At the end of Mark 8, Jesus teaches us plainly about the distinguishing characteristics of His true followers. He draws a line in the sand, and His words should convict all of us and cause us to examine our hearts.
The conversation begins when He states plainly what is ahead for Him. He will “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). This upsets Peter terribly. He has grown to love Jesus, but I believe he is also upset because this doesn’t fit his picture of the Messiah. Until they watched Jesus ascend back into heaven after His resurrection, the disciples were still hoping He was going to take His place on a physical throne and rule like the King they wanted Him to be.
Peter has the audacity to rebuke God’s Son for this idea that He would be killed. It’s at this point Jesus reveals what it means to truly follow Him. He rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33). He goes on to describe the life of a follower – to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and lose our life for the sake of the gospel (Mark 8:34-37). He concludes with a chilling warning: If we are ashamed of Jesus and His words in this life, He will be ashamed of us when He returns (Mark 8:38).
The phrase “set your mind” is the Greek word phroneō. Strong’s defines it as to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication, to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensively, to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience):—set the affection on, to regard, savor, or think.
How much do we think about the things that concern God in comparison to the things that concern ourselves?
How much we think of God is directly related to what we are willing to give up or suffer for Him, and how prevalent the gospel is in our thoughts.
It’s not natural to think about God. Our human nature is bent towards self. Following Jesus requires us to set aside what comes naturally – the physical, and instead, seek God’s help to center our lives on what concerns Him – the spiritual.
I find it helpful to consider the verb tense in Jesus’ command to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. “Deny” and “take up” are aorist tense, meaning a simple action in the future. “Follow” is present tense, indicating continuous future action.
Every day we are presented with opportunities to either deny ourselves and spend our time and money and energy on things that God is concerned about, or give in to our natural, human desires to focus on ourselves and what satisfies our flesh. As we choose moment by moment to deny self and take up our cross (a simple action), we will follow Jesus (a continuous walk in the same direction).
Obviously, none of us do this perfectly, but as we grow in faith it will become more natural to set our minds on God’s interest and feel more uncomfortable and unnatural to think so much and so highly about ourselves. This is a distinguishing mark of a true follower of Jesus.