Matthew 10: 38 says: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
If you’ve grown up in the church, I feel it’s safe to assume you’ve heard this verse. It’s one of the most well-known passages, and one of the most used. And yet, up until recently, I’ve always felt uneasy with it.
Maybe it’s because in the context of Matthew 10, Jesus is giving this command to His disciples as He’s telling them that they will be persecuted for His sake.
Maybe it’s because when Jesus says persecuted, at least in this context, He doesn’t mean having the liberal media “attack” you, or having your TV show cancelled, or even losing your job because of your faith in Him.
Maybe it’s because Jesus tells them they might die. They will suffer. They’ll be beaten.
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”–Matt. 10:21
Jesus tells them like it is. And then He tells them, right after telling them to take up their cross, that they must love Him more than they love their family.
And we read this passage and weep. We read this passage and realize we aren’t as committed to Jesus as we should be. We make plans to share our faith more, to be bolder about what we believe, to spend more time with Jesus, etc.
None of these are bad ideas. We should share our faith boldly, we should spend more time with Jesus, and we should care about glorifying Him in everything we do.
However, as I read this passage and I look at Jesus, I’ve realized something:
I will never take up my cross and follow Jesus until I am resting in the truth that Jesus first took up His cross for me and followed the Father to Calvary to atone for my sin.
When Jesus calls us to take up the cross, He’s not telling us to pick up a lot of self-discipline and be better Christians. He’s calling us to see what He has done, how He picked up His cross and paid for all of our sin. Then, and only then, will we find the freedom, because we’ve been forgiven by God, because we are righteous before Him in Christ, because we are dearly beloved children, to take up our cross daily, declare Jesus as Lord over all of life, and give our lives to His glory, whatever that may mean.
When Jesus calls us to die to self, we must remember that “He became sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Dying to self isn’t a way to get God to approve you. Dying to self is a sign before God and men that you understand what Jesus did for you–that He denied Himself so that we may be saved, that we may trust in His finished work and be forgiven and righteous, completely free from any effort on our part–and that dying to self is the ONLY proper response to this great King.
When we repent of our sin, we declare that Jesus is Lord, and that we are not. And we place all of our hope for salvation in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone. We have trusted Jesus to make us new, laying down our rebellion to begin to walk with Him, trusting Him alone. And as we do that, we see that what we have in Jesus (new life, forgiveness, eternal hope, righteousness, love, honor, purpose) is more than enough. Then, and only then, do we find the freedom, true freedom, to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
You see, what’s happened is that we’ve taken the commands of Christ and we’ve separated them from the work and person of Christ Himself. And when we do that, we run the risk of creating a new law for ourselves, rather than truly love Christ and surrender our lives in joyful, God-given gladness for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus never calls us to do anything He has not already done. He is not some distant boss that is afraid to get His hands dirty. He is the divine King, who surrendered His rights for our sake. He is the Son of God, giving up His eternal home in glory to live amongst sinful men and die for their redemption. He is the coming Lord, who reigns in our hearts and shows us the best way to live, the only truly God-honoring way. He is our Friend, who loves us dearly and gives us joy in His presence.
We cannot and must not separate the commands to follow Christ from the gospel. Jesus commands us to follow Him because “It is finished.” Following Jesus is never about adding to His finished work. It is responding to it. It’s turning from an old life of sin and rebellion to gladly receive Jesus as Lord, as He reconciles us to God, showing us how to do what we were made to do: enjoy God’s presence and reflect His holiness. It’s turning from self-righteousness to lean wholly on the perfection of Christ alone. It’s turning from guilt and shame to rest in the finished, perfect, once-for-all sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.
And from this salvation, having been made a “new creation” in Christ, reconciled to God, forgiven of our sins, having a new life with our Lord, we go forth and proclaim His name to a lost and dying world.
No matter the cost.
Lord, may our hearts be led by you and you alone. May we remember what you have done for us in taking up your cross and dying for our sins, and rising to be our eternal Lord. May we make much of you for all eternity. May our faith be strengthened by the truth of the gospel.