I think that whoever could invent an affordable replacement for salt-based water softeners could become rich. While my house has enough challenges that we don’t need to add mineral buildup (in our pipes and on our dishes) to the mix, I really dislike hauling in 80 pounds of salt from the car (2 bags’ worth), weaving through the various rooms and doorways, down the steps, and over to the water softener in the basement. Those tiny plastic handles concentrate the weight of the salt on a narrow width of skin and bone on one’s hand, and the size of the bags makes them even more awkward to keep up off of the ground. I could haul one bag at a time, maybe over my shoulders, but that means twice as many trips back and forth. (The “warehouse club” store where I bought some salt the other day proudly advertised that their salt bags were 10% bigger. Probably a good bargain financially, but I wasn’t that excited about the additional weight.)
OK, enough complaining. After all, Jesus did not complain when He had to carry – through the streets of Jerusalem – a timber for the cross upon which he would be executed. In that light, I think that I should be able to haul some bags of salt through my house every so often.
Before His crucifixion, though, Jesus gave His followers (and, by extension, those of us who read His word today) some interesting instructions about what it meant to follow Him:
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
Luke 9:23 NASB
There are days that I imagine getting up in the morning, metaphorically heaving a big, square-hewed board onto my shoulders, and heading out for my day. I accept that there will be some things that will take effort that day, and I choose to take them on. (Until they arrive, at least. Part of the challenge of the Christian walk is to remember my commitment when it is required!)
More significantly, though, the cross was an instrument of execution. Requiring convicts to carry their cross – at least one beam of it – through the streets was part of the Romans’ way of pointing out what would happen (i.e., an inevitable, prolonged, and painful death) to people who crossed the Roman Empire. When Jesus – or any other person about to be crucified – carried His cross, others could tell that His death was imminent.
So, what does carrying a cross look like today? What do followers of Jesus need to die to, as they seek to live for Him, and actually follow the plan that He has for them?
Here’s what I thought:
- We may have to die to relationships with those who attack us. Our faith may require us to stand for the right thing, even when it costs us friends. That doesn’t mean we stop loving others, but they may choose to create the separation.
- We may have to die to opportunities that are no longer compatible with our destiny. Self-promoting and self-gratifying habits give way to practices that glorify God and bless others.
- In some countries, people even die physically for their beliefs. Sometimes, doing the right thing may cost us material goods, comfort, or even our mortal lives. Really, though, while we hope to do good for God in this life, we also realize that the things of this earth – other than human souls – are destined to vanish, eventually.
Sometimes, these crosses are indeed heavy. They hurt our already beaten-down hearts. They strain our aching souls. They remind us that we lack the power to get through on our own. Still, we emulate our Lord and Savior, who not only led by example, but also gives us the strength to carry on. (And, even with the burdens that we carry, there is often plenty of joy along the way.)
No matter what cross we may be called to carry within our environment or culture, though, there is one way that we must die, regardless of what society may do to us:
We must die to sin.
Paul takes this as a fact in the following verse:
May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 6:2 NASB
Like a crucifixion, dying to sin isn’t necessarily a quick process. It may be painful to give up old habits and old ways. When we think we’ve purged sin from our lives, and it is almost dead, it sometimes pulls itself up on broken wrists and takes one more gasp, buying a little more time in our lives. That pattern may last – frustratingly – during our entire lives on this earth. However, as we continue to work to eliminate the sinful habits that plague us, we look forward to the day when our sinful nature no longer has sway over us.
However, like a crucified person in Roman times, once sin is dead, it should remain dead. (Of course, God overcame the Romans’ efforts by raising Jesus from the dead, but God isn’t going to resurrect sin in our lives.) As followers of Jesus work to systematically remove sin from our lives, we should never try to go back to our sinful nature.
May we pick up our cross daily, and willingly carry the burden required to help us thoroughly die to sin each day. Only then can we truly live as we were intended to.