“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.” (Mt 16:24 AV)
On one of the discussion boards I browse through, I noticed a comment by a hard determinist (extremist in my view) who made a bold statement regarding this passage. He indicated that Arminians use this verse to somehow justify a free will mindset focused on doing good works. The comment struck me as uniquely ignorant of how Arminians and most of the body of Christ view this passage. Of course there are variations upon this theme and differences in how the verse should be applied to us. However, I have never conversed with a fellow Arminian who viewed the passage as focused on works born out of our “free will”.
I have been churched with the understanding that to deny oneself is to deny the flesh or the ways of the world or perhaps our own notions of what is good and pleasing to the LORD. Upon denying self, we embrace Christ and Him crucified, hence the cross reference made by Christ. We essentially become sacrificed to what is good and Holy, that being Jesus.
John Wesley offered the following comment on this verse in his Explanatory Notes.
If any man be willing to come after me – None is forced; but if any will be a Christian, it must be on these terms, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross – A rule that can never be too much observed: let him in all things deny his own will, however pleasing, and do the will of God, however painful. Should we not consider all crosses, all things grievous to flesh and blood, as what they really are, as opportunities of embracing God’s will at the expense of our own? And consequently as so many steps by which we may advance toward perfection? We should make a swift progress in the spiritual life, if we were faithful in this practice. Crosses are so frequent, that whoever makes advantage of them, will soon be a great gainer. Great crosses are occasions of great improvement: and the little ones, which come daily, and even hourly, make up in number what they want in weight. We may in these daily and hourly crosses make effectual oblations of our will to God; which oblations, so frequently repeated, will soon amount to a great sum. Let us remember then (what can never be sufficiently inculcated) that God is the author of all events: that none is so small or inconsiderable, as to escape his notice and direction. Every event therefore declares to us the will of God, to which thus declared we should heartily submit. We should renounce our own to embrace it; we should approve and choose what his choice warrants as best for us. Herein should we exercise ourselves continually; this should be our practice all the day long. We should in humility accept the little crosses that are dispensed to us, as those that best suit our weakness. Let us bear these little things, at least for God’s sake, and prefer his will to our own in matters of so small importance. And his goodness will accept these mean oblations; for he despiseth not the day of small things.