For the first Christians who heard, “Take up your cross” (Luke 9:23), it was not poetic or symbolic language; it was quite literal. Christianity was birthed into a context where Christians were often put on crosses for choosing to follow Jesus.
Though the circumstances these Christians lived in were more extreme than ours, our commitment to Christ is not supposed to be less extreme than theirs. The cross they were asked to take up is the one we’re also asked to take up today.
A person on a cross had given up total control of their life. They were under arrest. Bound hand and foot, totally powerless to the will of their captor. As good as already dead.
To take up our cross means a total surrender of our will to Jesus, to die to anything we desire or believe apart from what Jesus wants.
1. Does that describe your relationship with Jesus?
Have you brought all your beliefs captive to his teaching? A lot of people say that Jesus is Lord but feel the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to believe about, for example, homosexuality, gender, or sex in general. If something in the Bible offends them or makes them uncomfortable, they have no problem saying, “Well, I don’t believe that,” revealing their misunderstanding of what Lordship really means. If Jesus is Lord, we believe what he says because he says it, whether we disagree with it, are angered by it, or don’t understand it. There are a lot of things in the Bible we may find difficult to believe. Some are even offensive.
The question is, “Is Jesus Lord?”
One day as Jesus was traveling along a road, one of his followers said to him, “‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57–58 ESV).
In those days, a lot of people followed Jesus because of what he could do for them. He could do miracles, his teachings brought them comfort, and some religious students followed him because it was a way of beefing up their résumé.
Today, many people come to Jesus because they think he can help their marriages, bless their finances, relieve their burdens, and sometimes even heal their body—and he can do all those things. But obedience to Jesus will often lead you away from those things.
2. Are you following Jesus for comfort or a cross?
If following Jesus leads you away from even having a place to call home, will you go? Is he enough, even if you are without a home?
Jesus was not into “Follow me for your best life now” invitations. He was into the “I’m enough for you, even if you have the worst life” kind of invitations.
“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59–60).
This seems harsh, but scholars say this wasn’t simply about going to his dad’s funeral to pay his respects; it was about going home to obtain his inheritance. This man wanted to follow Jesus, but he didn’t want to give up that inheritance, because it was his security for the future and something he had been looking forward to his whole life.
3. Are there any limits to your obedience?
Is there any place where you say, “I can’t walk away from that”? Is there anything God has told you to stop doing that you’re still doing, like a relationship or habit? Is there anything he’s told you to start doing that you’re not doing yet, like tithing, ministry, or joining a church?
A follower of Jesus forsakes all that Jesus has forbidden and commences all that Jesus has commanded. It means you lay down your life as a blank check and say, “Lord Jesus, all that I am, all that I have, all that I ever hope to be, I now and forever give fully and entirely to you.”
“Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61–62).
Again, this seems a bit harsh. But this was not just a “Let me run home and tell my mom I won’t be home for dinner so they don’t turn in a ‘missing person’ report” kind of request. This involved hesitation—sinful hesitation.
4. Are you delaying obedience?
You may think you’ll follow Jesus fully when you’re older or after you get settled in your career or when you get out of a certain situation.
But Jesus says that you can’t have him and delayed obedience. It’s either full surrender or no surrender.
Jesus says that you can’t have him and delayed obedience. It’s either full surrender or no surrender.
Imagine if, after dating my wife for a while, I said to her, “I want to marry you. There’s no other girl I want to grow old with. But I’m also really having fun playing the field. So, let’s get married, so I can have you locked down for life. I don’t want to lose you, but I also don’t want to live together at first because I’d like to have my nights free. I’ll settle down with you when I’m a bit older.” Of course she wouldn’t do that. To have someone as special as Veronica, I had to give myself fully to her.
Many people think they already belong to Jesus, but they think following him fully will happen later. But just as Veronica would not have put up with two years of marriage to me where I just ignored her, Jesus will not have followers who do not submit to following him immediately and fully.
When Jesus commands you to do something, do you ask questions like: “Is it safe?” “What will these people think?” “What will it do to my relationships at school?” “What will it mean for my college life?” “What will it mean for my bank account?”
For a true follower of Jesus, there are no such questions. To take up your cross means total self-surrender and death to any control you claim over your life.