“This is my cross to bear”

“This is my cross to bear”

Often Christians and non-believers use this phrase to describe their burden of suffering in life. Unfortunately, both of them err in understanding the context of these words given by Jesus. Listen to Jesus’ words after Peter confesses that He is the Messiah:

21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Lk. 9:21-26 ESV)

When Jesus talks about taking up our cross, He is not talking about common human suffering, such as illness, troubled marriages, wayward children, problems at work, or shortage of money. All of these human struggles are common to both believers and non-believers. As believers living in a fallen world and in bodies that await redemption, we are not immune from the ordinary suffering of humanity. This is not our cross to bear.

However, if we understand and obey what Jesus meant when he spoke about ‘our cross,’ we will be better equipped to handle the ordinary sufferings of life common to all humanity, as well as the extraordinary sufferings of life, that come upon us because of our identification with Jesus Christ.

Bearing your cross (i.e. “take up your cross daily”) means ‘ dying to self that you may live for Jesus Christ.’ It is the willing abandonment of a life that is centered on autonomy and a willing surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is a willingness to lose our life as we have designed it so that we may follow Him for His glory. It is a commitment to not be ashamed of Him and His Words. Again, bearing your cross means dying to self that you may live for Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul captured the intent of Jesus words in 2 Corinthians 5:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14-15 ESV)

Only when we truly ‘bear our cross’ by dying to self and living for Christ will we be able to glorify God in the ordinary suffering of life common to all humanity, and in the extraordinary sufferings of life which come upon us because of our identification with Jesus Christ.

Why We Recite the Apostles’ Creed at Grace Church

 From time to time I hear concerns from well-meaning people questioning our use of the Apostles’ Creed. Most often it has to do not so much with the content, but with their personal history of having recited it in the Roman Catholic Church or in a liberal denominational church.  Part of their conversion story is that in understanding the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ they left a religious system that had corrupted and confused the gospel. We rejoice with them in their conversion and their choice to leave a faulty religious system.

However, in our use of the Apostles’ Creed and other ancient creeds we are reclaiming from corrupt religious systems what belongs to historic Christianity.  The content of the creed is thoroughly biblical and generally accepted by evangelicals around the world. Though there are some nuances of how one understands ‘he descended into hell,’ most would agree there is a biblical basis for the idea. We choose in our recitation to omit it. Others are offended with the phrase ‘holy catholic church’ because they mistakenly associate ‘catholic’ with Roman Catholic. Actually, catholic is good word that highlights the universal, worldwide expression of the church of Jesus Christ.  We replace ‘catholic’ with Christian to accommodate some of those sensibilities and misunderstandings.

The creed simply sets forth an ancient, historic representation of the Christian faith. It does not set forth how one becomes a Christian. Yes, it is possible to believe and recite the creed and not be a Christian, just as it is possible to recite the Lord’s Prayer or pray a ‘sinner’s prayer’ and not be a Christian. Nevertheless, the creed is helpful as a catechetical tool for believers but only secondarily as an apologetic tool for unbelievers.  We understand that both believers and unbelievers need more than the creed.

 Admittedly, though we recite the creed regularly at Grace Church of Philly, we are not totally satisfied with the creed – not because of what it says but what it does not say.  Had I been on the ‘creed editorial committee,’ I would have made the atoning work of Christ clear. For some reason I was not invited to that committee.  Here at Grace Church of Philly, we are committed to being gospel-centered. The gospel is the good news that Jesus the Redeemer-King has come. At the heart of the good news is ‘Christ died for our sins.’ Since there is no substitutionary atonement in the creed, there is no preaching of the gospel in the creed. That is why I say that the creed is primarily a catechetical tool for believers not an apologetic tool for evangelism.  It is both a personal and corporate confession and a teaching tool for those who already understand and believe the gospel.

 In contexts where the gospel has been eviscerated, the Apostles’ Creed is nothing but vain repetition, as is the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy” by most Roman Catholics, many Orthodox churches, and all theological liberals. But, in contexts where the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is central, the creed reaffirms elements of the historic Christian faith.  When recited by those whose hearts are being transformed by the gospel, the Apostles’ Creed becomes a hearty, personal and corporate confession of Christian belief, not vain repetition.

 The confession which begins with, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth …”, is rooted in what we have already confessed and continue to confess” “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”