When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” he wasn’t speaking about self-flagellation. The cross is the Holy Spirit showing us how to live through the mind of Christ. It is a lifelong process of shedding our need for control and daily giving our will to God.
Say you’re a new Christian and are hit with a serious adversity, a life-threatening illness, tragedy or financial loss. Not only does it hit, but it begins to drag out. “This isn’t fair,” you might say. “I’m a little mad at God for allowing this to overtake my life.” We’re so full of questions and bereft of answers that we want to turn away. God seems insufficient and uninterested in our welfare.
Although we feel faithless, this is the time to stay faithful. These times of holding on to God rather than ourselves are when wisdom and maturity are established deep within us. This is the taking up of the cross of Christ.
Throughout our lives, giving up our own will and submitting to God will include seasons of heartache and soul-searching. There will be pressure from the enemy to pull away and reclaim our self-will. Satan wants nothing more than to separate us from the power of the cross. It is a certainty that we will become discouraged, tired, frustrated and sorely tempted.
Jesus addressed this on two fronts. “He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” (Luke 9:23-24, ESV). First, he said to take up his cross every day. Our life in Christ is renewed every morning and requires the nourishment of prayer and time in the Word. This helps us to be alert to the nudges of the Spirit as well as the subtle attacks of the enemy.
Second, Jesus reminds us that the Christ-life is a kingdom upside down: controlling your own life will cause you to lose it; giving your will over to the mind of Christ will save your soul. The reward is a life rich with wisdom and the gaining of an understanding of God that is only accessed through adversity. Not only that, it provides us with opportunities to lift up fellow men and women who also struggle with letting go.