Take Up Your Cross
By Mary Kroeger
In Matthew 16:24 we read the following surprising statement. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’" These instructions are also recorded in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23, so they must be important.
In these passages Jesus is talking about the conditions that have to be met if anyone wishes to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is a high calling, for He is the way, the truth and the life! He is the only way out of the death humanity is in, for we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23) Without receiving the truth that Christ is, we remain unaware of the deception that is in the carnal mind and of our true state of being.
Christ came to bring us into life – a life in which there is no imperfection, no death! But the conditions that have to be met to come into life do not look attractive to us. Physically, we sometimes need surgery to regain our health. We don’t look forward to the surgery, but to the health we hope we can again enjoy! Spiritually speaking, we need to look beyond the cost, and by faith catch a glimpse of the beauty of the life in which there is no darkness and no death! When our eyes are opened to the unseen realm, we see the glory, the gain, and the wonderful riches that ours in Christ! We see His limitless love, grace, mercy and forgiveness! We are astounded by His great redemption, the vastness of His wisdom, knowledge, and humility! His victory over death has given Him a name (meaning nature) that is above every other name! He now has all authority! The very amazing thing is that He wants to share all that spiritual wealth with us, and wants each of us to be an image of Himself!
For this transformation to take place, we have to be disciples of Jesus Christ! We have to take up our cross and follow Him! That does not sound exciting. We picture ourselves with a heavy cross on our backs. Do we want that? We want to follow Christ – but the cross? How does the joy of the Lord fit in with carrying a cross? Have you ever felt like overlooking these demanding verses as I have? But they continue to stare at us.
So what did Jesus mean when He said that we are to pick up our cross and follow Him? He was not speaking of carrying a cross for someone else. He said “your” cross. We are to pick up OUR cross! It is not a cross laid on us by others! It is not a cross that is forced on us. We pick it up willingly because we want the joy of being His disciple and getting to be like He is!
What does a cross signify? A heavy load? Sickness or difficult circumstances? What did the people in Jesus time realize when they saw someone carrying a cross? It was the evidence that he had been given a death sentence – even a very hard and painful death! He was not on the cross, but he was carrying the evidence of having been given a death sentence.
What a graphic picture of a spiritual truth! In order to follow Christ, we have to pick up our own death sentence to doing our own will! This includes all our self-centeredness, our ego, all the lusting of the eyes, the lusting of the flesh, and the pride of life!! To follow Christ, we have to do what He tells us to do. It is impossible to obey our carnal mind and follow Christ at the same time! In order to follow Him, we have to be completely committed to doing what He tells us to do! This is not a forced obedience; it is simply a law, like the law of gravity. If something is dropped, it falls down. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all that is born of the lie, but dressed in robes that please the ego, have to receive a death sentence! Carrying his cross, symbolizing our death sentence on all carnal thinking, is simply a condition that has to be met in order to be a disciple of Jesus Christ! We pick it up willingly because we realize that Christ’s will for us is better than our own will, even though our will constantly appears to be more glamorous! Its appearance hides the fact that it functions completely in the death realm.
By picking up our cross, our death sentence on our self-will and all self-effort for righteousness, we come into life! In life we walk in obedience to Christ’s directives and in agreement with Him!
Christ demonstrated a life of obedience! He only did what the Father showed Him to do – not more and not less! He never did His own will! He even embraced the will of the Father in becoming the sacrificial Lamb that takes away the sin of the whole world!
Now He is crowned Lord and King of all, having all authority, and having a name that is higher than any other name!
A cross signifies a hard death! In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus faced the climax of His journey on earth. He had always followed the Father’s directives. Now He was called to an obedience too deep for our understanding! He had to experience the cruelest death humanity could inflict on Him, while at the same time, be the perfect Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the whole world! To remain pure, His thought life would have to remain pure! Throughout the ordeal He kept His thought life filled with love, grace and forgiveness! He did not allow any angry thoughts about the disgrace, pain, humiliation and injustice he had to endure fill His mind! No wonder Jesus found it so hard to submit to all this! He even sweat drops of blood before He could say, “Not My will but Yours be done."
In our own garden of Gethsemane we will never have to endure what Christ endured in order to be our Savior, Redeemer and Lord! He has promised to be with us always! His resurrection power is working in us to give us the victory over self! To walk in victory, we have to pick up that invisible cross of death to all confidence in self-effort and walk in the faith of our wonderful Savior!
Picking up our cross to self-effort is the evidence that our trust is now in Jesus Christ! He has proved His ability and trustworthiness! His love, grace, power, ability and forgiveness have no limits! As we pick up and carry the death sentence to all the lies we thought were truth, we come into life!
There is no death in the life that Christ is, except the death to sin! (Rom. 6:10-11) In life, the death sentence to all our carnality becomes a reality! But it is not an easy death. The devil will do his utmost to keep us from recognizing the lie! Once we recognize the lie and believe the truth, he has lost his power over us!
Complete trust in Christ’s promises and in His ability to keep His promises, is foundational to victory! He has promised to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory! He has assured us of His limitless love for us, and told us that He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or think, and that He will never leave us or forsake us! Since His love and righteousness are foundational to His plan for each of us, we can trust Him. This is the faith and trust that Jesus Christ had in His Father God!
This is also the faith we need as we take up our cross, our death sentence to all self-will, and follow Christ. In so doing, we will only do what He tells us to do! God knows that we don’t have that faith in ourselves. In His faithfulness, He also provides for that need! In Heb. 12:2 we read, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." As we keep our eyes on Jesus, He authors our faith and perfects it!
Keeping our eyes on Jesus is the key to receiving His faith! As we fix our eyes on Him we are not fixing our eyes on our cross. Our cross is on our back, and we would have to remove it to see it. If we look at the difficulties, the circumstances, the promises or the deceptive power of the enemy, our faith will fail! When we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, we automatically are only left with self-endeavor. We are no longer carrying our cross. We are no longer following Christ. To follow Him we have to pick up our cross – our death to self-effort, self-reliance, self-will, self-indulgence and the logic that exist in the carnal mind!
Does this seem impossible? If we depend on our self-ability, it is impossible! But, praise God, we have been given a new mind – the mind of Christ! (1 Cor. 2:16) As we live out of His mind, we will receive His faith, His will to only do what the Father shows us to do. We will pick up our cross – our death to self-will – and follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The exciting thing about carrying our cross as we following Jesus is that we experience life! We are freed from the domination of our own will! As we follow Him we will enjoy His presence, His leading, His enabling, His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness and His faith! What tremendous rewards for daily picking up our death sentence to the desires of the ego and following Christ!