The paradox of the cross

Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciple we are to “take up our cross daily and follow Him” (Luke 9:23). But what does that mean?

To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in that time and culture.

The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things, from a religious icon to fashion element.

When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith, particularly the Christian faith.

But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death.

In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.

A radical symbol

Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?

Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people’s attention. He did this to say that following Him was not “child’s play.” It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple.

But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.

What is the cross we are to bear?

What does it mean to “bear the cross” today?

Often, we hear people say that they have a “cross” to bear. They will say, “My cross is my parents!” Their parents would probably say, “Our cross is our children!”

They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their “cross to bear.” But that is not what the cross means.

To bear the cross is to die to self

The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.

It really is a paradox: by “dying to self,” or “losing your self,” you “find yourself.” Through death, you find real life.

What does it mean to “die to self?” So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.

  • To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
  • It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
  • It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
  • It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
  • It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
  • It means “swallowing your pride” and telling someone about Jesus.
  • It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.

Now let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?”

The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life!

Paul summed it up well when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

6 thoughts on “The paradox of the cross”

  1. K. James says:

    I read your article today in “Eternal Perspectives” magazine. It does challenge me, a 61-year-old, a Christian since 5th grade.

    I do tussle, and have often tussled, with this thought: Dying to self “means doing what God wants you to do instead of what you want to do.” The tussle is: it seems to lead to thinking that any desires I have, I must seek to do the opposite, or I’m seeking my own will. Find what you want to do, then do the opposite. That can’t be what He really means, yet it tends to push that way, especially when stated in a concise statement such as you used in this article. And, I do realize, the statement has the ring of truth.

    Yet, doesn’t the Lord also say “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”? Do not any of the things in my heart I “want to do” come from Him? I often have real difficulty discerning my “selfish” wants from desires He’s given me. But what do I do with the yearnings in my heart: join my son in a discipleship ministry to young musicians, live nearer our kids and 2 dear grandchildren, find a more focused and clarified outlet of ministry which is more accurately related to what’s really in my heart?

    I do appreciate the practical applications you gave in the article, and also agree that the way people often think of a certain circumstance or person as “being my cross” is a narrow and distorted way to think of it.

    By the way, I’m a full-time associate pastor, nearly burned out by the distorted expectations of professionalized ministry and how it tends to kill the dreams and visions of the heart, incrementally, and where you find yourself on a cluttered treadmill, doing things you never really had a call, a burden, or even a desire to do. Long stories.

    May the Lord bless you.

  2. Nathan Carl says:

    Thank you for your response!
    Please keep me posted if you are ever here in Oahu, Hawaii. I go to Calvary Chapel-Pearl Harbor. Pastor Derald Skinner is an awesome man of God.
    Take care and God Bless you my brother,

  3. Nathan Carl says:

    Thank you my brother Greg!
    Harvest is my homepage every time I visit the net. I to can relate to this last reply. I’m active duty in our military (Navy Diver) and I can honestly and sadly say I can only talk about Christ with a handful of my fellow service members. Seems I’m always in a debate when the topic of religion comes up when I’m at work. Jesus has been taken out of our Country, schools and now our own military. Our forefathers are rolling over in their graves.
    Greg, I need help in talking to our brothers. They are truly lost. What scripture is the best to use when trying to get someone to open their heart?

    Greg Responds-
    There is a lot I could say in response to that question.
    You might want to check out my book “How to share your faith”.
    But,I love the story of the Prodigal son from Luke 15.
    John 3 has the powerful story of Jesus and Nicodemus.
    Those are great ‘springboards’ for the Gospel!
    Thanks for serving our Country.
    God bless you,Nathan.

  4. Sandy says:

    Thank you Pastor Greg for a great teaching today!

    Hee Haw from Texas!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    this a.m. I noticed a homeowner nail a skeleton to a tree in anticipation of the upcoming Halloween; the thought occurred to me that yes! it took a tree and death to bring me joy as well.

    Over 2k years ago, God, in His infinite mercy, chose to deliver His only son as my sin payment so I could have a new life and forever relationship with Him.

    So, I celebrate with the above homeowner about the event @ Calvary; although He (the homeowner) may not be personally aware of what Jesus did for Him! Perhaps somebody will tell him someday–how will they know without a preacher. God bless you GL as you continue in the gospel–the power of God!

  6. Anonymous says:

    What a great explanation Pastor Greg! And I am ashamed to admit that when I read your list of things that are examples of dying to one’s self, there were too many I haven’t been doing in my life. Especially the “swallowing one’s pride” and telling someone about Jesus. That, for me, is very difficult. It’s this feeling of not wanting to embarrass myself. What a trick the devil uses! I just have to keep praying for courage and also to keep memorizing scripture. I will continue to pray for you and your family!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.