What Does It Mean to Take Up Your Cross?

Mark 8:34 records, "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'" (NIV). 

Jesus tells us what we need to know to be a true follower of His in one sentence. It is a sentence that seems quite simple to complete from the outset, but is almost impossible to carry out—impossible if we try to control any part of it. 

That brings us to the first part: Deny ourselves. Self-denial begins when we stop looking out for "number one"—to go from a selfish attitude to one of selflessness. Humans are selfish by nature. We do not have to teach a small toddler to be selfish. Everything in their world is mine. As children, we are taught to share, but it takes a conscious effort by a child to execute. Matthew 22:39 instructs us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The self-denial that is in the basic building blocks of what we are taught as children is brought to us in the words of Jesus here.

The second part contains the question at hand: Take up our cross. The cross, as used for capital punishment, had been around for at least 500 years at the time of Jesus' statement. Crucifixion was a slow and excruciating way to die, sometimes taking days. It was also one of the most humiliating ways to die. Humility is a crucial part of self-denial in being a follower of Jesus.

Finally, "follow me" denotes an ongoing act, not just a one-time event. All of these things go into our spiritual walk, and all must be present if we say we are a true follower of Jesus.


by M. Todd Jones


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