Deny Self and Take the Cross
“And he said unto all, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)ERV
In our previous meditation we saw how deep and intimate the relation between the disciple’s taking his cross and his following Christ. Here we have an additional thought suggested. “Let him deny himself” uncovers the deepest root of the cross-bearing and the following. Even while the Christian is striving earnestly to follow Christ, and in some measure to take his cross, there is a secret power that resists and opposes and prevents. The very man who is praying and vowing and struggling to follow fully what desire and will and heart are apparently set on, in his inmost self refuses the cross his Lord has called him to. Self, the real center of his being, the controlling power, refuses to accept. And so Christ teaches Peter, and us, when He for the second time speaks of taking the cross, that it must commence with the total denial of self.
The Cross Means Death
Taking the cross, means the acceptance of and surrender to death; self, the real inner life of the person, must die. The taking up the cross and the following of Jesus will be unceasing failure, unless the beginning is made here: let him deny himself and take up his cross. “He that loseth his life… shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Christ calls me to hate, to lose, my life; to deny that which gives life its proper value, that which I am in my own proper person—to deny myself. And why is this life to be put first under the cross, and then on the cross? And why, if He died for me on the cross, and won life for me, why must I still die, deny myself, and daily take up my cross?
Why the Cross?
The answer is simple, and yet not easy to comprehend. Only to the soul that consents to obey Jesus before fully understanding, will the real spiritual answer be opened up. Through the sin of Adam the life of man fell out of its high estate, where it was a vessel in which God made His power and blessedness to work, and fell under the power of this world, in which the god of this world has his rule and his dominion. And so man has become a creature possessed of a strange, unnatural, worldly life. The will of God, and heaven, and holiness, for which he was created, have become darkened and lost to him. The pleasures of the flesh, and of the world, and of self, which are all the dark accursed workings of the Evil Spirit, have become natural and attractive. Man sees not, knows not, how sinful, wretched and deadly they are—alienated from God, and all bearing within them the very seeds of hell. And this self, this inmost root of man’s life, which he loves so well, is just the concentration of all that is not of God, but of the Evil One. With a great deal of what is naturally beautiful and seemingly good, the power of self and its pride corrupts all and makes it the very seat of sin, and death, and hell.
Once one has consented to this life of the entire denial of self, the cross will be welcomed and loved, as it is the appointed power of God for freeing us of the evil power that is the only hindrance in our way of being fully conformed to the image of God’s Son, loving and serving the Father even as He did. To deny self is the inner spirit, of which taking the cross is the manifestation.
“Let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The insight into what the denial of self means makes clear why the cross must be taken up daily. It is not only special trial or suffering that calls to it; in the time of quiet and prosperity the need is still more urgent. Self is the enemy that is ever near, and ever seeking to regain its power. When he came down from the third heavens, Paul was in danger of being “exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7); the denial of self and the bearing of the cross is to be the everyday spirit. When Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20)ERV “Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross by which I have been crucified to the world,” (Galatians 6:14)ERV he speaks of himself as living each moment the Crucifixion Life.
You may have seen the symbol of a hand holding a cross, with the motto Teneo et Tenem—“I hold and am held,” or to put it more freely, “I bear and am borne.” The words used before the cross of Christ was fully known—“Take thy cross”—express the first concept: accept the cross and bear it. The words given by the Holy Spirit after the Crucified One had been glorified and revealed as our life—“crucified with Christ”—point more to the other side: believe that His cross, that He the Crucified One, bears you. Before the work was finished it was only “Take thy cross”; now the finished work is revealed, that is, taken up and transfigured in the higher—crucified with Christ, I bear the cross and am borne. “I am crucified with Christ… Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20) It is only in the power of being borne that we can bear.
“Take Thy Cross”
Yes, what first was put as a condition we had to fulfill if we were to follow Him, becomes its blessed fruit. When we hear the call, “Follow me,” we think chiefly of all it implies to us. It is needful we do so. But it is not the chief thing. A trusted leader takes all the responsibility of the way, and makes every provision. As we think of denying self, and taking the cross daily, we feel how little we know what it all means, how little we are able to perform what we do know. We need to fix our heart upon Jesus, who calls us to take the cross and follow Him. On Calvary He led the way, and opened it for us, even to the throne of God’s power. Let us fix our heart upon Him; as He led His disciples, He will lead us. The cross is a mystery. Taking the cross and being crucified with Christ is a deep mystery of redemption. All the hidden wisdom of God is a mystery. Let us follow Christ with the true desire to come after Him, and live wholly as He to the glory of the Father, and enter through death with Him into fullness of life with Him as our leader.