“Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.’” Luke 9:23 (CEB).
What does Jesus mean when He says that you should take up your cross daily?
To “take up your cross” is something that you do in your thoughts. When thoughts that aren’t pleasing to God come up during the day, you have to “put them to death” on an inner “cross”.
Maybe a judging thought towards your friend comes up, or perhaps a thought of complaining. As soon as these thoughts come up in your mind, you choose to say “no” to them. Your mind keeps watch at the door of your heart, and you get to decide what you let come into your heart.
When a sinful thought comes up in your mind the first time, it is only a temptation – a “suggestion” or a “proposal” from Satan. But you can choose to not let that thought come into your heart! In practice that means that as soon as you become aware of the thought, you disagree with it. You don’t keep thinking about it. The thought meets a firm “no” in your mind. You don’t let the thought pass through and come into your heart. Saying “no” to these sinful thoughts is how you take up your cross daily.
Suffer in the “flesh” – finished with sin!
It hurts to go against what you would naturally like – to say “no” to the thoughts that you naturally would think. Just like a physical cross causes suffering for the body, this symbolical “inside cross” also causes suffering for your “flesh”, which is your sinful human nature, that part of you that would like to sin and which now can’t do what it wants to do. But you have a good reason to choose not to sin, and that is what is written in 1 Peter 4:1:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from [stopped with] sin.”
This verse promises that when you suffer in your flesh, that means when you take up your cross and say “no” to the sinful thoughts that come up during the day, you will actually stop with that sin! And it is not just a promise that will be fulfilled someday far in the future – you see progress as you go.
Perhaps you are often harsh and cold to your friends. When you say “no” every time negative thoughts about your friends come up, you will see after a time that those thoughts don’t come as often anymore. It becomes easier for you to be good and warm and kind to the people around you. The promise is getting fulfilled – you are becoming free from sin in that area!
Following Jesus: What did Jesus do?
This is what it is to be a disciple. It is about the life that you live daily, following after Jesus. What did Jesus do in His daily life? He had made a firm decision beforehand what to do when He was tempted: “Not My will, but your will must be done.” Luke 22:42 (CEB). He “took up His cross” and said “no” to Himself when He was tempted. His temptations never ended up in sin – in word, in thought, or in deed.
It is also written that Jesus “… prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death.” Hebrews 5:7 (NCV). That is what is needed to faithfully take up your cross daily! You have to cry out to your God for the strength to hold out – for the strength to say “no” and keep saying “no” when you are tempted. You must humble yourself and have the same mind that Jesus had: “Not My will, but your will must be done.”
Taking up your cross daily leads to a complete change, a transformation. You won’t always be the same person you are today. As you are cleansed from the sin in your nature, the fruits of the Spirit come in its place. Rather than being quick to judge and critical, or grumpy and feeling hopeless, you can be full of love and kindness. (Galatians 5:22-23.) Isn’t that hopeful?
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Philippians 3:12 (ESV).