What does it mean to ‘take up your cross and follow Jesus’?

Last updated on November 19, 2022

From the gospels, we see Jesus begin His ministry by preaching about repentance and the Kingdom of God to the people around the towns of Galilee. As He chooses His disciples, He says, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18-20). They closely follow and see Him pray, minister, heal and teach the crowds with many parables and signs. Jesus tells His disciples that He would have to suffer and die in Jerusalem at the hands of the chief priests and elders, after which He would be resurrected to life. But they are confounded on hearing this. Peter especially draws Him aside saying he will never allow Jesus to suffer – to which Jesus sternly reprimands him (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.

The gospels record this in Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27. Jesus was telling the disciples to follow Him, but this meant it would be at a cost. Being followers of Christ today, what does it mean to follow Jesus?

It all starts with love

Yes, it is true that we want to know more about God but are we willing to be discipled and disciplined by Him? In our day-to-day lives, we make many decisions and prioritize tasks, but do we stop and think if we are honoring God in all that we do? Many of us view life as an unending chase after possessions, entitlements, desires and having power over others. We need to ask ourselves few questions:

  • Do I love God more than all that I possess, or all that defines me?
  • Will my pursuits of wealth and fame draw me closer to God or lead me away from Him?
  • Am I willing to forgo benefits, long-acquired habits, inseparable relationships, or suffer under persecution if my faith needs to demonstrate my love towards God?

Jesus chose to do the will of His Father above everything else and humbly took up His execution device, the cross, to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-9). After His resurrection, the cross symbolizes victory and salvation for all who will put their faith in Jesus. Following Jesus means to be humble like Him, to love and obey, to lead a righteous life aligned with God’s word. As we obey God out of love, we soon understand that the cost of leaving our carnal and selfish desires is far outweighed by the fulfillment, peace and joy that God gives us through Christ Jesus (Romans 14:17).

Jesus taught His disciples that, unlike others, they must not lord over each other but lay down their selfish desires to serve one another in brotherly love. The command to “love each other” applies to all of us and makes the cross (or sufferings in life) more bearable as we carry it.

Denying oneself

Jesus tells His disciples to deny themselves as an indication that they should be willing to follow the path of suffering, persecution and sometimes even death as they followed him instead of following the comforts and sinful ways of the world. He goes on to say, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

By clinging on to our worldly possessions and comforts we deceive ourselves into believing that our life is secure. Jesus reminds us that the honors and glories of this world are temporary and only the riches that we store up in heaven will last forever (Matthew 6:19-21). Even if following Christ costs our reputation, comforts or our life itself, He promises to give us eternal life and greater riches than one can ever receive in the present world.

Taking up our cross means Jesus has become more precious to us than approval, honor, comfort, and life

In today’s context, as we decide to follow Jesus, it means that we willfully allow our sins, our grumblings, ungodly attitudes, greed and selfishness to be crucified and removed from our character and actions (Galatians 2:20). Instead,

  1. We allow the Holy Spirit to correct us and help us to serve others and honor God above everything else in our lives (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).
  2. We find our fulfillment, contentment and joy even as we face trials (Romans 8:18).
  3. We know that God will make us co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) as His children when His Kingdom will finally be established in this world.

Bear in mind that when we follow Jesus, we obey His commands and represent Him wherever we go. Our actions, thoughts, speech and compassion should reach out to others and spread God’s love and kindness. Our daily life must be enriched by studying the Word of God, spending time in prayer and devotion as well as participating in worship and communion with fellow believers. We humbly come to God with the realization that we weren’t worthy, but God calls us to follow him. Let us therefore seek His kingdom and his righteousness, that all things may be added (Matthew 6:33), as promised in the Word.

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