FOLLOWING: A Look into Picking up your Cross by Jean Milliken
And Jesus said to them all, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. For what good is it for a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)
Staying in a place of self-denial is probably the single hardest passage in the gospel message. Jesus said “deny yourself.” And then, as if that isn’t hard enough, we are told to make a harder choice, “pick up your cross” and follow Him.
Why did Jesus say this? Because Jesus isn’t going to compete with any “other affections.” He is welcoming the exchanged life. Yours for His. And He is going to live it out — IN you (John 14:15-31). He asks the true follower to look in the spiritual mirror and see where you have been molded by the world. The places where you struggle for acceptance. The insecurities that are hidden deep within the soul. The places where our fears drive us to live out of our Christian life by performance.
God sees the path we take daily. Our thoughts, ambitions, anxieties, the trials you face. And He is taking you to a new place of profound awareness of His Presence. But the way He takes us deeper is to bring us to a new realization of who He is. And then He asks for your complete trust. “Trust in Him at all times. Pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8) Believe and trust. Your desperation is part of your spiritual formation. It causes you to recognize your need for God’s daily grace in your life. Your weakness releases His Power and His Sufficiency in your life. (2 Cor.12:9) The suffering you will face, the emotional hurts, the places where things aren’t always tidy and understandable, are messy, or don’t make sense, press you close into His heart.
When you first heard the voice of Jesus and followed Him (John 1:37), you didn’t understand fully what a life of a disciple (a follower) of Christ was going to look like. You just heard the Holy Spirit speak and you obeyed by coming to a place of repentance and belief in Christ’s finished work on the cross for your behalf.
We are like the early followers of Jesus in John 1. I, personally, was drawn like a magnet to Him. You recognized in awe and wonder who Jesus is. His words, His thoughts, His actions, spoke to the deepest part of who you are. You stood in amazement at His teaching. The profoundness of what He said, what He did, who He was drawn to. Breaking cultural barriers, reaching out to the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the ordinary, the educated or the unschooled, royalty, or religious, His compassion and mercy had no limits. The ability He has to see my sin as a window to my soul. He sees where I have aligned myself to Him. He also sees the barriers, the hidden places, the places where I haven’t fully given myself to Him. And it is in those places of affections, the Holy Spirit’s work takes me to the cross.
To “walk as Jesus walked,” there is a place He asks you to come to that is both hard and yet freeing. Hard because you have to face why your flesh and sin nature speaks so loudly or battles for supremacy in your soul. Jesus will ask you at various points of your spiritual journey to view your flesh, your self-life as crucified. (Romans 6:6-7) And when something is dead, I no longer surrender to it. I am no longer a slave to sin. Sin is no longer my master. (Romans 6:14)
To stay in a place of denying self as a follower of Christ, I no longer nourish or obey the hidden voices of the lower nature that battle for attention. For if I nourish it, feed it, think about it, lust after it, it’s the hidden activity of the soul that I am keeping alive and refusing to give up, or align with the heart and will of God. My flesh wants to be fed. But “if I belong to Christ Jesus, I have picked up a cross, to crucify my flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24) And when I daily deny self, my spirit and soul is alive to the will of God and I can live in daily freedom. Each day is a fresh opportunity to slay the flesh. Each day I choose to re-direct my heart, so He is the master of my soul, heart, and mind.
I have a NEW master. And in this process of constant repentance, denial of self, I am being sanctified (Romans 7 & 8) being made holy “like Him” and “for Him.” As a believer, I stay in a place of viewing myself in the spiritual mirror of His Word and living in a place of hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice. But the view in the spiritual mirror will always, and has to, move me to an action step. If not, I’m not in full obedience to His voice, His life, where holiness and purity of heart is required. What needs to be surrendered today? Where am I in bondage to people’s approval? What are the fear issues? The control issues? The need for my pride and ego to be stroked? This is the lower nature/the flesh that is battling against the Spirit of God. The old master doesn’t want you live in a place of surrender. Why? Because the enemy of our soul still has a voice and control in the secret areas of the heart of the believer and Christ follower. We can be addicted to ourselves and not know it. But, as Christ followers, we “are crucified with Christ” (Gal.2:20) so I live in submission to Him daily. That is how my identity changes from self to Christ IN me, the hope of glory. (Col.1:27-28). It the mystery that was hidden for generations, but now is disclosed to us.
The first step, and the last step, to following Christ, is repentance, denying self, and choosing to pick up His cross and follow Him. For this reason, I carry nails in my pocket to consistently stay in a place of surrender and submission. Daily grace is fueled by confession and repentance and “letting go.” And in return, you live IN the Spirit, filled by the Spirit, in full and complete freedom. “For where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)