I hear the phrase pop up often in conversation. It goes something like… Oh yes, our rebellious teenager is my cross to bear. Or perhaps… This chronic illness is my cross to bear.
The phrase “cross to bear” reflects the cross Jesus was forced to carry to the place of His execution. It is commonly accepted and used in Christian circles and in our culture to refer to some physical or emotional burden we are forced to “carry.”
All Followers of Jesus Must Bear a Cross
Unfortunately, the common saying causes a bit of confusion in the church. Although the struggles, trials, difficulties, and heartaches of this life can indeed be difficult to bear, none of these things are the “cross” Jesus commanded His followers to carry. (For more on trials in a Christian’s life see “5 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life.”)
In all three of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – Jesus describes what He expects from anyone who wants to follow Him:
Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25, NIV)
Okay, so if the greatest difficulty in my life is not this “cross,” then what is it? What is the cross Jesus commands His disciples to “take up and carry?” The answer is found in the context of the passage and in the nature of Jesus’ own cross.
In this passage – and also Matthew 16:24-26 and Mark 8:34-36 – Jesus describes a true disciple. Anyone who wants to follow Jesus will stop living life for herself, stop doing life on her own terms. She will give up her own plans and ideas and follow Jesus’ purposes for her instead. She will follow Jesus’ direction no matter where He leads or what He asks her to do. Just like Jesus followed the Father’s leading no matter where He led. (For more on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus see “3 Practical Steps to Turn Your Faith Right-side Out.”)
Our “cross to bear” is complete obedience to Jesus.
Jesus did not settle for half-hearted obedience. He obeyed the Father fully and completely. Even to death – all the way to the cross. For Jesus, the cross symbolized full and complete obedience to God. And that’s what it means for us.
If we want to follow Jesus, we will follow Him in complete obedience wherever He leads. That is our cross to bear. Full obedience.
At first, we may think this sounds a bit scary. After all, look where full obedience led Jesus?
But – as Jesus went on to remind us in verses 24-25 – why do we want to hang on to something that doesn’t last anyway? Why not give everything we have to God in order to get all God has to give us?
Ah… let us bear the cross of obedience and follow Jesus into the full and purposeful life God has for each of us!