“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23 ESV).
If you’ve been a Christian for a while now, if you grew up in church like I did, had parents who went to a local church, you’ll agree with me that we’ve heard this verse A LOT. And as I went about my ministry, the sad thing is that it is very rare that you would meet a Christian who really gets this. Trust me, I’ve been there – in and around church since I was a kid, in and around church youth organizations – I didn’t begin to get this until I was 30.
The easiest way for us to interpret “carry your cross daily” is to make it about ourselves, our problems, our struggles, our burdens. We equate “burden” to “cross”, as if the only purpose of that shameful contraption was to be a weight and to wear us down. It is heavy, Jesus can testify to that, but the weight of the cross is only the first part of its purpose. The main point of the cross is that it was meant to kill, and it killed shamefully.
Take the image of a cross back 2000 years, and the people from that age will understand this clearly. If they see a man carrying a cross, they knew that this man was walking to his death. This soft and modern interpretation of a cross creates a problem for modern day believers – it hides the true meaning of what Jesus was saying in this passage.
Jesus was saying this, basically – “If you want to follow me, consider yourself dead. You don’t get to make decisions for yourself anymore. Dead people don’t get choices for themselves. You walk to your death, every single day. Deny the self, kill the self – it will only confuse you from what the main point is. The main point? You follow me.”
Jesus was not calling his followers to a problematic and difficult life. There is NOT ENOUGH truth in that statement. Jesus was calling us to a daily slaying of our selves, our selfish desires – so that we can follow him daily. The moment we allow ourselves and our selfish desires to live, we tend to lose focus on the main thing – which is to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus, we must be dead to all of these.
Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to obey Christ? Here is the biggest reason. We want to let ourselves live. We – our selfish desires, our sense of entitlement, our focus on what feels good for us – we are still alive.