In western society the term 'Christian' has become very loose. For many people being a Christian seems to simply mean that they go to church on Sunday, or they occasionally pray, or maybe that they simply believe in God. In the Bible the word Christian was actually rarely used, but instead other terms were often used for those we now name 'christian'.
One common term was 'Followers of the Way', other people used the term witness. Probably the most common term for those who we now call Christians was disciples. Disciple simply means follower, in other words a follower of Christ. As Christians this background is important because in order to truly understand what it means to be a Christian we need to understand what it means to be a true follower of Christ. We need to understand what it truly means to follow Jesus and what that requires of us.
Throughout the Gospels we see over and over again when Jesus calls out to people with two simple words, "Follow me!", but there is one moment, recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus describes in more detail what it actually means to follow Him. Jesus says “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)
So what does it mean to be a true follower of Christ? It means, first of all, that we deny our self, say no to our own desires and needs. This alone causes things to be a bit more difficult because He is saying that we should look to others before ourself. Secondly Jesus takes it a step further by saying that we have to take up our cross. To take up a cross is the ultimate sacrifice. In Jesus' day the cross was the worst, most humiliating type of death.
Of course it meant you were going to die, but it meant much more than that. Jesus is saying that we have to not only say no to our desires, in denying ourself, but we must also lay our lives on the line. We must be ready for total death to ourself. Jesus promises in the next verse that he who lays down his life will find it. In other words, to find the true life that Christ offers we must first die to ourselves.
In other words the requirements to be a true follower of Christ are much higher than what we normally see. It is more than just going to church once a week or simply saying the occasional prayer. Being a true follower of Christ means to change our entire lifestyle. It means to change the way we act, think and speak. In order to be a follower of Jesus we need to change our entire life, dying to who we used to be, and becoming a new person. This takes commitment and sacrifice and it is not easy. Too often we have undersold the Gospel. We have tried to make it easy in order to convince others to accept it, but it's not easy.
Jesus made it clear from the beginning that it wasn't easy. He never begged anyone to follow Him, in fact He actually turned people away when their heart wasn't right. So check your heart, are you ready for this kind of commitment? Are you ready to give it all?