What You Need to Understand about Taking Up Your Cross

Editorial note: In Episode 394 of Core Christianity, How Do We Take up Our Cross?, someone asked, “In Mark 8:34-38, when Jesus calls his disciples to take up their cross, is this about our discipleship? Can you explain what Jesus means by this?”Mark 8:34–38 says,

 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Here is Michael Horton’s answer:

Well, the most important thing here as elsewhere is to distinguish the law from the gospel. The law commands, but the gospel gives. We can’t look to the law for our salvation and justification before God. And the gospel doesn’t command; the gospel announces what God has done for us in Christ. But Jesus meant what he said here.

It’s law. It’s a command. We are to take up our cross. But we have to distinguish our cross from his. His cross is gospel; our cross is a command. It’s a law. But Jesus bore the curse of sin and death for us, in our place. We could never bear the brunt of God’s righteous wrath against sin, but Jesus is the spotless lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

We don’t take up that cross. Jesus took up that cross, and he did it alone, for us. But our cross is sharing by analogy in his suffering, not for our sins, but for our testimony to his gospel. We’re not bearing God’s wrath, but the wrath of Satan, and in a world that hates the truth.

So, Jesus warned his disciples, “They hate me; they’re going to hate you.” So, you know, we’re so soft and comfortable in our consumerism today. Just turn on the TV evangelists or look at the bestseller list for religion and spirituality—even some of the Christian bestsellers—and you’ll find a very different view of the Christian life.

It’s hard to imagine that that religion would turn out a lot of martyrs if we found ourselves in a situation of great persecution. There’s no cross, either Christ’s cross or our cross in that prosperity gospel, religion. And a lot of American preaching never talks about the cross, again, neither Christ cross nor our cross. We don’t come to Christ to die to ourselves, so that we can live to God and for our neighbors, according to a lot of the preaching today. We come to have health, wealth and happiness here and now.

We really need to hear more about Christ’s cross as the single and unrepeatable sacrifice for sinners, and about our cross a very different cross, as the self-giving and self-sacrificing love that we’re called to imitate as we love and serve others and bear witness to Christ, saving life, death, and resurrection.

In other words, we’re called to die to ourselves, not die for ourselves or others, but to die to ourselves and take up our cross in the sense that we are willing to name ourselves disciples of Christ, even in the face of suffering and persecution for it.

Photo of Michael Horton

Michael Horton

Michael Horton (@MichaelHorton_) is the Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The author of many books, including Core Christianity, he is also the host of the new Core Christianity radio show, a daily Bible question-and-answer show broadcasting nationwide. He lives with his wife Lisa and four children in Escondido, California. 

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