By Greg Laurie, Crosswalk.com
Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciples, we are to “take up our cross daily and follow Him” (Luke 9:23).
But what does it mean to “take up one’s cross?"
To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in the time and culture of Jesus. The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things—from a religious icon to a fashion element.
When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith—particularly the Christian faith. But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death. In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.
A Gruesome Symbol
Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?
Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get people’s attention. He did this to say that following Him was not “child’s play.” It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple. But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.
So, what does it mean to “bear the cross” today?
Often, we hear people say that they have a “cross” to bear. They will say, “My cross is my parents!” Their parents would probably say, “Our cross is our children!” They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their “cross to bear.”
But that is not what the cross means. Here's what it does mean—
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Gus Moretta
Dying to Self
The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.
What does it mean to “die to self”? So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living. To bear the cross means:
- forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge
- resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does
- not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after
- putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible
- praying when you would rather be sleeping
- “swallowing your pride” and telling someone about Jesus
- doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do
Lose Your Life
We have all heard the expression, “You need to get a life!” Well, Jesus would put it another way. He would in effect say, “You need to lose your life if you want to find it!”
A disciple of Jesus must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. Luke 14:27 says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
I know that can sound pretty unappealing. You imagine yourself living in this miserable, sacrificial, unhappy condition. But the fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth. Note that Jesus says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it!” (Matthew 16:25)
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An Amazing Deal
Think of it as God’s trade-in plan.
There are people today who say they are trying to find themselves. (By the way, I can’t stand that expression.) One makes that statement usually before doing something really selfish, like walking out on a marriage. They might say, “You are no longer meeting my needs. I am unhappy, so I am going to leave you because I need to find myself!”
Could anything be more cliché, and wrong?
In essence, Jesus says, “You want to find yourself? Then lose yourself.”
Do you want to find life, purpose, and personal happiness? Then say, “Lord, here is my life—my plans, my aspirations, my dreams, as well as my weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. I believe that Your plans are better than mine in the long run.”
It really is a paradox: by “dying to self,” or “losing yourself,” you find yourself. Through death, you find real life.
A Place of Surrender
When the Bible talks about taking up our cross and following Him, it helps to read Luke 13:33: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Literally, forsake means: “You must surrender your claim to, or say goodbye to.”
That does not mean that to live as a disciple of Jesus one has to take a vow of poverty and give every possession away. Jesus meant that we are to surrender our claim to our possessions. In other words, we are not to be possessed by possessions.
It’s fine to have clothes, a car, a house, and a career. It’s fine to have friends, hobbies, and interests. But the true disciple should not be obsessed with these things. The only obsession a disciple should have is for Jesus Christ. He must be the most important pursuit in our lives. He must be more important than our career or our personal happiness.
Now that you know what it means, let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?”
The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life! We will find the personal happiness we want not by seeking it, but by seeking Him.
Paul summed it up well when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Boonyachoat
Pastor Greg Laurie serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has campuses in Southern California and Hawaii. He is the author of more than 70 books, hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A New Beginning, and is the founder of Harvest Crusades and Harvest at Home.