The mere mention of the cross causes a whole series of images to flash through our minds. We picture rugged wooden beams fastened together and standing upon a hill. Christ is nailed to it. With his death, the gifts of forgiveness and becoming a child of God were extended to all. His cross made possible our conversion.
There is, however, another cross involved in conversion. Jesus told the crowds that this second cross is also necessary for those desiring to follow him. “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34, NET).
This cross is not made of wood. There are no nails, Roman or otherwise. Nevertheless, this cross is real. This cross involves the death of self to begin to live for God.
Jesus’ three verbs, “deny”, “take up” and “follow,” graphically describe how our hearts must respond to him in conversion. Just as Jesus prayed to God when facing his own death, “Not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42), so too those who would be his disciples must submit their will to God’s will.
Whereas Jesus literally participated in carrying his cross to his death, we must follow his bloody footsteps carrying our crosses to where he went. Furthermore, this is not merely a one-time act in conversion, but a lifestyle where the Lord continues to reign over our lives.
We may not want to forgive, but we do. We may not want to pray for those who mistreat us, but we do. Familiar ways of sinful behavior may tug at our hearts, but we replace those old habits with presenting our “bodies as a sacrifice — alive, holy, and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).
The apostle Paul understood. To the church at Corinth he wrote:
“He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Furthermore, he would explain to the churches in Galatia:
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
In fact when Paul described conversion, the language of death and crucifixion gushes forth: “as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us …” (Romans 6:3,6).
“Having been buried with him in baptism, …. If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world …” (Colossians 2:12; 20).
The first cross has been firmly fixed in the ground. Jesus died. What about the second cross?