Matthew 16:24-26. 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
What does it mean to be Christ’s disciple? This is a question of utmost importance to every Christian. Is discipleship primarily about obeying Christ’s teachings? Is it about getting your life back on track? Being a better person?
Jesus’ definition of a disciple is a bit more intense. A disciple is a cross bearer. A self denier. A life loser. But what exactly does this mean? What is Christ’s invitation to take up your cross actually about?
What taking up your cross doesn’t mean.
Sadly, many turn Jesus’ words here into just another self-salvation plan. “Taking up your cross” becomes self-mastery, or an embracing of suffering in order to become a better person. Self-denial becomes denying things to the self (like “I won’t eat chocolate,” or “I’ll stop smoking”), rather than the denial of THE Self as your source of righteousness and goodness. Taking up your cross is reduced to carrying a burden (sickness, addiction, an annoying co-worker, a sick parent). But is this what Jesus was talking about?
Taking up your cross is an invitation into the deep life of the Trinity.
“Losing your life” is the very nature of God. The Trinity is the most selfless, other-centered, sacrificial community in existence. There is not even a smidge of self-promotion in God. Even when God says that he does everything for his own glory we must understand this in light of the Trinity. The Father loses his life for the Son and the Spirit. The Son loses his life for the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loses his life for the Father and the Son.
So when Jesus asks us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and lose our lives, he’s inviting us into the very nature of God himself. He asking us to be image bearers again.
Taking up your cross is an invitation into Christ’s salvation.
A disciple is someone who has chosen to reject all forms of self-righteousness, self-fulfillment, and self-salvation and instead rely on the death and life of Christ alone. No one is a Christian who hasn’t put to death any notion that they can save themselves. All plans of earning, obtaining, or achieving goodness must be denied and lost. Christ’s work on the cross alone is our salvation.
Taking up your cross is an invitation into union with Christ’s cross.
Jesus knows what the rest of the world doesn’t. That the true abundant life of God is found only in self-giving.
Satan and the world screams the opposite at us every day. Nearly every ad on TV, every song, every movie, they all tell us that life begins when we pursue our happiness, follow our dreams, become our “true selves.” Life is all about MORE of me. More money for me. More control for me. More sex for me. More me is more happiness. But this is the path of death. Why? Because you can gain the whole world and still lose your soul.
Which of us hasn’t experienced this truth? The more we elevate anything in our hearts above receiving Christ’s love and grace, the more it destroys us. Obsess over having friends, lose all your friends. Overwork to take care of your family, lose your family. Make ministry success your goal, lose your joy in ministry. Pursue happiness and you’ll never find it. Create your own identity and you’ll always be lost.
But Christ invites us into the “upside down” reality of his life. Gaining only comes through giving. Self-awareness is found only in sacrificing. And resurrection only comes through the life of the cross.
And this is a reality that is made possible for us only by our union with Christ. What union with Christ makes perfectly clear is that cross bearing is never the product of our own piety. It is not the result of our determination, it is the result of our death. Our death with Christ. Self-denial is only possible because, in Christ, you have already died with him on his cross.
We don’t take up our cross to “die daily.” We take up our cross daily because we have already died once for all time. If “to live is Christ,” then to live is to live the crucified life. A life made possible by our death with Jesus that has ended all striving, all earning, and all performing. And when all of that SELF is stripped away, now you can truly find your life in losing it.
Are you Christ’s disciple? What does that mean to you?
You in Christ
In Christ you have already died with him and bee raised to new life. How does this change how you see “carrying your cross?”
Christ in you
In what area of your life are you trying to gain life but actually losing? How can you lose to gain instead?
Playlist: Songs for carrying your cross.