By taking up the second cross we are finished with serving sin with our mind. This must be active in us if we are to receive grace to live a life that is hidden with Christ in God, that comes into effect with the third cross. (Colossians 3:3-4) When the second cross is active, the Holy Spirit comes to us and writes laws and commandments in our hearts and minds – laws that liberate us from doing our own will; laws that go beyond the manifest works of the flesh. (Galatians 5:19-21)
In obedience to the Spirit, we take up the third cross, which is the cross that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23. Jesus’ exhortation entails a deep salvation, much more than receiving forgiveness for committed sins (the first cross), and putting off manifest sin (the second cross). This is what a life of genuine discipleship is all about. Through this cross we partake of Christ, who is God’s wisdom, with the result that we are conformed to the image of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:21-25; Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul writes about meeting the law of sin in our members that go against the will of God. (Romans 7:22-23) This inclination to sin is also called “sin in the flesh” or “my will,” and is also present in a converted believer who has received forgiveness, and who has stopped committing manifest sin. This is what John means when he says that we all have sin. (1 John1:8) Paul, who had the mind to follow Christ, found that this law was working in his members, and cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24. Immediately afterwards he provides the answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:25. The answer lies in looking at how Jesus did it.
Our “self-will” (or self-life) is the sin in the flesh that we have all inherited. As a man, Jesus also had inherited this self-will, and was tempted, but His firm resolve from the very start was, “Not My will, but Yours, be done!” (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 10:5-7) He had to learn obedience, because He also had a human nature. (Hebrews 5:7-8) God’s Spirit pointed out the sin in His flesh, and Jesus agreed with the judgment. In this way sin was condemned in Jesus’ flesh, and He opened a way that all His disciples could follow, which we can call the way of the cross. (Romans 8:3-4; Hebrews 5:7-8; 1 Peter 4:1-2)
Jesus tells us how this done when He says that a disciple must “take up his cross daily” and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) Here Jesus is not referring to the first cross, the cross of Calvary, where we cannot follow Him as a sacrifice for others’ sins, nor was it the second cross, where manifest sin is put off, because Jesus never sinned and didn’t need to put off sin. The cross Jesus is referring to is the third cross, a metaphorical “inner cross” that He Himself made use of every day of His life on earth. It was upon this cross that all sin in His flesh was “crucified” when it had received its judgment. This self-denial caused suffering in His flesh, but brought about death to sin, so the inclination to sin was never translated into actual sin in thought, word or deed. This happened daily, until all sin in Jesus’ flesh was condemned, and He could cry out, “It is finished!” when He was crucified on Calvary. (John 19:30) That is why He exhorted His disciples to follow Him by taking up their cross, and hating their own lives (or self-will). (Luke 14:26-27) (Read the Essentials topic “Christ manifested in the flesh” to learn more.)
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” 1 Peter 4:1.
Peter writes that we must arm ourselves with the same mind which was in Christ. By taking up our cross daily as Jesus did, and by the revelation of the Holy Spirit whom God sent to us after Jesus overcame all the sin in His flesh, all of His own will, the Holy Spirit can continually show us new areas of our human nature, our flesh, which need to be cleansed. Gradually our old nature is replaced with the virtues of Christ, and we become more and more attuned to God’s voice and will. By taking up our cross daily, our human spirit is freed from the flesh through the blood of Christ, and is the driving force in this new creation by the Holy Spirit.
It is possible to have victory over fleshly lusts, have a good conscience and live a respectable outward life, but without taking up our cross daily it remains soulish – earthly. Any spiritual progress is only possible by taking up our cross and there putting to death our own will, the sin that we have in our flesh. The word of God divides between soul and spirit. (Hebrews 4:12) When this occurs, we enter into a deeper salvation and transformation of our entire inner being into the image of God. This cross lifts us up from reacting in a soulish and earthly, human way, to becoming more and more spiritual, partakers of the divine nature!
Jesus was the first one to go on this way of the cross, and He invites us to become His disciples and follow Him on the same way. The death over sin that He used is now something we make use of. “… always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:10. When the “death of Christ” is active, the wisdom and understanding that is of the world and which comes from below – that is to exalt oneself – is brought to nothing. Our human glory and honor according to this world vanishes in the eyes of men, because the wisdom of this world is to want to be something and have a name. (Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 1:19) But this cross sets us free from this world, as the life of Christ increases in our lives. Through the cross we are prepared to become the bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem that descends from heaven. (Revelation 21) Those who are earthly remain on the earth, but those who overcome by taking up their cross daily press on to perfection (Philippians 3:12-14), and bear the image of the heavenly – they become heavenly as Jesus is heavenly, and will receive a body which is the same as His glorified body. (Philippians 3:17-21)