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 was to “take up their cross.” The cross was a form of torture and execution in the Roman world. Jesus was clearly letting His disciples know that they had to be willing to suffer persecution if they wanted to follow Him, Matt. 5:11, Mark 13:9-11, & Luke 10:3.
Some teachers have tried to promote the idea that carry one’s cross means to “die daily to sin.” However, though this may be an acceptable interpretation to some, it is neither true to the text or the whole of Scripture. Jesus never taught that the act of continual sinning would be normative in the believer’s life. Jesus clearly 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 “carry their cross” as a reference to sanctification it should not be looked at as a “daily dying,” but rather a “once and for all spiritual death” that happened the moment they accepted Jesus.
Paul taught that the disciple’s “old sinful self” was (past tense) crucified with Christ when they received salvation. As a result, Paul believed that disciples no longer had an inner sinful nature because it was once and for all put to death with Jesus’ sacrifice, 2 Cor. 5:17. Paul made this distinction clear in Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
In turn, being willing to suffer is the real criterion all future disciples must consider and agree to if they want to truly follow Jesus. We all know that eventually the Romans crucified Jesus. But most don’t know how the rest of the disciples died.
Here is just a brief overview of how eight of the disciples died; (1) Peter was crucified upside down, (2) James was beaten to death, (3) Thomas was speared and burned alive, (3) Philip was crucified, (4) Matthew was beheaded, (5) Nathaniel was crucified, (6) Simon was crucified, (7) Thaddeus was beaten to death, & (8) Andrew was hanged.
Christians shouldn’t walk around depressed or with a death wish, however, as Jesus clearly stated we must be willing to lay down our lives if we truly want to be one of His disciples. 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.
Are you willing to carry your cross and suffer persecution for the sake of Christ?
- Repent of any false beliefs you might have held about “carrying your cross.”
- Ask Jesus for boldness to not only believe in Him, but also to suffer for His name, Philippians 1:29.
- If you suffer persecution, (a) forgive your enemies, (b) remain faithful, and (c) be encouraged to know that you’re not alone, Matthew 28:20 & Hebrews 13:5.