We’re familiar with the rich young ruler who approached Jesus about salvation. He went away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow (Mark 10:17-22). This is the same call Jesus gives His disciples in Luke 9:23–“If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus’s call in Luke 9:23 is general and abstract. His words to the rich young ruler are the same call but specific and concrete.
The Holy Spirit is faithful to make the call of the cross concrete. When we believe, we believe into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3). Our life truly ended the moment the Spirit baptized us into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). But the fact of the cross has to be worked out in our experience. Everything about our lives is under the judgment of the cross. By the revelation of the Spirit we experience the judgment of the cross related to specific things (Rom. 8:13).
Following Jesus means coming to crossroads. Will we embrace the execution that occurred at Calvary? Or will we choose another road? Assenting to the cross as a general, theological proposition doesn’t cut it. Will I embrace the execution of my desire to succeed? Will I embrace the execution of sexual immorality? Will I embrace the execution of being valued by peers? Will I embrace the execution of being right? Will I embrace the execution of certain relationships? Will I embrace the execution of (fill in the blank)?
Whatever specific thing the Lord addresses, self is the ultimate issue. Behaviors, possessions, relationships, ambitions…these are just tentacles of the sea montster, so to speak. The Lord deals with these because they are extensions of self.
Lord, I want to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow you. I don’t want to go away sad like the rich young ruler. I acknowledge I have no power in myself to embrace the cross. I welcome the work of the Spirit that puts me to death that Jesus may live more fully (Rom. 8:13).