The hardest thing Jesus asks of you and me is to die. To underscore the great significance of dying, Jesus repeats the command 5 times in the Gospels. He does that with no other command. Over and over again, He calls his followers to “take up his cross.”
Simply put, the cross is a symbol of death. In the first century, if you saw a man carrying a cross there was no question what was going to happen next. Carrying the cross was as good as being on it.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worth of me (Matthew 10.38).
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16.24).
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8.34).
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9.23).
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.27).
A teacher relates a story of being in a jewelry store where he overheard two young ladies discussing cross necklaces. “I want one that’s silver and gold,” said one girl. The other said, “I want one with a little man on it.” That’s what you and I are to be…a cross with a little man on it, like Jesus.
I guess that moves “‘cross’ dressing” to a whole new level!?! (Ugh! Sorry about that! Not really!)
Much of the Christian life is about death
Baptism (Rom 6.4-8)
Relationships/marriage (Ephesians 5.22-33)
Worship and Service (Rom 12.1,2)
Spiritual life (Galatians 5.24, Colossians 3.1-4)
Bearing fruit (John 12.24)
Dealing with sin (Romans 6.11-14)
St. Paul writes personally about his own need to “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15.31) and says, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2.20). Good for him! The rest of us struggle.
So it’s an undeniable fact that dying is a requirement of being a follower of Christ. And there’s the rub. To die literally means a lifelong, demanding struggle. We are much too alive to ourselves. Not a one of us dies easily.
Dying in Practice
Probably every struggle you have in being a Christian involves letting go of your own desires, passions, expectations, and agendas. Think about the past week. When you were the most frustrated, angry, confused, or disappointed, was it because you were not getting your way? Not “getting your way” is learning to die to your self. You/Self wants to be noticed. You/Self wants to be in control. You/Self wants to win the argument. You/Self wants to be comfortable. And it’s not happening!! Die! Die! Die!
You may be in a life situation – tough job, bad marriage, or frustrating church – that you want to leave. (Physical, psychological, or spiritual abuse is to be taken seriously and leaving may be the best option.)
Instead, embrace the struggle:
Struggle with it in prayer crying out for God’s mercy.
Discover what God is teaching you about your own self in it.
Seek counsel from a spiritually-wise person who has experienced life with God and can speak out of their experience.