“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.”
-Jesus (Luke’s Good News Story, Chapter 9, verse 23)
Who Am I?
The life of the follower of Jesus is explicitly devoted to following His words, His ways, and His walk, even to death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus is in the business of bringing his life to us in the here and now, not just in the by and by.
In Luke’s Good News story found in the Bible, Jesus has a rather sobering conversation with his followers. He comes to them and asks them what people are saying about Him, about His identity. They answer that some people say he is a great teacher, some a great prophet, and some even say he is John the Baptist or their well-loved prophet Elijah, come back from the dead.
And then Jesus asks them “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20)
The tables turned on them, they are forced to grapple with what they believe about Jesus. And then the loud, boisterous, and always honest Peter speaks boldly, “You are Messiah, the Anointed One of God”. This would have been considered a very bold pronouncement by Peter. Anyone within earshot of this conversation would have known that these disciples believed something about Jesus that was more magnificent than any of the things all the other people were saying about Him.
And then Jesus began to lay out for them the truth of what was about to happen to Him. He tells them that He is going to be made to suffer greatly, to be tried and found guilty by the religious leaders, and then be killed and rise again on the third day alive. Jesus makes it very clear at this point that to follow Him is to suffer greatly. To follow Him is to deny oneself. To follow Him is to bear a cross, not just one time, but every day for the rest of your life.
Can I be honest? I don’t think that we truly understand what Jesus is hinting at. We have so much. We are such an entitled group of people, we really do lack for nothing. Even those who are worse off in our nation can still find a place to get their basic needs met in our cities if they really want to (with few exceptions).
And yet Jesus clearly identifies his followers as those who deny themselves everyday, carry their cross, and follow Him.
As I read this passage, I often wonder…What is the cross we have been given to bear?
What Cross Do You Bear?
Today, I want to offer some insight on some possible crosses that Jesus may be asking you to bear for the sake of following Him. Maybe this will shed some light and insight on your own motives and feelings regarding how well you are following Him.
This is going to hurt, but remember, taking up a cross always does.
- Your cross is giving up your identity. If you have found your identity in anything other than Jesus, that is your cross to bear. You must nail that old identity to the cross. Jesus will not allow anyone to follow him who doesn’t find their identity in Him.
- If you believe you are what other people say that you are, then you will have answered the identity question with a lie, for it is not other people that define you.
- If you are what you have defined for yourself, then you will have answered the identity question with a lie as well, for it is not the self that defines who you are.
- If you have tied your identity to who you have sex with, who you are married to, or who you call your significant other, then you will have answered the identity question with a lie again, for it is not your sexual orientation, your spouse, or your special loved one that defines who you are.
- If you have tied your identity to what you do for a living, then you will have answered the identity question with a lie once more, for it is not what you do that defines you.
- Your cross is giving up your comfort zone. Jesus invites us to find our peace in him and our comfort from His Spirit. We like to find our comfort in the pleasures this life has to offer. Jesus said if we want to save our life, we have to lose it. The cross we bear daily has a lot to do with how much comfort we find in this life. Following Jesus on His mission will involve risk, discomfort, and self-sacrifice. Your cross to pick up is probably related to the measure of comfort you have worked for your whole life.
- Your cross is giving up the culture’s applause. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat his message. More than likely, the cross He is asking you to bear is going to involve persecution for your belief in Him and your obedience to His calling. You aren’t going to win any popularity contests following Jesus. He is going to come across as old fashioned, goody-two-shoes, and a stick in the mud at times. Embrace this. Recognize that a cross isn’t a cross if it isn’t uncomfortable.
- Your cross is giving up your need for approval. Jesus isn’t going to always give you what you want. There are rewards along the way in this life, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying a vacation, a pleasure trip, and the good things in this life. Don’t get me wrong. But what we don’t want to do is settle for a life that expects only approval ratings and positive feedback. The crowds turned on Jesus as soon as He didn’t give them what they wanted. Bearing the cross of disapproval is just a part of the walk of the follower of Jesus.
- Your cross is probably something you’ve convinced yourself isn’t a cross at all. Think deeply about this one. Sometimes the one thing you are refusing to give up because of the way it makes you feel about yourself, may be the very cross Jesus is asking you to bear. We all convince ourselves that the one thing we could never give up is the one thing that we need above all other things. Whether it be our pride in our accomplishments, our uniqueness, or our individuality…if it is not glorifying to God it is an idol and it must be crucified.
Denying yourself isn’t easy at all. It isn’t something that you can always easily let go of. It requires counseling, conviction, and community to help pry it from our hands at times.
Identify Your Cross
I have remained purposely vague because I don’t know exactly what it is that Jesus is asking you to identify as your cross to bear. I know that there is one for you. Jesus has a plan for you, and it involves a cross. Maybe your cross is cancer, a disability, an issue of pride that you need to let go of, or an orientation that you have built your life around. Perhaps it is simply becoming a living sacrifice, placing your desires, your expectations, your hopes, your dreams, and even your future on the altar and offering yourself to Him.
Whatever it is, I pray that you open your heart to the truth that anything that you are holding on to tighter than Jesus is an idol of your heart and it must be fashioned into a cross for you to bear rather than a god for you to worship. It is the only way you will ever experience the fullness and life that Jesus intends to give you and to flow through you to others in this world.
Did today’s post jog your mental thought processes at all? What is the cross Jesus is asking you to bear? Can you see how your unwillingness to let go of something can be detrimental to not only your own spiritual growth, but also the spiritual vitality of all those who are within your realm of influence? What is the cost of not bearing that thing as a cross? How can you give it over to Him today?