“For whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me” Mark 8:35

“Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” Colossians 3:5

In answer to the bemused questions of Pontius Pilate, Jesus declared “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He was not of course saying that this present world in its totality, together with all its earthly powers and authorities, did not fall under His dominion, for they did then just as they do now that the risen Lord has taken His position of power at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus’ point was something far more profound, namely that His own kingdom did not operate according to the values and principles of the kingdoms of men. In Jesus’ kingdom greatness came through self-sacrificial service, a King laying down His life to save those who did not deserve His love.

What the passages quoted above tell us is that this principle of self-denial, indeed of death to self and our own priorities and desires is to be true not only of the King but also of those who follow Him. In short, they remind us that kingdom life is a Cross- shaped life.

When it comes to passages like Colossians 3:5 ff, it is of course abundantly clear that many of the things that we must put to death are things worth killing, things that, if left to grow, would in fact kill us spiritually and eternally. Therefore, Paul reminds us that we should put to death “whatever belongs to our sinful nature” and then he goes on to list these things: sexual immorality, lust, impurity, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. Such things are indeed of great spiritual danger to us and need to be put to death, not just once, but whenever they seek to rise up and rule over us. Ultimate victory will of course only come when the Lord Jesus returns and we are completely glorified (see Colossians 3:4). But while we wait for that day we are not to be victims of our sinful nature but, in the power of God’s Spirit, to be those who mortify sin day by day. And we do that not in order to win the favour of our King but because He has secured our forgiveness and justification (see Colossians 3:3). The fact that He has carried the cross on our behalf gives us the power and incentive to carry it as well.

But Jesus’ words in Mark 8 are more general than this. For the truth of the matter is that it is not only the sinful nature and its bitter fruit that must be put to death. It is we ourselves who must die. And that means first of all dying to ourselves and not allowing all our good and noble ambitions to rule over our lives or ultimately to shape our choices and priorities. It is precisely because Christ’s death meant our death that we are not our own any longer. We have been bought with a price and now belong to Christ. It is His will and purpose for our lives not ours that matter now and we do well to commit our lives to Him every day as His servants and to pay careful attention to His Word, which is the instrument that He, by His Spirit, will use to lead us in the paths that He has chosen for us. In whatever we do, let us therefore do everything for the glory of Christ.

But we are also called to die every day for the good of others, to put their well-being and ultimately their salvation as our greatest priority, even if we must suffer loss in the process. This is what Christ did for us and He calls us to follow in His footsteps (see 1 Peter 2:21). And this aspect of the Cross-shaped life is to be seen in every area of our lives – at work in our relationships with colleagues, at home in relationships between husband and wife, parents and children and last, but not least, in church as we bear with one another and seek to build one another up in the Lord.

Being a real Christian is a costly business, for to follow Christ is to embrace the Cross-shaped life. But it is also a wonderful thing. For as we die we discover that death is indeed the path to true life. It was so for the Lord and it is so for us as well. The same Lord who said “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” also said “whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).


Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.