“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” Luke 9:23.
The Cross is the focus of God’s entire plan of redemption. It is not just the way of salvation. It is also a way of life. But before we can take up our cross and follow the Lord, we first need to understand what we are taking up. There are in fact three aspects to the Cross:
- The heart of the Cross
- The work of the Cross
- The way of the Cross
Each of the Persons of the Godhead are actively involved in the work of redemption, and the three aspects of the Cross reflect their involvement.
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” Colossians 1:19-20.
The Heart of the Cross
“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world ” Revelation 13:8 (see also 2 Timothy 1:9-10).
The Cross was not something God thought up at the last moment. From the moment of Adam’s fall, the plan of the Cross was put in motion. The “heart of the Cross”, the sacrificial love which resulted in the sending of Jesus to die, has always been in the heart of the Father. His love is absolute. The Cross was simply its greatest expression.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life” John 3:16.
The Work of the Cross
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24 (see also Galatians 4:4-5).
Two thousand years ago, the heart of the Cross was enacted upon the Cross of Calvary. This was the historic sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross which we look back to (1 Corinthians 15:3). This work of the Cross has two important parts:
Christ died for you
When Jesus died, He took the judgment which you should have received. Christ was your substitute. Because He died for you, you have eternal life.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 (see also Colossians 1:13-14; Titus 3:4-7).
Christ died as you
Not only did Jesus die for you, He died as you. When Christ died on the Cross, God saw you dying on the Cross in Christ. Your old Adamic nature was crucified in Christ. Christ was your representative. Because He died as you, you are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20 (see also 6:14).
The work of the Cross was a finished work. The Cross of Christ dealt with both the judgment of sin and the power of sin. This was the work of the Son on your behalf.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” Romans 6:6-7.
Many Christians understand the first part of the work of the Cross (the receiving of eternal life), but don’t understand the second part (living as a new creation). Many believe they are now supposed to “die out to themselves” and “crucify the old man.” But the Bible tells us that you have already been crucified with Christ. This was the work of the Cross for you. You do not have to try to struggle to “die” to sin. You are already dead to sin in Christ (Galatians 5:24).
“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” Romans 6:10-11 (read also verses 3-14).
Just as Jesus died to sin once for all time, so you are now to count yourself dead to sin once for all time! And just as Jesus is now alive to God, so you too are alive to God in Christ!
The Way of the Cross
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:27 (see also Matthew 10:38).
When Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him, He did not mean for us to crucify ourselves. We cannot kill off the old nature. That was the work of the Cross. It is the new creation that takes up its cross and lays down its life for others. It means:
Having the Heart of the Cross
We are called to have the heart of the Cross like the Father. God has designed for this heart of sacrificial love to motivate the new creation life (John 15:12-13).
Bearing the Shame of the Cross
When we take up our cross we are bearing the shame of the Cross like the Son (Hebrews 12:2; Romans 15:3; 1 Peter 2:19-23). Note that Jesus told us to take up our cross, not to actually crucify ourselves. Before a prisoner was crucified, they were required to carry their own cross to the execution site. This involved great shame (read 1 Cor.4:9-13). When we take up our cross, we bear the shame of the Lord for the sake of others.
We deny our own interests and comfort by the Holy Spirit (John 12:24; 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 5:15; Revelation 12:11). We do not do this because we are trying to complete our own salvation. We do this because of love for God (Romans 12:1) and love for others (2 Corinthians 5:14)