Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
“When Christ calls a person,” wrote Deitrich Bonhoeffer before his death in a German Concentration Camp in 1945, “he calls him to come and die. Bonhoeffer, implicated in a plot to depose Hitler, was executed. While God calls few to literally lay down their lives today, as did Bonhoeffer, he still calls us to die to self that Christ may live. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
So what does this mean in a twenty-first century world? Simply put, it means you relinquish the control of your life to your Heavenly Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me—yet it must not be what I want, but what you want” (Matthew 26:39, Phillips).
You can’t have a parade consisting of two cars until you decide who is going to lead, and when you confront the claims of Jesus Christ, you learn quickly that He isn’t content being your co-pilot, he wants to fly the plane, to be in control, and you have to relinquish control and let Him take charge.
“Let God engineer” was the way Oswald Chambers put it.
The hundreds of biographies of men and women who have been used by God tell it in different ways, but they all tell the same story—at some point in their spiritual life, they came to the crossroads and at that point that had to die to self, saying, “Lord, you take over! I yield to you!”
A plaque on a tree at Forest Home Christian Conference commemorates the place Billy Graham made that decision. Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, resenting the culture of the people to whom he ministered, in resignation sat on a hill overlooking Manila and, overcome with self-pity, wept over his misery. His body shaking with sobs, he saw that, and cried, “Lord, let me die. Let me die.” In brokenness, he died to self, and die he did—to his old prejudices, dislikes, and pride. (Vernon Grounds, Radical Commitment, Multnomah, 1984, pp. 44-46).
It was also true of George Mueller, the giant of the faith who without begging for money, trusted God for the thousands of orphans entrusted to his care in Bristol, England. When asked the secret of his great work, Mueller replied, “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will–died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends—and since then I have studied only to show myself approved to God.” (Grounds, p. 44.)
Elisabeth Elliot, one of the most admired Christian leaders of the past century, tells how she was repeatedly drawn to the cross of Jesus Christ when her husband Jim Elliot was martyred by the Aucas, now known as the Waoranis. She says that unless you have had an encounter with the cross—your own cross—you aren’t ready to follow Him.
John Newman says that the cross represents “the carrying on of small duties which are distasteful to us.” It is that, but it principally means that you give up the control of your life to Him who is your Lord and Master.
Bill and Vonnette Bright did it early in their married life as they drew up an actual list of their possessions and assigned ownership to Jesus Christ, thus voluntarily making themselves His slaves.
Who is in charge of your life, friend? A cross means a fork in the road, and when you have taken yours and begun to follow Jesus Christ, your life will never be the same.
Resource reading: Luke 9.