electric shavers. We left the barbershop hairless as an egg and marched to our barracks. One of our sergeants yelled, “All you maggots stink! Get in the showers now!” After an ice-cold shower, we were herded into a small room with instructions to sit and wait.
We were sitting on a cold tile floor, dressed in the same uniform, our heads bald, our bodies blue from an icy shower, and afraid to move a muscle without being told to do so.
It was then, Jefferson spoke. He was sitting on the floor beside me when he nudged me and asked, “Who did you used to be?” His question made me laugh and we became lifelong friends.
When Jefferson asked, “Who did you used to be?” he was asking, “Who were you in your life before the army?” Army life is designed to break down your individuality and build you up as part of a team. When I enlisted in the army, I began a training process to become a soldier.
It’s the same in the Lord’s army. When I gave my life to Christ, I began a training process to become a Christian. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” The Lord’s life was one of self-denial and suffering, which is difficult to follow. But to be His disciple, we too are called to put aside selfish desires and pick up spiritual burdens every day – serving others first instead of ourselves, for example – as we closely follow Him.
The point is: Like an army recruit, Jesus calls us to put away who we used to be and follow Him. The task is great, but it’s eternally rewarding. When you lose your life for Christ, you start really living.
Do you need a new you? Are you willing to take up your cross and follow the Lord in self-denial? Let Jesus recruit you into His army. Put your faith in Christ and follow Him as Lord. Who knows? Perhaps someone will notice the change in you and ask, “Who did you used to be?”
James Collins is the pastor of Fort Scott’s First Southern Baptist Church. For more information on his ministry, go to the website www.fortscottfsbc.com.