And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25).
As American Christians, we try to live in a G-rated fantasy world. We surround ourselves and those around us with things we like to call “Christian,” which are in reality more sanitized worldliness and “family friendly”-ness1 than they are things that are of Christ. From the doctrinally poor music that is piped to us through “Christian” radio stations to the “Christian” children’s shows that are scared to mention Christ (yes, I’m looking at you VeggieTales), our Christianity proves to be far from Christian.
And it is not just our music and children’s shows that have been “family friendly”-ed and watered down, it is our entire religion. Take for example the Scripture that heads today’s post: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” If you have ever heard a sermon or had a Sunday school lesson on this verse, you have probably heard this command interpreted in hundreds of subjective ways, most of which include one’s “cross” being a person’s diabetes, his old klunker in the mechanic’s shop, or his broken marriage—none of which capture the point of the text. In a world where crucifixion does not exist any more, what does taking up one’s cross daily mean?
1. Taking Up One’s Cross Means to Have One’s Mind Set Continually on Death
If we read Christ’s command for what it is actually saying, the vivid imagery is inescapable. We must call to mind the road that Christ treaded to his appointed death—his lashings on the back, his stumbling through the stony streets of Jerusalem bearing on his shoulders the instrument on which he would die, the mockings, the jeerings, and finally his death and immediate presence in Paradise. If we thought of carrying up our crosses daily as the imagery dictates, I believe that we would live radically different lives. If our minds were set upon our death each day and our future presence in Paradise, I doubt that we would be so concerned about storing up for ourselves treasures here. Also, I do not think that we would find so many patriots in our churches or listen to horrible music that could as easily be directed toward some girl’s boyfriend as they could toward Christ, or tolerate children’s stories that leave Jesus out of the picture unless they make him a cartoon character. No, we would live each day for the things that matter most in life—loving the Church and preaching the Gospel.
2. Taking Up One’s Cross Means to Deny One’s Self of Worldly Satisfactions
Though the imagery of Luke 9:23 brings us to this conclusion by itself, not to mention it explicitly as the context does would do it injustice. Christ says in the following verses, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Taking up one’s cross therefore is to lose our lives here in this present age so that we might gain life in the coming age. What does it mean to lose one’s life? The context is quite clear: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” The gaining of one’s life is put into contrast with one who gains the whole world—all of its riches and satisfactions, and yet loses his soul, and Christ says, “What profit is this?” Indeed, it is no profit, for Eternity bears incomparable riches to this present age in the presence of God, and a lifetime of worldly riches can never recompense the torture of eternal Damnation.
In spite of the unfair tradeoff, even people who know this text by heart defy its teachings. They might go to “church” during the week and might “serve” there regularly, but their life’s focus is gaining the world and not taking up their crosses daily. Into what group do you fall? Do you fall in with those who love the world and its pleasures or in with those who forsake those treasures for the sake of Christ? You must have an answer for this, for the destination of your soul depends upon it.