Taking up the cross (2)*
In the previous piece I stressed Christ's blunt announcement that cross-bearing must be the act of the disciple and if a would-be disciple knowingly refuses to take up his cross he/she cannot be Christ's disciple. The cross must be his/hers the believer must embrace the cross as the way to Christ.
Yes, but what does Jesus mean when he says we're to take up our crosses and follow him? He means we are to identify with him and make his cross our own.
There's only one cross and all who are Christ's die on it.
Talk of "our" crosses might tend to obscure the truth (later developed in the epistles) that there really is only one cross and that we're to identify ourselves with that cross; it's the cross of Christ.
Paul (who took up his cross) makes it clear that it was on Christ's cross that he (Paul) was crucified to the world and the world to him (Galatians 6:14). "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
Manifestly he isn't talking about his own literal death on Christ's cross; but just as clearly, he's speaking about a death he has already experienced—a death by crucifixion—and a death that took place on Christ's cross.
In Galatians 2:20 Paul claims "I have been crucified with Christ." The phrase "crucified with" is a single Greek word and literally rendered is "co-crucified" (the prefix "sun" means with). He is not saying, "I have been crucified for Christ" though that is a truth. So Paul sees his own cross and crucifixion to be one with Christ's. In Romans 6:3-11 he makes the same point (though with a different agenda) when he speaks of "death with" or "buried with" or "raised with" or "crucified with" or "live with" using a whole series of "sun" compounds.
It's important that we understand that we don't simply die along with Christ, we die in him. Taking up our cross is not talking about our death; it is talking about our identification with and participation in his death. By faith we die "with" him because we died "in" him. "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died." (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Here's what he says in Romans 6:3-11:
"Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
Let me say it again, the "with" truth must not hide the fact that we are crucified and die "with" him and live again "with" him because we die and live "in" him. Note the "into" and "in" phrases.
Making Christ's cross ours
If it's true that taking up our cross is in fact taking Christ's cross to be our own then the call of Christ is simply this, "Take up my cross. Make my cross your cross." And what does that mean? If we take up his cross it's clear that via a personal faith commitment we approve of and commit to him, his agenda and his method.
The crucifixion was not just a death on a cross but a death with a meaning and purpose determined by the Holy Father so when we're called to take up that cross and make it ours we're not just saying that Christ died a violent death. Nor are we all being called to die a violent death though for a few of us that might be the end result. Nor are we given here an exhaustive blueprint for ethical behaviour or decision-making.
We are being called to saving faith. Christ's, "Take up my cross and make it yours" is the equivalent to Paul's call for us to have "faith in his blood" (Romans 3:25). By faith the cross becomes ours! Faith embraces the crucified Christ and all that he stands for in relation to both God and man and claims it as its own vision, its own heart and longing and purpose. It rejects the way of the world (Matthew 16:23) and embraces the shame of the cross (Hebrews 13:11-13) and its meaning.
In a host of ways the cross defines Jesus and we are to take Jesus for who and what he is and in doing that we are denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. The image in passages like Luke 14 and Matthew 16 is clear: We have Jesus out ahead carrying his cross to the place of execution and a long line of disciples following him each bearing his/her own cross. That's the image! The developed meaning of the image is that Jesus goes carrying his cross to his death (with all the richness of meaning and purpose in it) and believers unite with him in faith and embrace his death as their own.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.