Embrace the Cross-Taking Life: A Summary for Every Follower of Christ

December 14th 2023



Embrace the Cross-Taking Life: A Summary for Every Follower of Christ

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the twentieth century martyr, has famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[1] This is the heartbeat of Christ’s call to all who would follow him as disciples. Jesus said it this way,

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). The point here is that Christ uses this word picture of “taking up one’s cross” as a metaphor for the attitude of every Christian as they live the Christian life.

It’s important to note that cross-taking is not a work to be done, or merit to be achieved, in order to earn salvation (Eph 2:8–9). Rather, it’s the new life that a Christian is born into once he or she has received God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The life that follows is defined by taking up one’s cross.

Let me summarize it this way: The cross-taking life is the life of a true Christian – one who has been saved by Jesus Christ and willingly dies to self in full submission to the One who has saved him or her. More than mere suffering, this is a purposeful and perpetual sacrifice of self for the glory of God, no matter the cost. In this article, I want to look at five summary statements of how the cross-taking life is explained in the Gospels.

First, Cross-Taking is Essential to the Christian Life

Jesus shows the essential nature of cross-taking in this statement, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Taking our cross describes our daily battle in denying self for the sake of Jesus Christ. Author and preacher J.C. Ryle helps us understand the impact of this: “Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict in which it costs much to win the victory.”[2] In other words, cross taking quite simply describes the life of a Christian. Ultimately, what Jesus is saying is that there is no such thing as a Christian who does not take up his cross in following him.

Second, Cross-Taking is a Daily Exercise of Trust in God and His Promises

Taking up one’s cross is not a one-time action. It’s part of our daily life. Again, Jesus says it this way, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Nor is the cross taken up and then put down. Writer Walter Chantry says it this way, “For a true believer the cross is ubiquitous, lifelong, a daily weight. There is one depository of the cross, that is the cemetery.”[3] Thus, taking up one’s cross becomes the identity of Christian since it is a daily exercise of faith.

Third, Cross-Taking is a Path of Suffering

The Christian is reminded through taking up his cross that suffering is inevitable as one seeks to live in obedience to Christ. Cross-taking is a key metaphor for the sanctification process where we become more and more like Jesus, as we grow in our faith. D.A. Carson is careful to clarify what this does not mean, saying, “The taking of one’s cross does not mean putting up with some awkward or tragic situation in one’s life, but painfully dying to self.”[4] This is the cost of following Jesus. There will be difficulties, hurts, loss of friends and family, persecution, trials, etc. that are a result of following Jesus. What Jesus experienced, you will experience. And God will use these experiences to make you become more like him (Rom 8:28–30).

Fourth, Cross-Taking Yields Many Blessings

Taking up one’s cross is not misery for misery’s sake. Cross-taking is an apt description of what it means to follow Christ as one lives in a way that is in the opposite direction of the world. Yet, the sacrifice that is made comes with the promise of blessing. Jesus reminded his disciples of this as follows, “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30). There is a great blessing that come in the sacrifices of cross-taking. Again, J.C. Ryle helps us understand this: “A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.”[5] There is an old adage that says, “There can be no crown without a cross.” The result, then, is that taking up one’s cross leads to reward.

Fifth, Cross-Taking is a Whole-Hearted Embracing of the Will of God

Jesus, before taking up his unique cross, prayed beforehand, “Father, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ attitude should be the heart of every prayer. There is no detour around cross-taking. Jesus faced his own cross, knowing that it would be extremely difficult, but he still trusted the Father’s will. In doing so, Jesus saved sinners, was resurrected, eventually ascended to heaven, and was seated at the Father’s right hand. This is the beauty of what Christ achieved on his cross. Although one’s outcome in taking their own cross is different, the attitude is the same: God’s will be done, not yours. His will is always better.

Conclusion

So then it begs the question: “Christian, is cross-taking the defining mark of your life?” By calling you to take up your cross and follow him, Jesus is essentially asking that you surrender the entirety of your life to him. Have you done that?Until Jesus has all of you, he has none of you. More importantly, if you do not have all of him, you have nothing of him.

The cross-taking life is the life of a true Christian – one who has been saved by Jesus Christ and willingly dies to self in full submission to the One who has saved him. More than mere suffering, this is a purposeful and perpetual sacrifice of self for the glory of God no matter the cost.

The only worthy response is to embrace the real Jesus, as revealed in Scripture, and to take up your cross fully and daily, until you die. That’s what it truly means to follow him. And Jesus has promised that you will not regret it.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship. United Kingdom: Hymns Ancient & Modern, 2015, 44. [2] J.C. Ryle. Holiness (Abridged): Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots. United States: Moody Publishers, 2010, 139. [3] Walter Chantry. The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-denial. United Kingdom: Banner of Truth Trust, 1981, 23. [4] D. A. Carson. Matthew. United States: Zondervan Academic, 2017, 299. [5] Ryle, 144.

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Author: Todd Burgett

Todd is married to Lisa and they have 3 adult children. He has been pastoring since 1995 and joined the RBC pastoral team in 2022 giving oversight to several ministries including the Redeemer Training Center. Todd went to The Master's Seminary where he graduated in 2021 with an advanced degree in expository preaching.