As Christians, the cross of our Lord Jesus is rightfully the most considered aspect of our faith. So much has been written on the work of the cross, the beauty of the cross, and the wisdom of the cross. However, I’ve been realizing that I have severely neglected “the other side of the coin” when it comes to preaching and teaching about the cross. Not only does the work of Christ on the cross redeem us to God, but the cross demands a response from us as it beckons our flesh into its revulsion and contempt. His cross is an invitation for us into our cross – into the “fellowship of His sufferings”, that we may be “conformed to His death”, so that we may “attain to the resurrection from the dead”. (Philippians 3:10-11)
Paul was not just speaking of some ethereal, spiritual “dark night” or “soul suffering”. He was speaking of real trial, struggle, persecution, and derision in his life. So often Paul found Himself shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, in need, and severely persecuted. But what kept him there was his vision of the worth of his Lord (Philippians 3:8), his hope in the coming resurrection of his body (Philippians 4:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18), and his confidence in God’s plan to restore all things (Romans 8:19-25; Acts 3:21).
The cross must be the center of our theology and practice. A good gauge of a correct theological framework is if it successfully points us towards the cross in everything. Unfortunately much of western Christianity today uses Jesus and His cross to make them more comfortable, have more wealth, have a greater influence in culture, or more respect from the ungodly. The cross of Jesus left Him exploited, hated, despised, and dead before His vindication came in His resurrection as the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
The lifestyle of the cross is not just for the “elite apostles”, but it’s for everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” and whom He would call His brethren.
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”
(Luke 9:24-26 NKJV)
For it is only in the place of fellowshipping with Him in His sufferings that we will go on to experience true satisfaction, peace, and joy in the resurrection. Through embracing our cross and not loving our lives to the death (Revelation 12:11) as He did, we bear witness of His cross to a lost and dying world. God is going to use the church to openly display His forbearance, longsuffering, mercy, tenderness, love, and kindness in hopes that the wicked will repent and turn before the He comes to “judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31). The church will indeed “fill up in [her] flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Colossians 1:24) because of her loyalty and allegiance to Him, and because of her full confidence in the promises of the age to come.
Taking up our cross is not just for one climactic moment in the future where we give our lives for Him. We put to death the deeds of our flesh and die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) by pursuing righteousness in our thoughts, not reviling in return, serving in humility without complaining, and not seeking vengeance for our enemies. We throw ourselves fully into Him, fellowshipping with Him in the place of suffering. Yet we renew our confidence daily in our vindication at the resurrection and the establishing of His kingdom at the second coming.
May the Lord give you grace to be the “fragrance of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) in His death to your friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues so that they would also receive a “rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).