Theme: Saying “Yes” to God
This week’s lessons teach us that Jesus’ command for Christians to take up their cross is not something that happens later in the Christian life, but at the very beginning. Indeed it is a critical idea of discipleship itself.
Scripture: Luke 9:23-26
But it is not only that we are to say “No” to self, which is what denying self is all about. We are also to say “Yes” to God, which is what taking up our cross involves. Some speak of cross-bearing as if it means enduring the inevitable. But that is not it at all. There are all kinds of things that cannot be avoided: a physical handicap, a deficient academic background, a drunken husband, a profligate wife. People sometimes refer to such inevitable things as “my cross,” but they are not crosses. They are just inescapable limitations or trials. A real cross involves the will. It means saying “Yes” to something, for Jesus’ sake.
Cross-bearing involves prayer and Bible study. These necessary means of grace take time and must be voluntarily chosen and pursued, rather than other pastimes that we might humanly prefer.
Cross-bearing involves the items Jesus listed in Matthew 25:31-46–feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the one who is in prison. These things are not easy to do. They involve denying oneself time, money, and convenience. At times these efforts seem utterly fruitless, because the gifts are abused and the one giving them is slighted even by the one he helps. But we are to live like this anyway. Doing so is saying “Yes” to Jesus. It is taking up our cross in His service.
Taking up our cross involves witnessing. It means putting oneself out for the sake of the one God sends into our life. Essentially, taking up our cross means accepting whatever God has given us or made us and then offering it back to Him as “our reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). That phrase from Romans 12 is in a passage that describes us as God’s priests making sacrifices which are “holy and pleasing” to Him. What is it that priests offer? They offer only what they have first received. They take the gifts of the worshiper and then offer them up. You and I are in that position. The gifts we receive are from God. We take these gifts—whatever they may be—and then offer them up to God with thanksgiving.
The idea of a cross tells us more about this, for it indicates how cross-bearing is to be done and what it involves. Walter J. Chantry, whom I mentioned earlier, is good in presenting these demands. I draw on his outline.
1. The demand to take up our cross is universal. In the previous chapters, when I spoke about the offer of the gospel to people of every conceivable type and background, I spoke of a “universal” offer. But that is not the sense in which I use the word here. The universal offer of the gospel means that the way of salvation is offered to everybody so that “whoever wishes” may come to Christ (Rev. 22:17). Not all do come; in fact, only those whom the Father draws come to Jesus (John 6:37, 44). But all may. Thus salvation is a universal offer.
But when we say that the demand to take up our cross is universal we mean something different from that. This demand is for all who follow Christ. So “universal” in this sense means that all who follow Christ and are therefore being saved must be cross-bearers. That is, it is impossible to be a Christian without self-denial. The only way to avoid the cross is to follow the devil’s self-seeking path and perish with him in hell.
In addition to saying no to self, cross-bearing also involves saying yes to God. What does saying yes mean? How is it sometimes misunderstood?
What are some practical examples of cross-bearing?
According to Chantry, what is the first demand of taking up our cross, and what does it mean?
Reflection: How can you encourage someone else this week in their own call to take up their cross?
For Further Study: To learn more about the nature of discipleship, download for free and listen to Dr. Boice’s sermon from John 13:35, “Marks of a True Disciple,” available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. (Discount will be applied at checkout.)