Taking Up Your Cross Daily – What Does it Mean?

Taking Up Your Cross Daily – What Does it Mean?


Many Christians teach that we should “die daily” and “take up our cross daily.” What does this mean? (This was a question asked of Michael Pearl and he answered on a video.)

  Okay, let’s look at that. That’s a commonly misunderstood concept. Always consider the context. He says, “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Jesus is preparing his disciples for his crucifixion. He’s been telling them about how he’s going to die. He asked them, “Whom do people say that I am?”

He’s inquiring to get a feel for what the population was thinking about him. They gave various answers, and he said, verse 20, “‘But whom say ye that I am?’ Peter answering said, ‘The Christ of God.’ And he straightly charged them and commanded them to tell no man that thing saying…”

This is Verse 22, the verse before the one in question. “The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be slain and be raised the third day.” So, in the context of how he was playing with the public, he warned them that He Himself was headed to the cross, to rejection, and to death.

Then he follows that immediately and says, “And he said unto them, if any man will come after me…” Okay. let’s stop right there for a moment. Come after me, where? “Come after me suffering, rejected by the elders, the chief priest, and slain.” So, “If any man will come after me,” if he follows me, if he’s my disciple and goes where I go, “If any man will come after me let him deny himself…” So, stop there again. Deny himself in what way? Later, when Jesus announced that he was going to be crucified the next day, and that one of them was going to betray him, they all spoke up and said, “Lord, is it I?” Peter said, “I won’t do it.” He said, “I’ll die first but I won’t deny you.”

Well, within a few hours, Peter was denying Jesus Christ. So Peter didn’t follow Jesus to the cross. The Bible said he and the disciples “stood a great way off.” He is challenging them to follow him in His sufferings and in His death. In other words, instead of being three crosses on the hill, four with Peter, five with John, six with Andrew, and so forth.

“So if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” Now, when he said, “take up his cross,” we know what that is. As we look later on, Jesus is bearing the cross, he falls down, and they compel Simon, one of Cyrene, to bear the cross after him.

So Jesus is carrying one end of it, Simon is carrying the other end of it, and they’re carrying the cross. Any time that the city of Jerusalem saw a man carrying a cross through the city, outside to Golgotha where he would be crucified, they knew what he was doing. He was a dead man walking. He was heading to his death.

Jesus said, “If you’ll come after me, take up your cross daily.” In other words, you must be prepared at any moment to die, because it could happen at any time. So every single day as you follow me, be prepared to do what I do, which is die for this teaching that I have.

Then he goes on to say, “For who so ever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life, for my sake, shall save it.” And so He’s saying if you depart from me, you deny me, you lose your life, but if you go ahead and follow me all the way you save it.

If we were to draw an application of that passage beyond the original context, what would it be? Well it’s obvious. There was recently a man, a Christian in Iran, who had the death sentence upon him. He was a pastor. He was preaching the gospel, and it’s illegal there to be a Christian. So they told him if he would recant, if he would deny Jesus Christ, and come back into the Muslim fold, then he would not be executed.

I was praying on this end, that he would take up his cross and follow Jesus, deny himself, for God’s sake, and for the gospel’s sake, and in so doing save his life. Otherwise, if he denied Christ he’d lose his life. So it’s this contrast, if you think, if I deny Christ I’ll save my life, I won’t die. He said, no, if you go ahead and confess me you may die, but you’ll save your life. He’s kind of got a turn on words and concepts there.

Now there’s quite a few other passages, maybe a dozen, maybe not that many, six of them, eight of them, in the New Testament where people have developed this doctrine of this daily dying to self, this self-introspection, this morbid putting away of self‑motivation, self‑aggrandizement, self‑pleasure, and sublimating your humanity to some sort of a morbid austere spiritualism.

I’ve known so many people like that. They’re all nauseous. It really came out of the Keswick movement in England. It’s the concept that we must, or God must, God or us or both, must do this work inside of us. Books like the Calvary Road, Roy Hession, Norman Grubb, Iron Thomas, Andrew Murray, wrote a lot about this concept of daily experiencing this inner crucifixion of self.

That’s not a biblical doctrine. It’s totally contrary to the Bible. It’s anti‑Christian, it’s anti‑Bible. It’s really a doctrine you’d find in Buddhism. Some of our missionaries come back and they say, “That’s the very doctrine.” In fact, the doctrine originated a whole lot out of Eastern teaching, and it is an Eastern mysticism rather than a Christian doctrine. It’s amazing how it perpetuated in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture, but that’s the meaning of the passage.

9 thoughts on “Taking Up Your Cross Daily – What Does it Mean?

  1. Lori, am I misunderstanding or is this the transcript of Micheal Pearl’s Q&A? I had a little trouble wrapping my mind around this post, and had to read it through several times until I had an idea of what was bothering me. We recently studied this verse (verses as he pointed out) and it’s kinda strange to hear another explanation. I get what he’s saying, context does matter (hugely) and there are so many people blindly leading others around with false doctrine it’s a sinful shame. I’ve never been one to sit back and accept my femininity (aka just go along) to the point of not holding up what I hear and read to biblical truth and theology. In fact, mothers (like me) should make it a point to know true theology in and out so we can rightly teach our children.

    So, if Christ didn’t mean for everyday to be a “dying to self,” he wouldn’t have added the word ‘daily’. We may not all be called to follow his cross of sacrifice, and be bodily persecuted. But we are all called to follow his obedience to the Father, and his work of the ministry. Christ was sinless, selfless, and perfect in every way. He was lowly, esteemed not, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected of men (read Isaiah 53). He went to the cross in obedience, knowing it was the only way he could atone for the sins of his people.

    Is this taking up the cross and following only something we do when faced with persecution? Yes, but as a student of scripture I know it is more. It is a daily working out of our salvation, following Christ’s example in love, kindness, serving others, seeking others’ well being above our own, and truly understanding and knowing God’s steadfast love, justice and righteousness. Christ made himself nothing for us. Does this sound like a wrongly lived “self effacing” kind of life? Not false piety or holier than thou, but his was a humility and meekness very foreign to today’s standards. This is not a false spiritualism. This is true putting to death the selfish, sinful inner self, and living in the freedom of Christ’s redeeming work. And because we are bound to our sin prone bodies, it is a daily work.

    I know this is long winded and meandering, but I know people who live and breathe this daily cross bearing (all our crosses are differently given by God) and it is a beautiful thing. And the Bible is filled with those who followed Christ with everything in them. I strive daily to follow Christ by taking up my cross. And it’s not done with regret or frustration, but in peace and faith. Christ, who so perfectly served and obeyed his Father while on earth and ultimately to the cross, is my daily inspiration. And I seek to study Scripture diligently, in order to rightly divide the truth of God.

  2. In the context that Paul wrote this verse, PF, he meant that we must be willing to die for our faith daily. Period. There are many other verses about walking in the Spirit, hating evil, walking in newness of life, putting on the armor of God, etc. but this particular verse in context is being willing to die for what we believe in. The only purpose of the cross was for Christ’s death and many of his disciples died the same way, for their faith.

    I have never said, “I die daily” or anything like this. I want to walk in the Spirit and be obedient to Him in everything. Yes, I am willing to die for Him (take up my cross daily) because this is what He calls us to do.

  3. I think it’s limiting to say this taking up the cross and denying yourself only means a physical dying for Christ. It’s limiting the richness of expounding Scripture with Scripture.
    Many times in his writing, Paul talks of a dying. Death to sin. Death to self. Here’s a verse we’re all familiar with but no one ever pays attention to the second half of the verse-

    “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ in God…. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” Col. 3:2-3, 5

    And another verse about our death- “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Rom.6:6-8

    So you could say that Biblically there is a dying each day, especially with our sin nature that will never be conquered until we are free from our earthly bodies. Even Paul, righteous man that he was, farther along his path to sanctification than most all of us, declared himself the chief of sinners.

    I know there are so many people who are set against you and willing to destroy your ministry. I am not one of those, but it saddens me to see Scripture being limited by one view of one man. Context is a big issue. But, are we limiting God when we say this alone is what He meant when He allowed these words to be recorded for us? There are some He calls to bodily persecution and death. Others of us have different crosses to carry, and we all must deny ourselves everyday, and put to death our sin. Scripture is the best commentary of Scripture. Look deeper, it is a rich resource. Limiting this verse would be saying the promise to Adam and Eve in the garden had nothing to do with a baby born in Bethlehem. Or the countless stars pointed out to Abraham has nothing to do with every true believer today. As Christians we are called to try every word. It is a noble goal, searching Scripture for ourselves.

  4. Scripture is very clear that once we believe, we have died with Christ and risen as a new creature in Christ. Romans 6 says 6 times that we are dead and freed from sin. The KJV in Col. 3:5 states it this way, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” Mortify means to “subdue (the body or its needs and desires) by self-denial or discipline.” We can’t kill something that has already been killed!

    The other verse you quoted states it perfectly: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Rom.6:6-8

    You wrote “So you could say that Biblically there is a dying each day, especially with our sin nature that will never be conquered until we are free from our earthly bodies.” We don’t need to die each day because we have already died with Christ and risen with Him to a new life in Him as the verse so beautifully states.

    Once we are saved, God and Paul calls us saints. He said he was the chiefest among sinners because he murdered Christians before he was saved.

    I agree we must deny ourselves but this makes sense, is scriptural, and something that everyone understands. We don’t have to “put to death our sin” since we are dead and freed from sin which is clear in the Word and even the verse you quoted from Romans 6. Now, we have to continue to believe that what Christ accomplished on the cross means we are freed from sin. Yes, we will still sin but our focus should be on what Christ has done for us and walking in the Spirit, plus disciplining our bodies as Paul as clearly stated.

    I have studied the Word since I was 18 years old and all throughout Scripture, what I just wrote is what I clearly see.

    Here are a few posts I have written about this topic.

    Stop playing in the mud

    Yield your members to righteousness

    I love my new life in Christ, that He has done all the work, and now I have to walk in the freedom He died to give me!

    “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)


  5. PF, maybe this writers explanation will help your understanding for what Jesus meant, although he writes a little bit sarcastic for the first example of interpretation but I think you will get the point.
    Take Up Your Cross Daily (Luke 9:23)
     Paul Ellis
    Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luk 9:23).

    What does it mean to take up your cross daily? I’m going to give you two interpretations and then you can choose.

    Interpretation #1: Jesus is preaching self-denial

    Following Christ is all about self-denial and going without. If you are not in the daily habit of denying your appetites and desires, you are not a real Christian. The more you deny your own needs and wants, the holier you’ll be. So fast everyday and you’ll be just like Jesus.

    But there’s a problem with this interpretation. Abstaining from food, Facebook, or fun won’t make you righteous and holy. (It might make you religious.) This message of self-denial is nothing more than the ancient practice of asceticism dressed up in religious jargon. It is a message that promotes Pharisaical self-righteousness and DIY religiosity.

    Another problem with this interpretation is it will leave you anxious and insecure. “Have I denied myself enough?” You can never know. So you’d better deny yourself some more, just to be safe. “Don’t touch, don’t handle, don’t taste.” Pretty soon you’ll be whipping yourself and asking your friends to crucify you for the Easter parade.

    Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross so you could join him in suffering and dying on a cross as well. That’s not good news. Jesus died so that we might be free from this sort of dead and useless religion.

    Interpretation #2: Jesus is showing us the way to salvation

    And who is the way? Jesus. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s saying the way to salvation is through him and his cross.

    I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me… (Gal 2:20a)

    The reason most Christians struggle to live the Christian life is they do not know they have died with Christ. Yet Paul says so again and again. To the Christians in Colossae; “You died with Christ” (Col 2:20). To the believers in Rome: “We died with Christ” (Rom 6:8). To the Corinthians: “We died” (2 Cor 5:14).

    When you were baptized or placed into Christ, you were baptized into his death (Rom 6:3). This is just about the single most important thing that ever happened to you, yet many Christians are unaware of it. Since they don’t know that they died, they are constantly trying to die. But the gospel declares, “You died.” You have been crucified with Christ. The person you used to be – dead in sins and alienated from the life of God – no longer lives, but Christ lives in you.

    “But if I died with Christ already, why does Jesus say we must take up our cross daily?”

    First of all, note that the word daily is only found once in the three accounts of Jesus’ words. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and…

    …take up his cross and follow me. (Mat 16:24)
    …take up his cross and follow me. (Mar 8:34)
    …take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luk 9:23)

    Why does Luke record the word “daily” when Matthew and Mark do not? “Luke is wrong,” says Adam Clarke. “Or at least our English translations of Luke are wrong, for the word ‘daily’ is not in some of the original manuscripts.”

    Adam Clarke may be right. I wouldn’t know. I don’t have the original manuscripts. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume Clarkey is wrong and our English Bibles have it right. What then?

    Why does Luke say “daily”?

    My view is that Luke is on the same page as Matthew and Mark but he is emphasizing something to make a point. Luke isn’t contradicting Matthew and Mark; he’s saying the exact same thing – the way to salvation is through Christ and his cross – but he’s saying it with gusto. He’s saying we ought to value the finished work of the cross every single day.

    When I get out of bed in the morning and put my feet on the floor, my left foot says, “Thank you, Jesus,” and my right foot says, “For the cross.” It’s because you have died with Christ that you now live, everyday, in union with him. This is a great treasure and not something to take for granted.

    “Paul, are you saying that if I stop valuing the cross I’ll lose my salvation?” Not at all! I’m saying if you have been born of the spirit, learn to walk by the spirit. We don’t die daily – once will do the trick – and we don’t get born again every day. But every day we make this choice: Will I walk after the flesh or after the spirit?

    Let me give you an example. Say you hear a message that says you need to fast and pray to become spiritually mature, so you decide to fast and pray. Bam! You are no longer walking by the spirit. You are no longer trusting in the grace of God. Rather, you are trusting in your own fasting and praying performance to make you mature. Where does the Lord fit in this picture? He doesn’t, and that’s the problem. Dead religion is a graceless and faithless way to live.

    “Walking after the flesh” doesn’t necessarily mean running around getting drunk and doing bad stuff. That’s a caricature that applies to only a few. For the good Christian, the flesh takes on the subtler guise of good works, duty, and self-improvement. (For more, see my post, When doing good is bad for you.)

    What does it mean to die to self?

    There is nothing wrong with the phrase “die to self.” The problem is we read it through Buddhist lenses instead of gospel lenses. We think, “I have to stop being who God made me to be. I have to pretend I’m somebody else – someone who doesn’t enjoy wine, one woman, and song.” That’s a dehumanizing doctrine of demons.

    God made you unique. He gave you good dreams and good desires that no one else has. When you suppress your God-given dreams and desires, the world is impoverished.

    “Die to self” means “Trust Jesus instead of the flesh.” It means live each and every day out of the glorious relationship you have with the Lord. It means, don’t fall back to the inferior ways of the flesh that you walked in when you were a sinner or religious, but stand firm in the freedom of Christ.

    This, I believe, is the point Luke was trying to make. The trusting life is an adventure. It’s good to remind yourself daily that “God is for me. How can I fail?” Conscious of your loving Father’s acceptance and approval, you will soar on eagles’ wings. And when you apprehend, by faith, the inexhaustible riches of his grace, the whole world benefits.

    Why would you want to waste one single day living any other way? Why crawl when you can fly?


  6. Sarina,

    You are right that we DIED with Christ and now we are new creatures in Him. We don’t have to do this silly stuff of “dying to self” that many teach to die because if we are believers, we are dead and alive in Christ.

    I disagree that we aren’t to suffer for Christ. There are many verses about being willing to suffer with Christ and even die for Him. All of Christ’s disciples were willing to die for Him and they all did.

    That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; (Phil 3:10)

    So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)

    And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17)

    Choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. (Heb. 11:25)

    “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. (Matt. 5:1)

    “”You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22)

    “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39)

    And I could give you many more.

  7. Lori, yes definitely there are many verses about being willing to suffer for Christ and even die for Him. Is this article a better answer to the
    Question: “What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)?”

    Answer: Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
    When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

    Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

    Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

    Wherever Jesus went, He drew crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah, their view of who the Messiah really was—and what He would do—was distorted. They thought the Christ would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers. Even Christ’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon (Luke 19:11). When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile overlords (Luke 9:22), His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.

    Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers (John 16:33). Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.

    In Luke 9:57-62, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.

    Therefore, Jesus appeared to dissuade them. How different from the typical Gospel presentation! How many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

    If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
    • Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
    • Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
    • Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
    • Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
    • Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?

    In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?

    Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. Only if you willingly take up your cross may you be called His disciple (Luke 14:27). The reward is worth the price. Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in Christ: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26).

  8. Lori, what you wrote I believe explains it very well thank you !
    “In the context that Paul wrote this verse, he meant that we must be willing to die for our faith daily. Period.
    * There are many other verses about walking in the Spirit, hating evil, walking in newness of life, putting on the armor of God, etc.(sanctification) but this particular verse in context is being willing to die for what we believe in. The only purpose of the cross was for Christ’s death and many of his disciples died the same way, for their faith.”

  9. Thank you for post they are very interesting and I got so much from each one.
    As someone pointed out the difference between Luke’s writing from the wrong of Matthew and Mark so we too will interpret scripture in slightly different way.
    Many the Lord opened our eyes to see the real meaning to deny ourself , give up our rights and take up our cross and follow Christ. God bless you all richly

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