I am in my fifth decade of being a Christ follower. In those 50 plus years I have heard scores and scores of preachers and Bible teachers talk about the meaning Jesus had in mind when he in three of the gospels in the Bible (Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14:27) was quoted as saying something about his followers bearing a cross.
It is true that each of us who will follow Christ has a cross to bear. What is in question is not “if” Jesus’ disciples are to bear a cross but “what” is that cross? The answers I have heard range from migraine headaches, to mean mothers-in-law, to some physical impairment. I believe the majority view is that the cross Christ had in mind for believers to bear is some burden, something that makes life somewhat more difficult. While this explanation is quite popular it is absolutely untrue!
In the Bible the word “cross” when used as a noun has but one meaning, death! There is not one mention of “cross” in the Bible that has any other meaning. The Roman cross had only one use, the crucifixion of the worst lot of criminals. So, a legitimate question might be, “Royce, are you saying Christ wants his followers to die?” That is precisely what I am saying. God used the Apostle Paul to give meaning to the relationship of the cross to the believer.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Christ does not allow for divided loyalties in his people. He calls us to die for him, every day.
The death of self will, the death of self worth, and the death of self-righteousness are some of the results of taking up one’s cross. Only by our understanding and appropriation of the cross of Christ can we become the disciples Jesus desires.
The idea is conveyed in many contexts in the Bible. For example in Romans 12:1 and following is the picture of a believer placing his own body of the alter as a sacrifice. Then in Romans 6 there is the beautiful teaching about baptism that pictures a follower of Jesus joining him in death. The one who is immersed is saying “I am dying to my old life of living my life my way and I am being raised to live life God’s way”.
The “old man” does not go down easily. It would be simple if the “old man” we symbolically put to death in the waters of baptism would stay dead. But, we each know from experience he does not stay dead very long. So, the Apostle says,
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)
Since we still live in bodies of flesh the old man is not really dead, we must “consider” him dead, or as some translations put it, “reckon” him dead. We must purposefully live as if the old person is dead. And, if we would be true disciples, we must do the exercise every day of our lives on earth. Again, we can learn from Paul.
I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! (1 Corinthians 15:31)
This is what Jesus had in mind when he said these words.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
One of our greatest mistakes as followers of Jesus is that we give much attention to our “doing” and precious little to our “dying“. My hope is that each of us will understand that until we get our “dying” right our “doing” means little. In a very real sense, only those who die for Jesus can really live for him.