There is a way we encounter Jesus’ cross that is meant to be part of our everyday lives, not just our times of trouble or sorrow.
Not long after he first told his disciples that he was destined to be crucified, Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus was not talking exclusively about a cross of suffering or trial. He was also talking about a cross of self-denial—a cross that is integral to our call to holiness. This type of cross is not something that crops up at different points in our lives. It is a cross that we are called to embrace every day of our lives.
This call to take up our cross every day is connected with the call to imitate Jesus in his dying and his rising. As Jesus said: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). When Jesus died on the cross, he put our sin to death. When he rose, he brought new life for everyone who believes and is baptized into his name. In a similar way, Jesus wants us to “lose” our old lives of sin so that we can “find” the new life that he won for us on the cross. And we do this through a combination of our effort and God’s own grace and power.
The season of Lent is an especially good time for us to explore this saving and losing principle. With its emphasis on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, Lent gives us countless opportunities to die to ourselves in preparation for the resurrection of Easter. So let’s spend some time looking at how Jesus’ call to lose our lives can actually help us discover the life that we were meant to live in the first place.
Putting Off and Putting On
We can find this principle of saving and losing throughout the New Testament. For instance, Jesus taught: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins” (Mark 2:22). It simply won’t work. The “old wineskins” of a life bound by sin or unbelief cannot hold the “new wine” of life in Christ. Jesus simply cannot enter a mind that is in steadfast opposition to him.
Similarly, in his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul differentiated the “old self” from the “new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). In these verses, Paul called us to put off ways of thinking and acting that arise from our fallen nature and to put on a whole new self—one that has been created to be like God. This act of putting off and putting on is not something that we are supposed to do on our own. Yes, our striving to please God is part of the equation, but God’s own grace plays a major part as well.
Putting off and putting on means believing—and acting on the belief—that by his death Jesus has defeated sin and set us free from its grasp. Conversely, putting on the new self means actively doing the things that we know will please our heavenly Father. But again, this is not something we are expected to accomplish solely by our own will power. It’s something that happens as we believe—and act on the belief—that in Christ we have all the grace we need to be able to go through our days at peace. It means enjoying the love of Christ and showing that love to the people around us. It means believing that we have been reconciled with God and that his Holy Spirit is active in our lives, transforming us as we cooperate with him.
It Is Possible!
Yes, it is up to us to decide to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus. Yes, it is up to us to turn away from the pull of temptation and to do what we know we should do. But God wants us to do all of this firm in the belief that he will empower us. He wants us to be confident that he is with us, comforting us in our struggles, encouraging us in our faithfulness, and filling us with heavenly grace to raise us up into his presence.
The power in the cross of Jesus is astounding. It is nothing less than divine power enabling us to demolish every argument and every pretension that sets itself up against the way God wants us to live. It is power from God to help us take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Isn’t it amazing? We don’t have to be bound by anything! There is no sin—not even any sinful habit—that Jesus hasn’t already conquered on the cross. There is nothing in our lives that can’t be overcome through patience, faith, trust, and perseverance. We really can become a new creation!
Step by Step
Let’s call on the power of the cross every day. Together, let’s take up our own cross and ask Jesus to give us the grace to help us die to ourselves. We don’t have to aim for absolute perfection. If each of us could focus on just one aspect of the “old self” and ask Jesus to help us make progress in that area, we will surely see a more beautiful church by Easter. God isn’t looking for overwhelming victories. All he wants is to see us turn to Jesus, embrace his cross, and take one more step along the path of holiness. Then he will come running to help us, to empower, us, and to shower us with the blessings Jesus won for us on the cross.