The Lord calls all believers to take up a cross by giving up their sin, denying their own selfishness, and living in obedience to God. Cross-bearing will take on different forms at different times in our walk with the Lord, but until glory we must all bear a cross for the sake of sanctification, for the sake of our holiness. But, what does this mean in 21st century America? Well, principally cross-bearing means the same thing that it meant in 1st Century Rome. It means that we have to die to ourselves by living a life of self-denial and obediently following our Lord Jesus in a life of humble submission to God’s will. After all, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). SO, 21st Century American cross-bearing is about denying self, taking up our personal crosses, and following Jesus- it is that simple.
However, the particulars of cross-bearing in 21st century America are so radically different than what they were in the day and time of Christ (and what they are in other places in the world today) that it almost seems inappropriate (to me, perhaps to you, as well…) to speak of our comfortable “American Living” as a cross to be borne. How can we even recognize the cross that Jesus is calling us to in such an extravagant and, for lack of a better word, “soft” culture? We know that cross-bearing is about self-denial and following Jesus- but what defines self-denial to a 21st century American- only going out to eat on Friday nights? (Maybe…) Only owning one pair of jeans? (Perhaps…) And, where should we follow Jesus? To the church discount day at an amusement park? (I do not think that is what the Lord had in mind.) How about to the church pot-luck and hymn sing on Friday night? (I know. Now I am meddling.) I think you get my point. Our 21st American Century American Crosses are not quite as easily discerned as the 1st Century Roman torture device that was used for crucifixion. None, the less, Christ, said that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.
Yesterday, I said the things that were keeping us up at night were our crosses to bear. (By the way, I am not talking to those blessed individuals that are awake at night because they do not need more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep- praise God- if you are blessed to be one of them.) What I meant by writing that was that when we are up fretting, or full of vexation, or dealing with a faith-stretching and soul-trying circumstance we are quite possibly faced with a 21st Century American cross. The reason that I said that was because it is usually the sorts of things that keep us up at night, which the Holy Spirit uses to reveal and destroy the believer’s remaining sin, indwelling selfishness, and shallow love. It is the testing events in out lives that reveal to us our lukewarm tendencies and innate weaknesses; those sorts of things make us recognize our need to experience the power of God in resurrection. It is the things that bother us, that we feel afflicted with and that we are upset about that the Lord uses to kill our flesh, humble us, and teach us how to follow Him in submission to His will.
So, when we find ourselves struggling with an affliction (i.e., a difficult situation, trying circumstance, or painful relationship) we can look for a cross that God has providentially ordained in our lives. By this, I do not mean that the affliction itself is a cross to bear- it may not be. But, that the Biblical Christ-honoring, God-exalting response (which the Lord requires of us) to a particular affliction may feel like a cross to us. We may recognize the need to deny ourselves, or an act of obedience that our faith in the Gospel requires of us that is difficult, or we may become aware that Christ is calling us to go somewhere we would prefer not to go. If any of this is the case- it is quite probable that the particular affliction we are dealing with is a 21st Century American Cross.