What Does It Mean to Take Up Our Cross and Follow Jesus? Answered by Justin Perdue
Hey guys, this is Justin. Today I am answering a question from Eric. Eric asks, “How does the cost of discipleship fit with our rest in Christ?” In particular, Eric is thinking about passages like Luke chapter nine and Luke chapter 14, where Jesus will tell us that we are to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and follow him.
Well, a parallel passage to Luke nine is Mark chapter eight, and I think Mark chapter eight is very helpful in helping us understand what Jesus is getting at in using this language of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following him. In Mark chapter eight, many will know that Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and immediately Jesus begins to talk about his coming suffering, the fact that he’s going to be rejected by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders of Israel, and that he will suffer many things, and that ultimately he is going to die, and then he will rise again. Peter then immediately rebukes Jesus for talking this way. Then Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter and tells him, Peter, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
So it’s really important that we take all of this into consideration. It is right after Jesus makes that statement to Peter that he then addresses all of his followers and tells them that they need to be prepared to deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow him. So Peter has just been saying to Jesus, Jesus, you shouldn’t talk this way. You’re the Christ. You’re the Messiah. You should be talking about glory and triumph. You shouldn’t be talking about suffering and rejection and dying. Then Jesus turns around and says, not only is it necessary, Peter, that I should suffer and be rejected and die, he then says to all of his followers, none of you should expect a life of triumph and glory in this life either.
This is something we talk about a decent amount on Theocast. It’s the difference between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory. We follow a crucified Savior. He suffered and so will we. We are called to deny ourselves and that call to denial is a call to deny our flesh. It’s the internal war that we talk about so often, where our flesh and our spirit wage war against one another. We’re called to deny our ambition to seek glory and power in this life as though it is the greatest good. We realize, as theologians of the cross, that God works through weakness and suffering and pain.
Many will have experienced situations where they’ve been given a theology that tells them, do these things and you’ll get better. Do these things and your life will go well. Do these things and you won’t suffer any more or do these things and you will no longer struggle. Do these things and you’ll no longer be weak. Well, that kind of theology has misunderstood scripture and is at odds with Jesus. A theology of glory tells us to make ourselves better, but a theology of the cross tells us to die to ourselves and to serve others.
The way of the cross, in other words, is not a pathway to progress. The way of the cross is a way of life itself, and so this call of Jesus to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and follow him is his statement to us that in this life there will be suffering. In following him, there will be difficulty and there will be pain, but there is a glory that awaits.
Glory and triumph will be the order of the day in the new heavens and the new earth, and there will be glimpses of that now; but it is a pattern of suffering and then glory, and in the midst of all of this, we can rest. We can rest because Jesus, in going to the cross himself, has accomplished everything necessary for our salvation. We don’t need to do anything else in order to be reconciled to God, so when we encounter suffering and difficulty and struggle and pain, there is no reason to fear because we are safe and secure in Christ. Christ is helping his followers understand that their way of life in following him is not going to be obviously triumphant and obviously glorious all the time, but is going to be characterized by difficulty often in this fallen world.
The cost, we all know, is more than worth it. The new heavens and the new earth will be epic, and we will be with God forever, and we will see Christ as he is. In the meantime, we rest in our Savior who has accomplished our salvation. I hope this is helpful to you.