Occasionally I read commentary in social medias (like Facebook) and come away with material for a blog. This is one of those instances. Recently I happened upon a posting that suggested we spend too much effort in denying ourselves and taking up crosses, when all we really should be doing is focusing on following Jesus. The poster continued that by merely following Christ, the first two actions would take care of themselves.
At first glance it seems to make a bit of sense, but then the Holy Spirit steps in and reminds us that there’s one huge problem with the concept:
“It’s not what Jesus told us to do.”
So the question then becomes what was Jesus talking about when He referenced denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily? Let’s look at the verse in context.
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:21-24
Without rehashing the entire episode, Peter had not yet grasped the Spiritual doctrine of self-denial and taking up a personal cross; his actions demonstrate this reality, and the words of Jesus confirm it (in Peter’s defense, Jesus had not yet gone to the cross, but let’s not digress). Peter still had an emotional foot in the world which caused him to utter nonsensical things. Peter’s world-based emotions had gotten the better of him. Our heart aches for Peter, because whether we realize or not, we can relate to the character flaw.
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:25-26
Denying ourselves speaks to repentance; that is the turning away from our illicit, worldly pursuits, and turning towards Jesus. It’s the attitude of being all in for Jesus and it envelops the idea of dying to ourselves and reckoning our ‘old man’ to be dead. The Apostle Paul wrapped-up the doctrine tidily when he wrote:
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24
In the Ephesians passage we clearly see what self-denial of the holy sort is supposed to look like. No longer do we walk like the rest of the world; that path is the way of darkness. We put off that sinful, corruptible conduct of our old ways (our old man), and put on the behavior of the new man; that which was not accomplished by human hands, but created by His hands. Nowhere in God’s word are we counseled to bypass this step in order to simplify the process of following Jesus. We cannot for it’s the very thing Jesus told us to do. And just so we’re clear, it’s not our work, it’s an acknowledgment and reception of His work.
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
Our Daily Cross
The notion of taking up our cross encompasses all the elements of self-denial, but without the toil. As we know, Jesus finished all the work, and it’s there for us to receive by faith. The daily hoisting of our cross involves remembering daily that which Christ has already done. We remember both His crucifixion and resurrection, and yes, our own baptism.
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” Revelation 2:5
For me, it typically occurs every morning before my feet hit the floor. In one sense it’s Holy Communion, but without the bread and the grape juice. I remember what Christ did, why He did it, my receiving of it, and my gratitude to Him for it. I also remind myself that my old man has been crucified and is now powerless over me. Oh he still may taunt and tempt me, but he has no hold on me. I then ask the Father for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit to instruct me, guide me, and empower me to do His will. Essentially I remember to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is my reasonable service (as per Romans 12:1).
I liken self-denial and hoisting a daily cross to making sure my parachute is on securely each and every day. In contrast, following Jesus without doing these things is akin to believing in parachutes, but refusing to put one on.
At the end of the day just remember, the reason Christians spend so much time denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus is because Jesus told us to.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
These articles may or may not be related:
- Picking Up the Cross Daily (inspirationalchristiansfortoday.com)
- Following Jesus, On His Terms, Pastor Boaz Olang (magnifyhisword.wordpress.com)
- I have come to call sinners (pbsministries.wordpress.com)
- Luke 9:28-36 (arietta18.wordpress.com)
- Uncomfortable Christianity (annawood.wordpress.com)
- How To Be Courageous For Christ (jasonneilsoto.com)
- A Broken Spirit (whitestonecommunity.wordpress.com)
- Regrets (faithfulgal.wordpress.com)
- The Passion of the Christ (christiansread.wordpress.com)
- Letter from Peter – A Devotion (lthomason.wordpress.com)
If you enjoyed the blog please like it, share it, subscribe to it, or comment on it. I read and respond to every posted comment. God’s blessings!