Jesus is not in the drafting business; his army is all volunteer. You can be a believer without carrying a cross, but you cannot be a disciple.
I see many believers have opted for the good life with its prosperity, material gain, popularity and success. I’m sure that many of them will make it to heaven. They will have saved their skins, but they will not have learned Christ. Having rejected the suffering and sorrow of true discipleship, they will not have the capacity to know and enjoy him in eternity. This is opposed to all the saints who have entered into the fellowship of the suffering.
You will have to carry your cross until you learn to deny the one thing that constantly hinders God’s work in our lives: self. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NKJV). We are misinterpreting this message if we emphasize the rejection of unlawful things. Jesus was not calling upon us to learn self-discipline before we take up our cross. It is far more severe than that.
Millions of professing Christians boast of their self-denial. They don’t drink, smoke, curse or fornicate; they are examples of tremendous self-discipline. Not in a hundred years would they admit, though, that it was accomplished by anything other than their own willpower. In some ways, we are all like that. We experience spurts of holiness, accompanied by feelings of purity. Good works usually produce good feelings, but God will not allow us to think our good works and clean habits can save us. That is why we need a cross.
Don’t take up your cross until you are ready to reject any thought of becoming a holy disciple as a result of your own effort. Before you take up your cross, be ready to face a moment of truth. Be ready to experience a crisis by which you will learn to deny your self-will, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and self-authority.
You can rise up and follow Christ as a true disciple only when you can freely admit you can do nothing in your own strength. You cannot overcome sin through your own willpower. You cannot work things out by your own intellect. Your love for Jesus can put you on your knees, but your cross will put you on your face.