When Paul became a follower of Christ, one of the results was that he became a pariah among his own people. He was beaten, tortured, and persecuted. Eventually, Paul gave his life for the cause of Christ. That was what taking up his cross looked like, and he rejoiced in it. But what does the idea of “taking up your cross” mean for us today?
For most of us, that kind of cost Paul paid for following Christ isn’t anything we can conceive of. Christ said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). So, how can we apply his words? What does it mean to take up our cross with joy in the present day?
We Rejoice in Following Christ’s Example and Commands
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
When Christ died on the cross for us, he said: “it is finished.” Salvation is freely available to any who accept Christ and there’s no way to earn it. So, when you’re taking up your cross, know that you aren’t following a procedure for salvation. Rather, in response to Christ’s free gift of grace, you are following his example. That’s a blessed privilege.
Jesus took up the cross out of obedience. He did it humbly, gladly putting God’s will and his love for God’s people above himself. That’s an example we can follow simply by delighting in being obedient to God too and choosing to humbly consider others before ourselves.
We Don’t Live as Slaves to Sin
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. (Romans 6:6)
The “so that” in this verse hints at one of the results of Christ-following: it makes sin powerless. Sin isn’t our master anymore. We know this, in theory, but we often live like we’re at the mercy of sin (i.e. I have to lie or…) As we abide in Christ, we are free to crucify our tendency to serve sin.
We Turn from Godless Living to Living as God’s People
We are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. (Titus 2:12 NLT)
Part of living like sin isn’t our boss is living like God is God. It’s natural for us, even when we know Christ, to live like God isn’t God. Sin is pleasurable. That’s why we’re urged to “turn from” this easy habit of living dependent on ourselves only.
In this passage, Paul goes on to emphasize, “(Christ) gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (v. 14). We deny ourselves Godless living to live as God’s beloved people.
We Put to Death Our Earthly Nature
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
Some of what we sacrifice to follow Christ is stuff we don’t need (and shouldn’t want) in the first place. This list of sins represents much of what we are to deny ourselves. What a joy that in Christ we can put to death what isn’t good for us!
We Boast in Christ, Not in Worldly Things
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)
Whenever we think “that hurts my pride,” we ought to consider which source of pride is wounded (and thank God if our worldly pride has been humbled!).
Crucifying the world to ourselves and ourselves to the world means we don’t find anything worldly boast-worthy. Not our accomplishments, our possessions, our reputations. We stake our worth on Christ, for it is his accomplishment and his reputation that we need. Praise the Lord; He’s always worthy.
We Focus on the Goal Despite the Cost
“I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
Ultimately, what “taking up your cross” meant for Christ and many of his followers was what Paul describes in Acts 20:24: making God’s goal their goal, despite the cost. Jesus and his early disciples didn’t consider their own lives more important than testifying to the gospel.
As the New Testament writers and the Old Testament heroes of the faith demonstrate, there is only one goal worthwhile for Christians: to follow Christ! For you and I, the costs are more probably likely to be awkwardness or tension in conversations with unbelievers, rather than angry mobs trying to silence us.
Taking up your cross today, as in all of history, means paying whatever the price is to honor him who is most precious.