Take Up Your Cross Daily

Becoming a Christian is conditional. Not everyone can do it. Well…that’s not quite accurate. Anyone can, but not everyone will. The condition, Scripture tells us, is our response to God:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

As I understand the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s pronouncement, crowds and crowds had begun to follow Him. Jesus, of course, was preaching and healing, but then there was that day when they followed Him into the wilderness. As time wore on, it was apparent the people needed to eat. Because of Jesus’s care and compassion, He multiplied the few loaves of bread and a smaller number of fish so that everyone in the crowd had more than enough to eat, with considerable left over.

So who wouldn’t want to come after Jesus? I mean, free food, guys. And he tells stories.

Jesus was responding to the “we love him because he gives us stuff” mentality. You know, the way people used to react to Oprah when she would give everyone in the studio audience a car. It’s a sure way to become a popular talk-show host.

But that was not on Jesus’s agenda. He didn’t come to entertain or to make people comfortable or to give them their best life now. With apologies to believers who have been told otherwise, He didn’t. He said so Himself. Jesus is the “He” in the Luke passage above, and Mark tells us He summoned the crowd with His disciples and then laid it out for them: here are the conditions. You want to come after me, you need to do these things: deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

I left out a part. Between feeding the 5000-plus people, Jesus told His disciples He was going to die. That he’d suffer many things, be rejected by the Jewish leaders, and be killed. After which, He’d rise on the third day.

Then He said, Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.

These are not “your best life now” statements.

Deny yourself and take up your cross daily seem to be Jesus’s way of strengthening His point as opposed to saying two different things. The idea is, choose the way of death to self—because the cross meant only one thing: execution.

Denying self (not self-denial) and taking up our cross means self is no longer god. Self no longer rules. Self no longer dictates. Rather, we are to follow Jesus, to imitate Him as He bowed to God’s will and gave Himself up for us all.

Of course, some have no wish to come after Jesus. I remember Christopher Hitchens during his debate with William Lane Craig saying if God was like the Old Testament described Him, he wanted nothing to do with Him. I’ve heard other people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven with a God like the Bible portrays.

These are people who have no interest in coming after Jesus.

But there are others who want the perks, who want to be in the crowd. They may actually think they are one of Jesus’s people. They hang with Him on Sunday and even put a little something into the offering plate every once in a while. This kind of generous giving, they’ve been told, will reap huge benefits down the line.

But none of it is a response to Jesus.

It’s just a way of manipulating Him—or trying to. Jesus won’t be manipulated. And He won’t share His throne. We have to get out of His way—deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

It has to be daily because we have a habit of crawling back up on that throne at the first opportunity. I’ll trust God happily . . . until my car breaks down. Or I lose my job. Or I’m diagnosed with cancer. Or I don’t get the book contract I expected. Or my computer gets hacked. Or . . . or . . . or . . .

The fact is, we’d really rather have it our way—easy, comfortable, no suffering. We don’t want the ground to be full of thorns and thistles. We don’t want to have to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow. Life is hard. Who can fault us for wanting just a little of the good life instead of suffering and service and sacrifice.

But, if we want to come after Jesus, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily. Then and only then can we follow Him. There’s no straddling the fence here—denying self on Sunday or taking up our cross once a week. We’re actually making a decision who we want to follow. We can follow our own little demigod way of doing things, or we can put our sinful self to death and follow Christ.

Paul says we are to put aside the things that mark the sons of disobedience (Col. 3:5-10)

To the Romans he said,

The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Don’t be confused. The Christian life is not some sort of ascetic way of living. “Putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t mean living by a list of rules. It means living for a new King, one we desperately want to please. It’s not burdensome because hearing Him say, Well done, good and faithful servant is the greatest joy.

If I pat myself on the back and say, Good job, Becky, people might say, Well, at least she has self-confidence. But if a publisher or a NYT best-selling author says, Good job, Becky, their praise holds some weight,

God’s “Well done” is like that, only more so. But we’ll never get there without first denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Jesus.

Published in: on July 28, 2015 at 7:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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