“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34-35
This may be the most important description of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the entire gospel, yet most of us have no idea what it means. We understand the imagery, but we don’t know how to live it out. What exactly does it mean to take up your cross?
First, it means self-denial. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to experience self-fulfillment, but the only path to self-fulfillment is self-denial. There is no other way. While self-denial may sound miserable, it’s actually wonderful. We simply deny ourselves those things that are temporarily pleasurable but eternally painful. We deny the desires of our flesh. We deny the temptation of sin. We refuse to settle for anything less than the best which is God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Second, taking up your cross means torture. And we wince at the thought, but stop and think about it. Any great achievement requires torture. Athletes torture their bodies. Thinkers torture their minds. And we get that on the physical and intellectual plane, but wish there was another way on the spiritual plane. There isn’t. Just like the physical realm: no pain, no gain. Are you willing to suffer temporal pain for eternal gain? That’s what it comes down to.
Finally, it means death. You have to die to self everyday. How? By allowing your circumstances to help you become more like Christ–especially the circumstances you don’t like. Anytime you feel the pain of an insult, disappointment, suffering, physical challenge, failure, injustice, or trial–it’s an opportunity to die to pride, die to ego, die to sin, die to self. And if you keep dying to self, you’ll come alive in ways you never imagined. In fact, you’ll live forever.
We worry about all the wrong things! You only have one job and it’s this: take up your cross. That is your portfolio as a Christ follower. You simply need to deny yourself, endure torture, and die to self. If you do that, God will do the rest. If you do it everyday, you have all of eternity to look forward to.