Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
The second criterion Jesus gave to be His disciple in Matthew 16:24 was to “take up your cross.” The cross was a form of torture and execution in the Roman world. Jesus was letting His disciples know that they had to be willing to suffer persecution if they wanted to follow Him. Promised persecution for being a disciple of Christ was a consistent theme of Jesus’ teachings (For examples see Matthew 5:11, Mark 13:9-11 and Luke 10:3).
Some people have tried to promote the false idea that to “carry one’s cross,” means to “die daily to sin.” Despite it being a popular interpretation, it is neither true to today’s text or the whole of Scripture. Jesus never taught that the act of continual sinning would be normative in the believer’s life. Jesus actually taught in John 8:36 in regards to sin, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Also, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die daily” is directly related to the persecution he faced everyday preaching the gospel.
If someone wants to consider “carrying your cross,” as a reference to sanctification, it shouldn’t be looked at as a “daily dying.” But rather a “once and for all spiritual death” that happened the moment they accepted Jesus. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [past tense] with its passions and desires.” Likewise, Paul further taught that Jesus’ disciples no longer had an inner sinful nature because it was once and for all put to death with Jesus’ sacrifice.
The flesh may be sinful from the fall of Adam, but you are no more your flesh, than you are your stomach. One day the flesh will die because of the curse of sin and now you must count it as crucified with Christ, so your spiritual soul can live free. Thus, all disciples currently are, in this life, the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result, being willing to suffer persecution is the real criterion all future disciples must consider and agree to, if they want to follow Jesus.
Everyone knows eventually the Romans crucified Jesus, however, most don’t know how the rest of the disciples died. Here is just a brief overview of how nine of Jesus first disciples died; (1) Peter was crucified upside down, (2) James was beaten to death, (3) Thomas was speared and then burned alive, (4) Philip was crucified, (5) Matthew was beheaded, (6) Nathaniel was crucified, (7) Simon was crucified, (8) Thaddeus was beaten to death and (9) Andrew was hanged.
Christians shouldn’t walk around depressed or with a death wish, however, we must be willing to take up our cross and lay down our lives if we want to be Jesus’ disciples.
Sadly, over 100,000 Christians around the world die each year for their faith in Jesus, mostly in Muslim and Communist countries. May we never forget the reality of Jesus’ words. Yet, let us remember that what John Stott wrote, should be our attitude during persecution from the encouragement of Jesus, “‘Rejoice and be glad!’ We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin and bear it like a Stoic, [or] pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even ‘leap for joy’ (Luke 6:23).”
Are you willing to carry your cross and suffer persecution for the sake of Christ?
- Repent of any false beliefs you might have had about “carrying your cross.”
- Ask Jesus for boldness to not only believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him (Philippians 1:29).
- When you suffer persecution; (1) Rejoice that you share in the same suffering of Christ and the righteous prophets, (2) Forgive your enemies, (3) Remain faithful and (4) Be encouraged to know that you’re not alone (Hebrews 12:1-3).