The cost of the cross in a world that loves pleasure
In some of the most haunting words in Scripture, Christ tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”(Matt. 16:24, ESV). At this point in the Passion story, the disciples don’t yet know the power of Christ’s words. They certainly understood what a cross was and knew something about the horrors of crucifixion, but they didn’t yet know that Christ himself would die on this instrument of Roman torture—or the various forms of suffering they each would face themselves.
At the core of Christianity is the command to deny ourselves. In a culture that revolves around affirming ourselves, it naturally becomes harder and harder to communicate that aspect effectively. The idea that we would deny ourselves as an act of spirituality is now counterintuitive. In Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age, he touches on the challenge of self-denial in the modern age: “For many people today, to set aside their own path in order to conform to some external authority just doesn’t seem comprehensible as a form of spiritual life.”
Self-denial is not just hard; it feels incomprehensible in our time, an age in which self-fulfillment is the cornerstone of a good life. Yet our faith does not ask us to neglect self-fulfillment—it just redefines the terms. According to the biblical story, we were actually created to deny ourselves, and in denying ourselves, we fulfill our true selves.
The world defines fulfillment as flowing from the authentic heart of the individual, unrestrained by any external sources. Christianity teaches that our hearts are wicked and unreliable— that we desire things that are not just bad, but are bad …