There are those who, upon hearing a disclosure of abusive behavior, say, “Well, it’s simply your cross to bear.” Is that what Jesus meant? Is that really what He said?
Peter said this about Jesus and the cross: “[He] bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” Jesus carried our sins. That’s why He took up the cross. He did it on our behalf. And He bore our sin so that we would live for righteousness!
The Bible says it again and again, “Jesus died for our sin.” So we consider the cross in the context of Jesus. His suffering and death is our theological (or Biblical) context. There is no true gospel without it. Historically, taking up, or bearing, one’s cross, was a form of extreme form of punishment for breaking Roman law. Those who hung beside Jesus were guilty. Crucifixion was the judgement, or consequence, of being a lawbreaker.
In that light, “bearing your cross” would mean carrying the weight, deserved judgement, or consequences of your own sin and guilt. Following Adam and Eve’s example, we prefer to hide and cover our sin. Exposure is humiliating. Shameful. But to take up the cross is to rightly, publicly take responsibility for my sin against God and others.
When Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34, also in Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23), He was not talking about circumstances. He was not talking about hardship or suffering as a result of someone else’s sin. He was referring to the act of taking full responsibility for the weight and consequences of “my” sin. Taking up one’s cross is a picture of repentance.
In the beauty of His example and calling, Jesus turns our earthly understanding on its head. The cross not only signifies death, it symbolizes life–new life, a righteous, redeemed, free life!
Consider further thoughts as it relates to misuse of the phrase, “take up your cross:”
- This Greek word for “cross” (stauros), is later used to refer to the gospel–“the cross of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, Galatians 5:11; 6:12, 14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18).
- The context is discipleship. The act of following Christ is owning up our sin and walking in repentance (1 John 1). This is a daily (if not hourly) task.
- There is a choice. The choice is Jesus–this entire passage is about Him: how the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise again (Mark 8:31-33). There is no mention of marriage, circumstances or relationships. Those are peripheral.
- The fruit, or outcome, of denying yourself and taking up your cross is gospel-oriented. Taking up my cross results in dying to myself; putting to death the deeds of the body–my body, my sinful deeds, my sinful self–not someone else’s. The result is Christ–Christ in me, the hope of glory, living by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20).
- The process of taking up my cross includes following Jesus, not a pastor, not a husband: Jesus. When I am denying myself, taking up my cross and following Jesus, I am free. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. There is rest for my soul when I lay aside my self and follow Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
Teaching that enduring habitually sinful treatment in marriage is the same as bearing one’s cross replaces Christ with marriage. Instead of Jesus Christ, marriage is seen as the means of redemption and the epicenter of life. There is no freedom here; no redeeming righteousness as a result of “bearing one’s cross.” There is only continued sin and death. Hopelessness. Helplessness. Darkness.
In an abusive marriage, one individual covers and hides his sin. Anything less meets punishment. As a result, those that live with him bear the consequences. That is taking up someone else’s cross in addition to your own. That is not biblical under any circumstance, marriage included.
If you are in a place to help others, be aware that you can either increase the burden or lighten it. Jesus came to set the captive free. We serve Him as we bring others to the foot of the cross and present them with the Light of Christ. This type of discipleship challenges our comfort and desire for easy answers. It is inconvenient and time-consuming, but it is our calling, a redemptive calling, that comes with an eternal weight of glory.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5 ESV)