Take up the Cross Daily
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. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”(Luke 9:23-25)
It is interesting that Jesus says this to His disciples even before He goes to the cross Himself. Even so, the point would not have been lost on them, for they would have already been familiar with crucifixion. They would have known crucifixion to have been a horrific, humiliating, and shameful death. It was reserved for the criminal, the slave, the lowest of society. It was a form of suffering that no one would have ever wanted.
Yet Jesus tells His disciples to take up the cross daily. While crucifixion was considered inappropriate for the Roman citizen, here is a sense in which Jesus is saying that crucifixion is not only appropriate but is the expected norm for anyone who will be a heavenly citizen following Him. What does it mean?
Taking up the cross is directly tied here to self-denial. Jesus indicates that denying self is essentially putting self to death so that we might live for Him: “whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” It takes putting death to self in order to become alive. It’s an irony that is foundational to being Christians.
Taking up the cross daily, then, is not just about bearing occasional burdens. As human beings, we all have burdens to bear that are peculiar to our circumstances. This could be a sickness or a financial difficulty. But that is not the point Jesus is making. He is talking about something that is voluntarily taken up for Him, not something that just happens to us. We must decide to take up the cross, and the risk is that if we can voluntarily take it up, we can also lay it down. If we do lay it down, the reason will be that we have decided that we did not want to deny ourselves. We instead decided that will save our lives our own way and seek to live according to our own desires and preferences.
Serving Christ, however, requires that we deny ourselves, and Scripture is clear on this:
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).
“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
“So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach…” (Heb 13:13).
True discipleship begins with self-denial. Coordinate with that is the idea that we are putting others first:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3-4).
Jesus is the supreme example of 1) taking up a cross, and 2) putting others first. Therefore, Paul continues, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5). We cannot say that we are following Christ if we refuse to deny self and if we refuse to put others before ourselves.
We are taught in our culture to fight for our rights, to take care of “number one” (self), and to make sure no one can take advantage of us. We need to ask, however, where the cross is in these attitudes. If I am to crucify self, then it cannot be all about what I want or how I feel. Walking according to love requires that we are doing for others what is best for them rather than for “me” (cf. Rom 14:15). If we think this is difficult … it is. Taking up the cross of self-denial is not going to be a walk in the park.
Is it worth it? Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Our salvation will not come because we fought for self. It will come because self was denied, the cross was taken up, and we have gone outside the camp to bear the reproach of Christ. This is our daily choice.