Jesus was never guilty of false advertising. No one is duped into discipleship because Christ tells us exactly what are are signing up for. When people said they would follow him wherever he went, Jesus responded, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Lk. 9:57-62). In effect, he was saying, "Are you sure about that? Because once you start following me, your life is going to change and there is no turning back." With Jesus, it's all or nothing.
On several occasions, Jesus explicitly told his closest followers what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He would suffer, die, and then be raised from the dead. This fate was unthinkable and completely incongruous to their expectations of the Messiah (Mt. 16:21-23). Nevertheless, having made it clear that there would be no cross-less Christ, Jesus then went on to tell them there would be no cross-less Christians either (Mt. 16:24-27).
THE DEMANDS OF DISCIPLESHIP - (Matthew 16:24)
Jesus first tells those who want to follow him that we must deny ourselves. Not deny ourselves things, mind you (this is asceticism Col. 2:23), but deny ourselves. This voluntary dethroning of self and surrendering to Christ as one's sole authority is the first step in becoming a disciple (Mt. 28:18; Gal. 2:20).
He then tells potential disciples that we must carry our cross. This is not suffering the minor discomforts of everyday life, as in the modern phrase "we all have our cross to bear." It was customary for victims of Roman crucifixion to carry the instrument of their death to the place of execution (Mt. 27:32). It was a one-way trip. Jesus was speaking of a choice of death as a way of life. To bear one's cross is to consciously die to all forms of selfishness and sin (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).
Then we must follow our Lord. As Jesus is not only our teacher but our also example (1 Pet. 2:21), a "disciple" is not just a learner but also a follower. The verb "follow" indicates continuance ("keep on following me"; cf. Lk. 9:23). Becoming a disciple means leaving everything else behind to follow Jesus everyday (Lk. 14:33).
The demands of discipleship may seem too heavy to bear but they aren't! Granted, Jesus is demanding everything we have to give (Mt. 13:44-46), but once we recognize the weight of the cross he bore on our behalf (1 Pet. 2:24), our burden is light and easy by comparison (Mt. 11:30).
THE REWARDS OF DISCIPLESHIP - (Matthew 16:25-27)
A great paradox of discipleship is that in renouncing our life for Christ's sake, we actually find our life! When choosing self over others, we think we are acting in our own best interest, when just the opposite is the case. Self-sacrifice governed the life of Jesus and resulted in eternal life. So it will be for all those who follow his example.
By living as a disciple, we also save our soul. Our soul, or our inner life, is our most prized possession. Jesus says that not even the entire world could compensate for losing it, perhaps because this world will pass away (1 Jn. 2:15-17) whereas one's soul will live on. Jesus refused to sell his soul for the world (Mt. 4:8-9) and compels his disciples to count the cost and make the same choice.
The final motivation Christ gives for following him is that we will meet our God. If the way of the cross seems severe, it helps to remember that a day is coming when Christ will return as Judge and hold the entire world to account (Mt. 25:31ff). Because this is so, choosing to be a disciple also means escaping God's just judgment and receiving his gift of grace and eternal life instead (Rom. 6:23).
The rewards of discipleship may seem too good to be true but they aren't! The grace and eternal life available to disciples of Jesus is very real. Remember, there is no false advertising with Jesus. He wants us to weigh the cost of following him and choose life (Lk. 14:23-33). Those who have reservations about this commitment or find ways to justify their rejection of Christ engineer their own destruction. Those who count the cost and unreservedly follow Jesus will find their lives, save their souls, and meet their God as his forgiven, beloved children.