While I cherish the death of my Lord for me, I am too often reluctant to die to myself for Him. The problem is that it is not enough to accept Christ’s cross while rejecting the cross to which I am called. Consider this with me.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus made it plain that He must suffer, die, and rise from the dead in order to fulfill God’s plan. In Mark’s account of the gospel we see this emphasis no fewer than three times; that Jesus “must suffer many things and be rejected … and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31, ESV; cf. 9:31; 10:33).
That notion was completely backward to the disciples, who were expecting the Messiah to reign over a physical kingdom (likely a restored Israel). It was after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:27) that the Lord began to speak so plainly about his impending death and resurrection (Mark 8:31). And yet it was Peter who tried to rebuke Jesus for predicting such suffering (Mark 8:32). Again, Peter’s expectation was different from reality. Jesus, in turn, issued a stern rebuke to him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
Peter’s response is typical of humans, isn’t it? After all, who would think that the path to freedom for mankind would involve the arrest of their Savior? How could it be true that eternal life comes only through the death of our Redeemer? “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). The One who had infinite strength made Himself weak. He who was perfectly innocent suffered the death of the worst criminal.
Jesus stated the reason why this philosophy is so backward to human thinking: “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). When it is all about me, then I feel I must defend myself, but when it is all about the glory of God, I can finally be free from selfish ambition and can place complete trust in God without any hindrances.
Ironically, the very words spoken at Golgotha by the mocking bystanders illustrate both the limited perspective of humanity and the wonderful love manifested in the sacrifice of God’s own Son. In derision they said, “Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:30) Yet if Jesus had come down from the cross, He could not have saved either Himself or anyone else. The very reason why He came was “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), and He could only accomplish that by dying on the cross.
Such selfless sacrifice just does not make sense to a world that cannot see why anyone would want to save anything other than self. However, selfishness is shortsighted.
The Lord explains: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37) In summary, you will lose the life Christ promises in the hereafter if you try to preserve your life for yourself here. Why would you make that kind of choice when your soul is worth infinitely more than anything on earth?
Do you see how the Lord weaves together what He did on the cross and what He expects His followers to do in their lives? The actions of our Lord on the cross demand a response. According to Jesus, the only acceptable response is to bear your own cross. But how?
Listen to Paul in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Note four brief observations about Paul’s response to the cross of Christ.
First, there was the cost of what Paul had done. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Later, he identified the cross of Christ as the means by which “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). So worldliness had been put to death in Paul by means of Paul’s relationship to the cross. How did he come in contact with the cross of Christ? Responding in obedience to the gospel, Paul came in contact with the cross of Christ (and the blood Jesus shed there) when he was baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:1-4). He doesn’t stop there.
Second, notice the character that resulted. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” In dying to the world, Paul died to the worldliness that once resided in him. Committing himself to Jesus, Paul resolved to “deny himself” (Mark 8:34) and be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
Third, notice Paul’s conviction going forward. He continued: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” Christians walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith is more than mentally acknowledging something to be true; it is conviction expressed in action (James 2:26). If I died to myself, I will demonstrate that by living with and for Christ!
Finally, note Paul’s emphasis on the Christ. Paul said he lived by faith in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” How do we find the power to die to self and continually deny self in a world in which that is so backward? That power is found only in Jesus! All through the book of Galatians, Paul emphasizes Christ and His cross as a motivator for right living (1:4; 2:20-21; 3:1, 13; 5:24; 6:14). Elsewhere, the apostle boldly declares Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21-24).
Salvation comes through sacrifice. Choose every day to be a living sacrifice for God (Rom. 12:1-2), dying to self to live for — and, ultimately, with — Jesus.
Robert is the pulpit minister for the church of Christ at Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill, SC. He also produces weekly podcasts through The Light Network online at thelightnetwork.tv.