I want to focus my attention on a few particular verses that tell us to deny ourselves, bear our own crosses and follow Jesus (Matt 10:38, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23-24). I disagree that those quoted verses actually tell us to imitate Christ because Jesus said "follow me" which does not mean the same as "imitate me." Nevertheless, this article is not about arguing whether the verses mean imitate Christ but rather, I want to know what Jesus really means by denying ourselves and bearing our own cross.
I asked T.W.I.Truth this question and here's his answer:
Let me borrow the words of an unknown saint to explain what Jesus meant when He asked His disciples to follow His example by denying themselves: "Suppose you have been neglected or unforgiven. You sting with the hurt of the insult from such an oversight, but your heart is happy because you have been counted worthy to suffer for Christ. That is what dying to self is all about. When your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, and your opinions ridiculed, and yet you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or try to defend yourself, you are practicing dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently stand face to face with folly and spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus did, you have died to self. When you are content with any food, money, clothing, climate, society, solitude, or interruption by the will of God, you have died to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, record your own good works, or desire commendation from others, you are dying to self. When you can honestly rejoice with a brother who has prospered and had his needs met, and never feel any envy though your needs are greater and still unmet, you have practiced dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, and humbly admit he's right with no resentment or rebellion in your heart, you have died to self. Are you dead yet?" What did Jesus meant when He said we are to take up OUR cross and FOLLOW Him? Taking up the cross is the the willingness to suffer reproach. Jesus said, as we are His disciples, we must be prepared hearts and minds with the willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering, and even martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
Geri also posted her own interpretation of that, which I have reproduced in the article "The Imitation Of Christ - Different Views".
Both T.W.I.Truth and Geri have their own reasonable explanations for the meaning of those verses but somehow I feel something is missing as there are no other verses to back up those explanations, plausible though they may be.
These are difficult verses to understand, let alone explain. I did a search for the word "cross" and I discovered that only those verses quoted by T.W.I.Truth (all of them only in the synoptic gospels) refer to our OWN cross. The other references, all of them only in Paul's epistles, talk only about the cross of CHRIST.
After the resurrection of Christ, Paul talks only about the cross of CHRIST, nothing at all about our OWN cross. Perhaps, Paul said it best in Galatians 6:14-16 - Yet God forbid that I should boast about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means that the world is a dead thing to me and I am a dead man to the world. But in Christ it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that counts but the power of new birth. To all who live by this principle, to the true Israel of God, may there be peace and mercy! (JB Phillips NT)
Rather than talking about imitating Christ, Paul's letters emphasize the significance and importance of us being IN Christ and Christ IN us, and rather than talking about bearing own cross, Paul's letters emphasize Christ bearing His cross for our sake,and the power of the cross of Christ.
In Ephesians 2, Paul says the cross reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God, as one new man ie. the Church, and both can now approach God, the Father in one spirit.
Ephesians 2:14-18 (JB Phillips NT)
For Christ is our living peace. He has made a unity of the conflicting elements of Jew and Gentile by breaking down the barrier which lay between us. By his sacrifice he removed the hostility of the Law, with all its commandments and rules, and made in himself out of the two, Jew and Gentile, one new man, thus producing peace. For he reconciled both to God by the sacrifice of one body on the cross, and by this act made utterly irrelevant the antagonism between them. Then he came and told both you who were far from God and us who were near that the war was over. And it is through him that both of us now can approach the Father in the one Spirit.
In Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul says Christ humbled in obedience to God, so that He can reconcile us to God by dying the death of a common criminal on the cross, and now Christ is the head of the body which is the Church.
Philippians 2:7-8 (NLT)
Instead, he gave up his divine privilegesa]">; he took the humble position of a slaveb]"> and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,c]"> he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Colossians 1:15-20 (JB Phillips NT)
Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.
In Colossians 2, Paul says God has forgiven ALL of our sins as Christ has completely annulled the Law by nailing it to the cross, and now we share in the life of Christ.
Colossians 2:13-15 (JB Phillips NT)
You, who were spiritually dead because of your sins and your uncircumcision (i.e. the fact that you were outside the Law), God has now made to share in the very life of Christ! He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross. And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act!
All Paul talks about is the cross of Christ ie. what Christ has done, nothing about our own cross ie. what we have to do. Do you know that on the day Christ died on the cross, two other people also carried their own crosses and followed Jesus to their own deaths?
Matthew 27:38 (NIV)
Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Luke 23:32-33 (NIV)
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.
John 19:16-18 (NIV)
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Those two people were actually criminals, and even though both carried their own crosses and died together with Jesus, their ultimate destinations were markedly different. What made the difference?
Luke 23:39-43 (NIV)
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.f]">"
43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."The one who would be in paradise with Jesus recognized that he was a sinner deserving of death but Jesus was sinless and did not, and he confessed that Jesus is the Messiah. That man did not have the time to do anything but Jesus was not looking at his deeds, just his heart.
I still do not really understand what Jesus meant by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and follow Him, and why Jesus said that. Nevertheless, I choose to imitate Paul and focus on the cross of Christ and what that means for me. How about you?