Daily Picking up Your Cross

In the last 37 years of being a Christian, I have heard many descriptions of what being a Christian is – sometimes from personal opinions, sometimes from Biblical references.

What I want to briefly speak about is not what a Christian is, but what a Christian does.

Key Text

Luke 9:23:

And He said to them all, If any man wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

Notice what it does not say, it does not say to pick up Jesus’ cross — No one could do that. It says to pick up our own cross.

What cross was Jesus speaking about?

A cross is an instrument of death; it is only used to kill.

Acorss is a devise to kill the flesh; it is something that we can use to put to death our self-centered, self-dependant, and self-ruling life.

The Grammar

let him deny himself, and [ho] take up his cross daily…

In Koiné Greek, when two nouns are connected with the conjunctive, “and” (Greek: kia), and one having the definite article, the,”  (Greek: ho [G3588]) which of the following case is translated: “some,” (in most cases the definite article is translated “the,” “this,” “that,” “his,” but also: “some,” “one,” “he,” “she” “it”) and the other does not have the definite article; then both nouns are the same in essence, and are equal, synonymous.

And if these conditions are not met exactly, then the two subjects are not the same in essence, and are not synonymous (an example is found in Eph_4:11; and Luk_9:23; and not in: Rom_8:17, Act_6:8, ). Another example is found in Luke 19:23 which states: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and  (Greek: ho [G3588]) take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

What is found in the original TR Greek [non-interlinear, transliterated], but absent in the English is the definite article (Greek: ho [G3588]) just prior to “take up his cross daily,” meaning that “let him deny himself,” and “take up his cross daily” refer to the same action.  Therefore, to take up your cross daily is to deny yourself, as they are synonyms of the same action.

An example can be seen in: Ephesians 4:11 ~ “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some  (Greek: ho [G3588]), pastors and teachers.”  Therefore, some pastors and teachers referred to here is speaking about the same person who is responsible for both functions. This grammatical principle is called the “Granville Sharpe Rule of Greek Grammar.”  

This verse indicates that picking up our cross is done by denying ourselves (see Endnote 1).

Your cross will aid in helping you “to die to self
However, this is a description of what is done – what is the conclusion of the effort. It is not a description on how it is to be done; so in a pragmatic approach, our first question is “what is our cross?”

As we previously addressed in the essay “the leaven of the Pharisee,” that foundational sin of Lucifer was that of pride, and therefore every sin has its root in pride.  As we discussed, you cannot sin without pride being the foundation that the sin was motivated by.  And pride is not simply wanting to look good, it actually has to do with the focus of attention.

This explains why pride can be seen in both self grandiosity, “seeing me, how great I am,” as well as self loathing, “see me, how sick I am;” the point of both of these types of behavior is the focus of attention, which must be on self.

Pride, seeking to have the attention I feel I deserve is the most prominent spiritual sin committed within the clergy, which again explains why Christ referred to it as the “doctrine of the Pharisee” (Matt. 16:12).  He also spoke about following their instructions when they spoke out of the Torah, yet not following their behaviors which were examples of pride, being puffed up with self, which Jesus referred to as their “doctrine.”

So if self-centeredness, which is self-obsession, is at the root of every sin, then it is pride that must be killed by “daily picking up our cross.”

When it comes to fighting against self, against pride; what tools are there – I only know of one way to kill my pride, to pick up my cross daily and die to self – it is by first exercising humility. 

This is a characteristic of Jesus Christ.  And it is Christ who we are to emulate, it is Christ we are to follow, and it is Christ we are to serve.  Christ example of humility may be best seen in Philippians 2:5-8, which states:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

I believe that this is the instrument of death that we are to utilize daily, that this is the cross that we are to bear in dying to self, humility. 

It has been wisely said: “pride cannot grow where humility has already been planted.”

And in case we need any reassurance about how God feels about pride, what is it that James 4:6 states:

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Christ, who is our example, as well as our Lord; did not come on a King’s steed; He came on a lonely colt, and as Matthew 20:28 states:

“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

When Jesus spoke about leadership within the church, of how his followers were to treat their followers, what did he say as recorded in Luke 22:25-27:

“And He said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”

Another passage which directs where we should put our focus, as opposed to on self; is Philippians 2:4, which states:

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

This is not stating that we are not to take care of our own interest, but that we are also to care about that which is a priority to others.  It is about asking people about their lives not just talking about our own.  It is about seeking to help others, not only to get them to help us.  It is the working out of humility on a daily basis.

Understanding that Jesus is our only true example, as He is divine and righteous, our Savior, but most importantly our God; yet when I look to men, I always consider Paul.

Paul was a very human man, he displayed his sin, as seen openly within his many letters – he was not pretentious, he did not try to hide his humanity.  He was a man that could act out in pride or arrogance, yet would admit those sins just as freely.

You see humility does not mean that a person does not have pride in their life.  Humility is what they do to fight the pride in their life.  It’s when pride goes unchecked, without restraint that sin runs rampant.

It is when we humble ourselves that we stand any chance of holding pride in check.  It’s by taking ownership of our sins and wrongs that pride is resisted by humility.  It is not falling down in pride, as much it is how many times we get up in humility.

And if we choose not to humble ourselves, if we are God’s child, He is then forced to humiliate us.  And it is far easier when we humble ourselves and grow in character, then when God humiliates us in front of all, and we stumble yet one more time.  However, even then if we take ownership of our sin, confessing our faults, He is faithful and just to forgive us.

Concerning Paul, one of his repetitive introductions and epitaphs was his reference to himself as a “bond salve” of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, our English translations of the Bible many times translate this term into “servant.

However; the Greek word utilized by Paul has much more meaning than our simple English term.  It is the Greek word: Dulos and meant “A bond salve by choice,” indebted for life to serve humbly.  It is understanding the history of this word that we gain a much clearer view of the humility which Paul exhibited.

Bond Salve
I find it really ironic when ever black liberation theology proponents, and those that refer to themselves as Christian liberals desecrate the Bible based upon what they suggest is God’s sanction of slavery, that they displays who their father really is.  It only takes a simple reading of their doctrine in understanding that these are Christian cults, which have nothing to do with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet, it is their suggestion that Christianity has been shanghaied by white Caucasians who have attempted to use the Bible in an effort to conquer the known world under the guise of capitalism, which is so sad.  Let me now set the story straight concerning this erroneous teaching.

To equate what the Bible refers to as being a “bond slave,” or selling oneself into slavery; with projections concerning 18th-century American slavery which was part of the basis for the American Civil War is completely false.  In the Old Testament slavery was an option allowed for an individual that had become destitute or due to calamity lost his entire livelihood and possessions in order to save his life and or his families.

The idea was this.  If a man lost everything and had no grain to feed his animals, he could sell himself to another man to become his servant, which we commonly referred to as employment, but the Bible refers as becoming a servant.  Many of these individuals were referred to as “field hands,” and slept in their own homes at night and worked for their master’s during the day.

There were other situations where individuals would become totally destitute and have no food for their family whatsoever.  In these cases they could indeed sell themselves as a slave for a set period of time in order to feed their family, while paying off that debt that they had incurred.

Whereas without the Biblical guidelines they could be forced into a form of slavery which the nations around Israel participated in which was barbaric.  It was not that God was rationalizing slavery; it was that God was allowing this form of servitude so that someone was not sold into slavery such as Joseph was concerning the Egyptians.

According to God’s law, a man would work 7 years to pay off his debt no matter what size the debt was.  There was also a celebration called Jubilee which was held the year after the 49th year (7 times 7), and redemption was again given within Israel.

The point was, if you owed a non-Hebrew individual money and you didn’t pay they would come and take you and your family; and you would spend the rest of your life as slaves, where the treatment was normally horrible.

But under God’s law you could go to a family member, especially a “kinsman-redeemer,” and seek to have him pay off your debt, and you could go work as a servant for him under conditions which were much better working conditions, again somewhat synonymous with today’s type of employment.  Now to the definition of a “bond slave.”

A bond slave was an individual who had worked off their debt, and had obtained their freedom.  Yet, during the course of their servitude they had married another servant and had offspring.  According to the Torah, the father could sell himself gladly back to the family to purchase and redeem his other family members.

This was an honored position, and treated much differently than normal servants or salves; because it was servitude by choice – we get the concept of a trustee from this situation.

There was a ceremonial act that would take place where the husband who is purchasing his family would stand at the front door of the house, leaning his ear against the doorframe, and have his ear nailed to the door with awl, placing a part of their skin within the door frame, a symbol of the strength of the house.

Then the nail would be pulled out, and he would wear an earring in the hole in his ear as a symbol that he was a bond salve, which was a sign of superiority indicating he had become one with the home for life.  Therefore, he was admired and respected by the other slaves for having sacrificially placed his family before himself.

And because this was a lifelong commitment, and was only done by individuals with integrity; bond slaves were always supervisors in the household, not doing hard labor, but taking care of and managing the master’s estate in good stead.  This is what Paul meant when he meant he was a bond slave of Jesus Christ.

This is also what Jesus did when He was bonded to the cross for all of humanity. 

This is why God set up the scenario in the first place to be an object lesson that we would recognize the Messiah.  In fact all of the 7 feasts, all the requirements, directions, and ceremonies of the Old Testament were meant to be object lessons that would point to Jesus Christ.

This is why Jesus said in John 5:39:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Because everything in the Scripture is to point to Jesus Christ.  This is how Abraham knew the gospel.  This is the reason why typology is so important in God’s Word, not that it is mysterious and interesting; but because every typology points to either a role, function, description, or aspect of Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, the deliverer world.

Final Conclusion

So now when you read Luke 9:23, which states:

And He said to them all, If any man wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

You should understand what this means:

1. it starts with the question, “If
2. and it is addressed to “any man” that
3. desires to “come after,” Christ; not before
4. “let (is passive in the English grammar – but not in the Greek) , but is a command in the Greek grammar (“he must”)
5. “deny himself” by putting God first, and then others second
6. “and take up his cross daily” wherein he is  dying to self  by humbling himself as Jesus did
7. “and follow” Christ by following His Word

This is our daily charge as believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

It is what a Christian does

1. In this term “to deny ourselves,” we can also see the idea of putting others before ourselves; primarily God: then others.  This is further seen when Jesus was asked which was the great Commandment, what was His response, as found in Matthew 22:37-39, which states:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

A common understanding of the principle of “denying oneself” was seen in the teaching of putting God first then others second, which was a literal display of “dying to self” during the 17th and 18th century in America; a teaching that is rarely heard these days. Currently, the messages from many pulpits have to do about becoming better spouses, more loving parents, better citizens, and more righteous Christians.

However, many times these themes merely use God’s word is a prop to legitimize the stories or sermons presented.  The constant theme seems to be “self,” as opposed to God.  In messages concerning “denying ourselves,” “dying to self” and “crucifying the flesh;” are not heard as a were once preached so famously.

It would not be popular in many of the seeker friendly churches of today where the focus of attention is on self; where much teaching time is spent on how to make a self better, and how that self could live better; yet in reality the Bible talks about how self is to die.

SIDENOTE: This sense of the elevating self is seen even in the format of services that we attend today, and how they’ve changed over the last few hundred years.  If we examined the physical makeup of the church in the way that a service was conducted two hundred years ago we would be amazed at its simplicity, even thinking it was dull. 

The preacher did not stand on a stage in front of the congregation.  In larger, more affluent churches, he might stand within a device that was off to the side of the congregation, a lectern; but noticeably not meant to be the center of attention.  On the front wall in front of the congregation was simply a wooden cross, or two tables of the 10 Commandments. 

In smaller churches, the orchestration of the seating may be more oval, with a small pulpit either center or to one wall.  And whereas many of the congregation would directly face the pastor, who even on occasions would stand on a box to be seen; still the idea was the focus on God and His Word, as opposed to another form of entertainment.  In fact the whole idea of having an elevated stage was never utilized in the church originally. 

It was the great sawdust revivals of the 1st part of the 17th century where individuals took the idea of a lifted up stage from vaudeville, an arena of entertainment, where performers were lifted up as the center of attention in front of the audience, that this idea of stages came to be utilized in American churches. 

For churches that had musical instruments, they were always either at the back of the church in the case of small congregations, or up in the balcony back behind the congregation, never to be seen; only to be heard.  And any instrumentalist or singers were never to be seen out in front of the congregation to be the focus of attention, but out of sight in a display of humility.  

The closest that we see of this in history was the Greeks, where they would lift up the audience up around the stage such as Coliseums, again another point of entertainment.  In the case of the Jews, in the Sanhedrin the better seats were those that were lifted up (Mark 12:39a. This was not the same when they were eating, it was a completely different layout) that looked down upon the speaking floor.

In fact within the Jewish culture when ever a dignitary or a king was speaking or holding court he would be seated which would display his authority (John 19:13), while everyone else was standing (Matthew 13:2), the closest example we have would be in a Kings court during mid-evil times. 

Within a Temple or Jewish synagogue, the exception was when ever an individual was reading from God’s Word (Luke 4:20), he would stand up displaying his humility and respect for God’s Word, wherein the respect was not to be given to him in the seated position.  This is why when Jesus had completed his assignment on earth he was seated within God’s throne (Mark 16:19).

One of the few exceptions to this is seen in Acts 7:36; where Stephen is giving his history story of the Old Testament and declaration of Jesus Christ, and the Council were getting ready to stone him, by laying hands upon him and taking him outside the city proper and killing him. 

Stephen stated, while being full of the Holy Ghost; that he looked steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God – the reason why Jesus was standing, is that when ever a King wished to display acceptance and respect for one of his ambassadors as they entered his throne room, the greatest act of respect that the King could do would be to stand up while his servant entered the room. 

This is what Jesus was doing when he stood up signaling that he was ready to receive Stephen, as Stephen was the 1st individual to die for the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  How amazing it is that when we look at the format of our church services, that the intention is always placed on man in front of the congregation, upon singers in front of an audience of spectators; as opposed to having Christ as a center of attention, in front of God.

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