The word “Christian” means “follower of Christ”, and in Luke 9:23-24 (CEB) Jesus Himself tells us what that means: “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” This is the true meaning of Christianity, and it applies to every true Christian, whatever their age, gender, personality, background or circumstance.
Jesus knew what He was talking about
We can follow Jesus in this, because it is what He Himself did while He was on earth. As a human being He was tempted (James 1:12-15). But He said “No” to the things He was tempted to and daily took up His cross - which means that He never gave in to the sin He was tempted to, and therefore He never sinned. (Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 4:15.)
It is very clear that Jesus knew what human nature was like; He personally experienced what it was like to be a human being with a sinful nature. He uses practical examples that show us that He knew what it was like to be tempted: to jealousy, to irritation, to lust, to judging, to worry, to be proud, to hypocrisy etc.
But every day of His life, Jesus used the “cross”. That was the place where the sinful desires in His human nature (which is also called the flesh) met their death. In other words, this means that by the power of God He said “No” to the sin in His sinful nature until He overcame, until the sin He was being tempted to was dead.
Not giving in to sin brings a suffering. So Jesus had to suffer in His flesh, and He had to cry out to God for help, but it also meant that He never sinned. (1 Peter 4:1; Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 5:7.)
We actually stop sinning!
The “message of the cross” is very practical. The “cross” can be used in daily life, by anybody, no matter their age, gender, personality, background or circumstance. It can be used in any situation, in any temptation.
When we take up our cross daily, we do not give in to feelings of anger, irritation, or jealousy. We do not give in to temptations to be proud or suspicious or lazy. We do not allow impure thoughts. We refuse to feel sorry for ourselves or to be discouraged, which would stop us from doing the good. We start to do God’s word. (James 1:21-22.)
With the cross we “put to death” the sinful desires in our nature before they become sin. (James 1:14-15; Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24.) That means that we don’t give in to sin until the sin is dead in us. Paul says that the message of the cross is a power of God for those who believe, and that it is the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25.) We see this in practice! By using the cross and the power from the Holy Spirit, we become changed.
Where we were bitter and harsh before, we become a blessing. Where we were worried and discouraged, we become full of faith and power for action. Where we once were criticising and full of hate, we learn to forgive and edify. Instead of quarrelling when our feelings are hurt or our opinions are pushed aside, we become examples in gentleness, kindness and patience. As we say “No” to our sinful desires, we get more and more of the fruits of the Spirit.
What a joy for our family, our friends and co-workers when we stop being harsh and become gentle, thankful instead of bitter, cheerful rather than grumpy. What a relief when we stop being bossy, but start supporting the others instead. What a blessing for society when lazy people become hardworking, and when more and more people become righteous, honest and loyal.
As Christians we become examples of righteousness, compassion and of everything that is right and good. We are a light which cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14-16.) Wherever we are, whatever we meet, however we feel, whatever our circumstances, whomever we are with, the message of the cross will always work, and produce good results. It is Christianity in practice.