On my mind almost constantly as of late are two things: the call to love and the call of the cross. A glimpse of something deeper came into my consciousness today which centered on the call of the cross.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
I have sought to take up the cross daily but honestly there is not much in my life that seemed powerful enough to be classified as such. I have chosen His will over my own, sometimes struggling for a lengthy time to comply. I have done what I deemed as uncomfortable for Christ. I have done as He has asked when I would rather have not. I have tried to die to myself in all things, and it is hard. I suppose you could say in some way I suffered with these crosses, but really, ‘I wrestled with these crosses’ is probably a better description.
“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22: 43-44
What have I willfully entered into for Christ that the mere thought of would make me writhe in pain? What if any cross has been laid upon my shoulders?
The ‘crosses’ I have borne have involved turmoil, deep groans and striving, but never really pain. That is because what I was experiencing were not crosses at all.
Today, my glimpse was precipitated by God placing something before me as His will for me to do that made me recoil. It was an asking that trespassed into something deep within me. In every way I looked at it, it seemed only unfair. It was not a more severe denial, no, this was quantitatively different. This required giving something of me that was good that would likely be trampled on by another. It felt like an unfair thing to ask. It felt like part of the equation was missing, specifically the part about the other guy. As I wrestled with this I realized that my angst with the directive was not in doing it but who I was to do it for. The recipient of this sacrifice is to be someone who is exceptionally cold and mean to me and frequently uses me. The sacrifice was big, not just being nice when offended… If I could just do the cross (sacrifice) without the more intense agony part (without justice) there would have been no problem.
Certainly greater crosses have been borne throughout Christian history than what God asked of me today. That doesn’t comfort me much. What marks this on my soul is how vehemently I don’t want to do it because it seems unfair. That is where I saw a glimpse of the sufferings of Christ.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 He must deny himself… here, Jesus speaks to our sinful self, our old man. That man must be denied and that is typically what I think about when I think about the cross we carry, dying to self daily in favor of God’s will. I don’t feel vehement AGAINST doing this, I just struggle TO do it. The more I think about this though, the more I believe Jesus is addressing two different types of actions: one directed at the old self and one to the new.
Deny the old man. Do not let him have his way. That is directed towards the old self. ” …AND take up his cross daily and follow me”. Who shall pick up the cross, the old man or the new? Did the sinful man pick up the beam and head to Calvary? No! It was the righteous one who did so. The new man, the one found in Christ, the good man, must be crucified. He is the one who must be crucified daily. The old man was crucified through Christ. The new man is crucified by willingly laying down its good life for God’s glory and for the benefit of others.
Where is this agony of the cross for the new self? How have I shared in the sufferings of Christ?
The truth is I have focused on denying myself but not on letting the cross take hold of me. I shrink from disgrace, I resist being mistreated, and I seldom suffer harshly for doing good. Am I despised, reproached, mocked, humiliated, not esteemed, reviled, abused, troubled, full of sorrows, imprisoned, persecuted, killed? Has the cross really ever touched my life?
The denial of the old self will make us groan. We struggle to comply but it is not a cross. The agony of the cross is when the new man lays down his life. When God wills you to do something that you not only do not want to do, but you oppose with all of your mind and soul because it takes something good in you and crucifies it-unfairly. Your good name. Your rights. Your dignity. Your happiness. The cross is not dying to self. The cross is letting the good die.
The cross is not thrust upon you. Those are trials. The difficult things that happen to you are not the cross. Denial of self is also not the cross; that is your duty in light of your new reality. The cross always involves suffering unjustly because of good being willingly offered up for the wicked.
The cross does not murder sin, it murders righteousness and in so doing defeats sin. The cross is willfully allowing the good that is in you, about you and that which you have, to be crucified, for others. It is doing what is right even though it will be used against you by sinner and saint alike. It is giving to those who will not appreciate it and merely use your sacrifice for their pleasure. It is suffering your dignity to be spit upon by the arrogant. It is submission to evil. It is turning your cheek. It is giving your cloak as well. It is not being repaid. It is sacrificially giving to those who clearly don’t deserve it. It is suffering unjustly. That is the cross.