top of page

What Does It Mean to Take Up Your Cross?

23Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:23-26).

In 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and western Germany. He had gained an empire, yet in his dying days, he had found out that to live for oneself and obtain an empire without Christ seated on the throne of one’s life was to die a miserable death. One hundred and eighty years after the death of Charlemagne, about the year 1000, officials of Emperor Otho opened the great king’s tomb where, in addition to incredible treasures, they saw an unusual sight: the skeletal remains of King Charlemagne seated on a throne, his crown still on his skull, and a copy of the Gospels lying in his lap with his bony finger resting on the text, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”[1]

Too many people rush about seeking fame and fortune, desperately putting all their time, energy, and money into climbing the ladder of success, only to find that their ladder has been against the wrong wall at the end of their lives. May it be far from each of us to regret how you spent your years on frivolous things. Jesus said that if we want to follow Him, to be His disciple, there are three things we must do: deny ourselves, take up a life of cross-bearing, and do it daily.

Some feel that denying oneself would be to refrain from anything pleasurable, not eating chocolate, seeing a movie, or doing anything fun. However, Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). If following Jesus means never enjoying life or never having fun, it sure doesn't sound like it would be a life of living to the full. So what does it mean?

1) To deny ourselves. I believe that this means that pleasing the Lord is a higher priority than pleasing oneself. We must put His will first and foremost in our lives. If we can imagine a throne room in the temple of our hearts (1 Corinthians 3:16), Christ needs to sit there, not ourselves. He must rule and reign. The Greek word translated as deny means not only to say no to something but also to refuse someone. William Barclay, the Bible commentator, further defines it, saying:

Ordinarily, we use the word self-denial in a restricted sense. We use it to mean doing without something, giving up something. For instance, a week of self-denial is when we do without certain pleasures or luxuries, usually contributing to some good cause. But that is only a tiny part of what Jesus meant by self-denial. To deny oneself means saying no to oneself and yes to God in every moment of life. To deny oneself means obliterating self as the dominant principle of life and making God the ruling passion of life. A life of constant self-denial is a life of continual assent to God.[2]

2) You and I, as disciples, need to take up our cross daily. A cross was an implement of death. When a man was seen carrying a cross, people knew he was on his way to death. A life of purpose (a life of dedication to Christ), i.e., real life, comes to us when we dethrone ourselves and place Christ as the central focus of our lives. This life we have on earth is but a seed to be sown into the lives of others. Selfishness is gone when we have an attitude of heart that puts the needs of others before ourselves. Paul the Apostle was an excellent example for all of us when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To be crucified with Christ is to live to do God's will daily, even when our flesh life craves the opposite. This is the Spirit-controlled life.

3) We are to follow Christ. Many seem to follow the way of self. They bow at the shrine of I, Me, Mine, Myself. To the follower of Christ, his heart is to be like Jesus in every way He lived His life. We are to follow His example. He modeled to us how we are to live. Christ Jesus has bought us, not with silver or gold, but with the most valuable thing that He had: His blood and His life in this world. Jim Elliot, one of five missionaries who died seeking to reach the Auca Indians of South America with the message of Christ, said this: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" (Shadow of the Almighty, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Page 15). Keith Thomas

These notes are taken from study 20 in the Bible study series on the Gospel of Luke. To read or download it online, click the following link: Peter's Confession.

To share with friends via social media, click the links to Facebook or Twitter at the bottom of this webpage, and it will load automatically for you to add any words you like before sending.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word, Luke Volume One, Printed by Crossway Books, 1998. Page 342. [2] William Barclay. The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2. The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1958) p. 167.


Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page