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!
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Good article. I appreciate the clarification, because I often hear people misuse what it means to bear their cross for Christ.
Thank you Beth!
Well put. Makes it so easy to understand. Thanks Kathy!
Thanks Cathy! Miss you!
Recently, I was told that my OCD that has been with me for 57 years is in Gods will as a Cross for me to carry. This is hard to take due to the damage it has done to my body. There is no cure OCD and it is disappointing to learn God has no intention currently to Heal this horrible brain lock disease. ..Scott
I am so sorry to hear of your struggle. God is able to heal, but sometimes He chooses to work in more miraculous ways. He is able to work through your trial to reveal Himself as powerful and ever-present. He can use it to draw you ever closer to Him. I pray God will comfort and strengthen you and give you peace!
I consider my cross to be whatever or whoever I need to deal with that makes me become more Christlike. A difficult child or spouse could indeed be that cross that we must hang on in order to die to our own “self.”
I struggle with this bc I have failed at it many times and then worry about going to heaven.
Each day I try to follow Jesus and then fear or my flesh get in the way. Help!!
Hi Jenny, here’s the amazing thing… our salvation does NOT depend on us. We cannot do anything to earn it. We can’t be good enough. It is completely a grace gift from God made possible by Jesus and His sacrifice. Since we can’t do anything to save ourselves, we can’t do anything to mess it up! Yes, God wants us grow in our faith and obey Him. But that is a life long process and we will not be perfected until heaven. God simply asks us to surrender to Him and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in us.
Thank you for this timely article.