Remember the Call of the Cross

Today, even as we enter the yearly Lenten season precluding Passion Tide and Easter, we have too often forgotten what the cross itself meant for the early Christian, what it meant for Christ himself, and what it means for us.
The cross today is merely a symbol that we decorate and hang on walls and on chains around our neck. Indeed, we look upon it as beautiful. Yet, the early Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire knew very well what the cross was. The cross was a symbol of death – total, complete, and brutal. So when Jesus told his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), the early Christians understood this to mean that we were to totally deny ourselves, and to take up the mantle of death daily, dying to ourselves as we lived in Christ.
Paul exposes the very death that we must die in Christ when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
You are not your own! Christ died for you and you were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). If you are in Christ, you do not belong to yourself. You are God’s alone. You are a vessel of Jesus Christ in this world. Indeed, you belong to Christ, and he commands you be different than this world. The power of the cross calls you to die to your former self. It calls you to submit your entire life to him to be destroyed and to be built again in the power of sanctification. You belong to this world no longer, but to the savior who has purchased you. The cross itself has slain you and has given you life. Paul states in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Indeed, the death of Christ has paid our debt and demands nothing less than our very lives in return. The last verse of the old Isaac Watts hymn “As I Survey the Wondrous Cross” reminds us:
Were the whole realm of nature mine
that were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
demands my soul, my life, my all.
I was reading a passage by the 20th century pastor and theologian A.W. Tozer about the cross. He challenges us to let Christ’s actions on the cross, and his brutal death upon the cross, pierce our lives with utmost force. He writes:
Though the cross of Christ has been beautified by the poet and the artist, the avid seeker after God is likely to find it the same savage implement of destruction it was in the days of old. The way of the cross is still the pain-wracked path to spiritual power and fruitfulness.
So do not seek to hide from it. Do not accept an easy way. Do not allow yourself to be patted to sleep in a comfortable church, void of power and barren of fruit. Do not paint the cross nor deck it with flowers. Take it for what it is, as it is, and you will find it the rugged way to death and life. Let it slay you utterly.