TAKE UP THE CROSS
T. Pierce Brown
In reading Mark 8:34, the thought occurred to me that I do not ever remember hearing a sermon which really emphasized the two points in this verse that in order to follow Jesus one would have to deny self and take up the cross. I have heard and preached many that would tell the blessings one would receive, such as forgiveness of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit, eternal life, joy and peace, but the absolute necessity of self denial and cross bearing, I do not remember hearing much about, though I have no doubt that many were preached. I hear, “I’m O.K; You’re O.K,” “How to Enjoy Life More,” or even occasionally by some “old time” preacher, “What Must I do to be saved” including faith, repentance, confession and baptism, but not much from anyone on what is involved in following Christ.
It is my opinion that a large number of us do not even realize what “self-denial” means. I think I grew up thinking it was denying self some things that I might want that were wrong to have. When I would pass the neighbor’s watermelon patch on some hot summer day and knew he did not want me to get one (which was unusual, for most neighbors were happy to have a hungry boy get one melon if he needed it), self-denial seemed to mean that I would not take what I wanted.
In fact, I think I was probably preaching for several years before it really dawned on me that deny self is not to deny self some things but to deny self himself! The middle of sIn is I! As the song indicates, we may start out with “All of self and none of thee,” but we must come to “none of self and all of thee.” We must deny self in order to be a Christian. Paul put it in Gal.3:20, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” As shocking as the thought may be to some, it is my opinion that a person may go through the outward process of obeying the gospel in order to get what he wants, the remission of sins, eternal life and all attendant blessings, and never really be concerned about denying self, that he may always do what Christ wants. To say it another way, one may be willing and ready to accept Christ as Savior without accepting Him as Lord.
But I wanted the primary thrust of this article to deal with “take up his cross.” In general conversation, it is probably a very misused expression. If one wrecks his car, he may say, “It is just a cross I have to bear.” If his wife nags him, he may think, “I must bear that cross.” Any sorrow, loss, or difficulty is spoken of as “my cross.” Sometimes persons even use their own sins and shortcomings that get them into difficulties as a cross. “I have a high temper, but that is just one of the crosses I must bear.” What a travesty on the proper use of the term as Christ used it!
Calm endurance under the vicissitudes of life may be a virtue lacking in many of us, but Christianity is not simply a form of stoicism. The cross is not something that just falls on us. The cross is something we “take up”–a deliberate choice of something we could have escaped, except for the fact that we deliberately chose to serve Christ, and as a result suffer that difficulty, tribulation, persecution or trouble.
When you and I take upon ourselves the bearing one another’s burdens because of our Christian relationships, that might be said to be “taking up the cross.” When we are ridiculed, laughed at, persecuted, maligned because we are fighting the good fight of faith, this is taking up the cross. But if we are merely ridiculed because we act in a ridiculous fashion; laughed at because we are funny; rejected because we are stubborn, hateful or mean, we have no right to assume, “I have taken up my cross and followed Jesus.”
Although it may be possible to deny one’s self without taking up the cross of Christ, it seems impossible to take up the cross without denying one’s self. The reason is that taking up the cross involves giving up any pleasure or desire of self when such becomes necessary in order to follow Christ.