I said in a previous blog post that two of the fundamental things that I misunderstood and misrepresented in my early teachings were 1) the nature of the finished work of Christ, and how it applies to the believer, and 2) the reality and necessity of the daily cross. I have already attempted to describe some of the great and common misunderstandings concerning the finished work of Christ, and my own confusion on that point in this post: The Nature of the Finished Work. Now I would like to share a few thoughts about the reality and necessity of the daily cross of Christ.
Probably every Christian is aware of the historical and outward cross of Christ, the wooden cross upon which He was crucified between two thieves. But even before Jesus surrendered his life on the outward wooden cross, and before any outward crosses were in the picture, it’s interesting to notice that Christ was already talking to His disciples about another cross, a daily cross, that they must take up every day in order to truly follow Him. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” (Luke 9:23). This must have sounded strange to the ears of his hearers, who certainly at that point (we are told) did not understand or accept that Christ would die outwardly, nor could they have understood clearly what He meant by taking up a daily cross in order to follow Him where He was going.
But it’s very important that we understand that the cross was not something that Christ only experienced for the last few hours of his life. The cross—the daily cross—was something that He knew, spoke of, embraced, took up, and carried every single minute of every day of his life as a man. The outward wooden cross was only the final stroke, the killing of the outward life of the nature of man. But the inward cross was a daily experience, a continual denial and death to all independent will and self-life as a man, in perfect submission to the will and power of the Father.
While it is absolutely true that Christ, in his incarnation, never sinned, and was therefore the perfect and spotless Lamb of God, it is also important to understand that He entered into man’s condition in the fall. I mean, he did not enter into the condition that Adam was in in paradise BEFORE he fell, but rather into man’s condition after he had fallen. For this reason Christ was subject to weakness (“He was crucified in weakness” 2 Cor. 13:4), He had a mortal body, was subject to the elements, to heat and cold, tiredness, hunger, painful emotions (“a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”). He was also subject to every sort of temptation and assault of the enemy (“tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin,” Heb. 4:15) and also to the evil, anger, and violence of wicked men. He entered into our fallen condition, not to be immune to it, but to overcome it by the Spirit, and (as I have said elsewhere) to then share His overcoming life with all who would receive it. For this reason He said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself.”
But the WAY that Christ overcame all enemies, all temptations, all weakness, all independent human will, (always saying “not My will but Yours be done”) and even death, was not solely by means of the wooden cross that he hung upon for the last few hours of His life, but also by means of the daily cross that He carried, and told His disciples that they must also pick up and carry every day.
So what is this daily cross? I believe it is of great importance that every Christian knows and experiences the answer to this question. It is something described and required by nearly every page of the New Testament in one way or another, and yet it remains a mystery or an offense to a surprising number of Christians.
In a few words, the daily cross is a continual denial of all self-will, and an inward subjection to the righteous power of God that dethrones and crucifies the fallen will and nature of flesh in man. Like the wooden cross, the daily cross is an instrument of death, and is the way to experience resurrection life. But the daily cross is not an outward instrument of death that just kills the outward body, but rather an inward and ongoing death, that starves, weakens, crucifies, circumcises, and frees from all that has grown up in the soul of man apart from the pure nature and will of God.
Taking up the cross every day means living in such a way that you are careful and watchful to stay UNDER its weight; I mean under its influence, under its judgment, in its light, carrying the yoke of truth everywhere you go, and experiencing it as that which continually exposes the source, nature and spring of all your actions, words, thoughts, and desires. The daily cross of Christ is the power of God made manifest in you to expose, to judge and to remove all that is fallen from His glory. It is not just self-denial, or ceasing to do evil. It is denial of self AND a complete subjection and resignation to the creating power, or the resurrecting power of Christ. And it is the lack of living in this way inwardly at all times before God, that keeps men and women from truly experiencing the benefit of all that Christ did outwardly for them.
Many people believe in the outward cross, who yet themselves (as Paul said, “even weeping”) are “enemies to the cross of Christ.” And what makes them enemies to the cross? Is it that they don’t have good theology? Is it because they don’t believe in the outward or historical cross of Christ? No. Paul says it is because “their god is the belly, their glory is in their shame, and they set their mind on earthly things.” How do you live as an enemy to the cross of Christ? You simply live according to the natural desires, will, and appetites of the fallen fleshly man, who is enmity with God, and does all things for the glory and gain of self. You are an enemy to the cross when you hide from its light, when you dodge its judgment, when you seek to keep alive the nature that it would kill, and thereby resist and crucify the life of Christ that it would rise up in you.
In this way, and for this reason, man is always either submitting to the power of God that “crucifies the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24) and “puts to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13), or he is resisting this work of the Spirit by remaining in the flesh, “setting his mind on earthly things,” and so “crucifying again to himself the Son of God, putting Him to open shame.” (Heb 6:6)
The truth is, that many people are not saved, or do not grow in grace, because they are unwilling to be entirely subject to the power that saves them, and are rather subject (in various ways and measures) to a contrary power which slowly distorts and destroys them. It is really that simple. In other words, people do not grow spiritually, or continue their spiritual journey simply because they will not stay under the dominion, the weight, and the light of God’s judgment that would continually subdue their enemies, and make room in their heart for the kingdom of God.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. Oh, that My people would listen to Me,that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. (Psa. 81:10-14)
This may sound simplistic, and as a concept it is indeed simple. It is certainly not complicated. But even so, a great number of Christian men and women refuse to live this way, simply because they don’t want to. Or you could say, because they want something else. Self-will always refuses the cross. And the cross always seeks to crucify self-will. Carrying the daily cross is the same as walking in the light of Christ, a light that exposes and condemns all things that are contrary to the nature of God. It is called carrying the cross because His judgment, His truth, needs to remain as a yoke upon our shoulders, and we need to make sure we are always keeping ourselves under its weight. Christ doesn’t tell us to just visit the cross once a week, or even once a day. He says to carry it always, stay under it always, "take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me," and by submission to its power, you will become like Me, “gentle and lowly in heart, and find rest for your souls.”
Now this daily cross, this inward cross, is what is missing in all man-made religion, even man-made Christianity. Christians across the world praise the historical cross, and bow down before images of the outward cross of Christ, even while their hearts adamantly refuse subjection to the daily power of God that works both death and new life in the soul. But this was not so with the early apostles and followers of Christ. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor 15:31). He said, we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10-11). He said, Oh “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). Peter said,
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God… For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” 1 Pet. 4:1-2, 6
Jesus said over and over again things like: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” John 12:25. Or, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)
Not one of these verses is talking about an outward cross, or an outward death. Nor are they talking about a one time experience, or a mere belief in a historical event. They are talking about living in such a way, at all times, where the power of God, the judgment of God, the light of God, is continually in our view, and where our heart remains in a condition that is soft, humble, and submitted to it.
Every day of his life as a Man, Jesus Christ bore this daily cross. He bore a physical cross for a few hours, but He carried the inward cross for thirty-three years without fail. Every temptation of the enemy was an enticement to step out from under it as Man. Every insult and act of violence from men, even the misunderstandings of His disciples, were seen by Him as attempts to bring Him out from a perfect denial of His will as a Man, and a perfect submission to the will of His Father. He said to Peter, “Get behind my Satan, you are a stumbling block to me!”, when it was suggested to Him that the cross was not necessary. Every form of pain and sorrow He endured as a Man, even when He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (Mat 26:38), was an opportunity to step out from under His yoke, to walk (perhaps for just a few minutes!) in His own human will, to ease His burden, to avoid His cup, but He would not do it. He carried the cross to His will as a Man every day of His life, He kept under the yoke, He submitted to His Father, even when His sweat fell like large drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.
This is the daily cross. It involves taking THIS yoke upon ourselves and staying under it. It has to do with crossing (or going against) the will of the creature, in order to embrace and experience the will of the Creator. It is a voluntary surrender of all that is of self, and a perfect and ongoing subjection to the power of the Spirit. It is the way that faithful followers of Christ experience “the fellowship of His sufferings”, and “fill up in their flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col 1:24) It is not a mere belief in the outward, historical cross, but a daily turning, a daily seeking, and a daily surrendering to the power of God that bruises the serpent’s head and redeems man out from the fall.
In the beginning, Adam’s death was a turning from, and then a loss of the inward life of God in the soul, leaving him dead to God but alive to the outward world and the influences of the kingdom of darkness.
And now, our fellowship in Christ’s death, or our daily cross, is a continual submission to the light and power of God that exposes, weakens and crucifies in us everything that has grown up in our fallen condition; that is, all sin, self-will, pride, and carnal desire. Taking up our cross and following Christ every day means denying and forsaking the will and nature that are contrary to Him, and learning to live in complete subjection and surrender to the overcoming Spirit of our Savior.