A friend of mine who is a new believer and I meet at (of course) Caribou on Saturday mornings to discuss the Christian faith and to work through D.A. Carson’s little book, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians. It isn’t an easy book, particularly for a new believer who hasn’t done much prior theological and exegetical reading, but there are times when Carson is stunning in his clarity and incisiveness. My friend and I are meeting in about an hour, and I just finished reading chapter 3, which is entitled, “Adopt Jesus’ Death as a Test of Your Outlook.” These paragraphs were powerful for me:
“Recall what Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 8, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). This language…is shocking. To first-century ears, it does not mean that we must all learn to put with a wart or a disappointment or an obstreperous [=noisy and difficult] mother-in-law or an impending mathematics exam: ‘We all have our crosses to bear!’ No, to first-century ears this means you must take the cross on your beaten shoulders and stagger to the place of crucifixion and there be executed in blistering agony and shame. To take up your cross means you have passed all point of possible reprieve, all point of hope that you will once again be able to pursue your own interests; you are on your way to death, a dishonorable death at that. So for Jesus’ disciples to take up their cross, even to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23), is to say, in spectacularly metaphorical terms, that they are to come to the end of themselves – no matter how costly that death – in order to follow Jesus.
This lies at the heart of all Christian discipleship. Every time and every place that we refuse to acknowledge that this is so, we sin against Christ and need to confess the sin and return to basics. We are to take up our cross daily.
…And it is not at all impossible, if present trends continue in the West, that opposition here to the gospel will extend beyond family disapproval, trouble at work, condescension from intellectual colleagues, and the like to concrete persecution. But learning to take up our cross daily, learning to suffer cheerfully for Jesus’ sake, certainly extends beyond physical persecution. One does not have to be a Christian very long before one discovers that there are countless occasions when we are called to put aside self-interest for the sake of Christ. And in large measure it is the example of Christ and his sufferings that will empower us to treat this path” (56-7).