Christ’s call to deny ourselves and bear the cross is hard for us to hear. Especially in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on the self and being comfortable. Yet the Saviour makes it an essential part of discipleship, indeed the call to cross bearing is repeated five times in Christ’s teachings (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27). We want to limit self-denial to denying ourselves this or that thing, while safely preserving the rest of what we enjoy. But the inconvenient truth is that it does not merely mean denying ourselves things, it means denying self. Bearing our cross does not mean any kind of hardship or inconvenience we have to bear in life. Our blind self-love does not want it but taking up the cross means willingly enduring any and every kind of shame and loss for the sake of Christ if it is necessary. It is the ultimate test. By nature, we want to shirk rather than embrace dying to self, but it is unavoidable. Here are seven compelling reasons that Christ gives us not to avoid the cross.
Cross bearing is not just the test of discipleship but of piety too. It enters deeply into our Christian experience. John Calvin points this out, that it stirs our hope beyond this world, trains us in patience and obedience and chastens our pride. David Dickson opens up the fuller implications of Christ’s call in Matthew 16:24-28. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of His own resolution to suffer the shameful death of the cross and exhorts His disciples not to be ashamed of suffering for His sake. If we are not resolved to suffer for Christ we cannot be His disciples. This is hard.
Dickson acknowledges that self-love controls us, we want to be well esteemed in this world. “A man’s own self is a bundle of all sort of idols which we must either renounce and be content to have them mortified, or else we cannot follow Christ”. Cross bearing helps us advance in self-denial and the Lord gives His own a cross that they are to bear suited to their own needs and condition. This cross must not make then forsake following Christ; but rather draw nearer to Christ and follow Him. The cross forces them to deny themselves by taking from us and giving to us what we would not otherwise accept. Self-denial bows the back to willingly take up and bear the cross. In the following updated extract he explains the seven reasons Christ gives in this passage to dissuade us from avoiding bearing the cross.
1. Seeking to Save Your Life is the Very Way to Lose it
Avoiding the cross to save your life is the very way to lose your life, therefore resolve to bear the cross. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it”. 1. The love of this temporal life makes people deny Christ. Christ will, therefore, have us to be resolved about this life. Whoever will save their life by denying Christ, is a great fool. They lose that eternally which they seek to save for a time, by avoiding Christ’s cross. “Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it” (Matthew 16:25).
2. Resolving to Lose Your Life is the Very Way to Save It
To resolve to lose your life for Christ’s sake is the way to keep it; therefore, resolve to bear the cross. Our greatest wisdom is to be resolved to lose life and all rather than deny Christ or any point of His truth. Those who make least account of their life and of all things belonging to it, in comparison to serving and confessing Christ, is a wise person. In effect, they gain forever that which they risk temporally for Christ. “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
3. Denying Christ to Gain the Whole World Means Losing Everything
Those that refuse to bear Christ’s cross in the hope of gaining by it will be disappointed. They will lose their own soul and so gain nothing though they seem to gain a world. Resolve therefore to bear Christ’s cross.
It is a severe temptation when the cause of Christ cannot be maintained without bearing the cross yet hope of worldly gain is offered if anyone will stop supporting Christ’s cause. Christ’s question in answer to the temptation implies this. What does a person gain in this situation? Those who refuse to maintain Christ’s cause out of fear of losing or in hope of gaining some earthly thing lose more than they can gain even though it were a kingdom. They lose their soul and what profit do they have even if they gain the whole world and lose that? (Matthew 16:26).
4. Abandoning Christ is Abandoning the Only Redemption of Your Soul
Nothing on earth can redeem the soul of those who have abandoned Christ for fear of the cross or hope of gain. Therefore, resolve to bear Christ’s cross rather than deny Him. If any deny Him there is no ransom for a soul other than in Christ. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Foreseeing our irreparable loss if we deny Christ is a special means to strengthen us against the fear of bearing the cross for Christ’s cause. We should say to ourselves, “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
5. Although Despised Now, Christ Will Ultimately Be Glorious
Though Christ may seem poor and demeaned in that His followers are made to bear His cross, yet He will be found the glorious Son of God who is worthy to be suffered for. Therefore let no one think of Christ’s cross with shame. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father” (Matthew 16:27).
6. Your Cross Bearing Will Be Assessed at the Final Judgment
The fruit of bearing Christ’s cross or of refusing it will be seen at the day of judgment when He shall be judge. He will reward the backslider with deserved judgment and crown the grace of suffering for His sake with the reward of life. The fruit of everyone’s works, whether good or evil, will be found at the second coming of our Lord. “He shall reward every man according to his works”.
7. You May See Christ’s Glory in His Church on Earth
Christ promises a view of the glory of His kingdom. He will reveal to them as much as may encourage them and all His other followers to endure any cross for Him. Therefore, they should be resolved to bear the cross. He gave a little view of His glory shortly after this at the transfiguration. But this was not the main fulfilment. His coming in the power of His kingdom was made more evident after His resurrection. He declared Himself Lord and King in establishing His church with all her officers where He pleased, in subduing Jews and Gentiles to Himself by the power of His Word and Spirit, in separating His church and people from the world. This Kingly power was seen most evidently by those of the apostles who lived longest. His coming in the power of the gospel is a guarantee and evidence of His future coming to judgment in the glory of his Father.
Whoever gets a right view of the glory of Christ’s power in converting souls as well as establishing and governing His church with all His ordinances will not refuse to bear his cross. This promise is made to encourage the disciples to bear the cross.
Christ’s power and grace manifested in the conversion of souls and setting up of the Church in the days of the apostles is a demonstration of Christ’s kingly power and an evidence of His future coming to judgment. He said that some present would “not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).
A final thought from John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. The more we come under the influence of that portion of Scripture, the more we will have of the spirit of self-denial and cross-bearing and manifest true discipleship.
“Although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross. And the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving Him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to His will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from Him.”
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.