Most of us are familiar with Jesus telling us to “take up our cross and follow me” but what does that mean? I have heard this explained as picking up the weaknesses that we don’t confront in our lives, to lay our strengths down and trust in God, to make ourselves transparent to others, to simply follow God, to suffer hardships or burdens, or to prepare for persecution, or to put God first. What I feel answers this question the best, and has always been my belief, is to die to self.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24
Historically speaking what did it mean to carry a cross during the time of Jesus? We don’t even need Google to answer that question. If you carried a cross then it meant you were going to your death. Those that Jesus was speaking to knew that and most likely even witnessed it themselves. It’s not a metaphor, there is no hidden meaning, Jesus is speaking about dying, not just death but death to self. Our cross is death to self, our will, and our wants, our own interest’s, our own sin. So to follow Him we must carry our own cross, which is something that He did himself. Philippians 2:1-8 speaks about God setting aside His Glory and His Power to bear His cross.
We have such a hard time with the minor distractions in life, let alone with the serious issues with sin that strike at our hearts. I think this is why we must take up our cross daily. It’s the willingness to give these things up that mean more to God than the actual handing them over. When we identify with the death of Jesus, our self is put to death. The difficult part is we continue to jump down from the cross and leap back on the throne of our lives. While writing this it’s hard not to think about the struggle that Paul speaks about in Romans.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:18-25
The cross means we must put to death our old nature.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:1-8
If then you have been raised with Christ, seekthe things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your lifeappears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:1-5
The only way we can experience life is by dying to self. A committed disciple is one who dies to self-daily. A committed disciple is not ruled by their will, their wants, their own interest’s, or their sin. A committed disciple is not perfect but it does mean that their heart is different. And their motives are becoming more Christ like; we aren’t focused on pleasing ourselves but on pleasing God. Christ wants to fill us with His love, His patience, His forgiveness, His peace, His wisdom, but that can only happen when we die to self.
I came across a couple of questions in a study I have been doing and think they are questions we should all be asking ourselves as committed disciples:
“There is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life. Following Jesus will cost you something. Following Jesus always costs something. Has following Jesus cost you anything? How has following Jesus interfered with your life?” (taken from the book: Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman)