“Never forget that the road to heaven is the way of the cross. Jesus has called us to follow Him, bearing the cross as He did.” Rose Philippine Duchesne
Walking in the way of the cross, living a crucified life, is a theme in the New Testament that started with Jesus and continued in the writings of both Paul and John. In Philippians Paul appeals to Jesus’ life of self-denial as the model for our daily walking in the way of the cross. In Philippians chapter 2, he speaks of how Jesus laid aside or emptied Himself of His human prerogatives to live and suffer with us, and to die in our place.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
This “emptying” is often referred to as His “kenosis,” from the Gr. word “Kenoo,” translated as “emptied” here. This “kenosis” means Jesus laid aside His human self-will and humbled Himself to His mission. Some have mistakenly assumed this passage refers to emptying Himself of some or even all His divinity, but that view does not fit the context of the passage or of the scriptures on whole. The point is that Jesus the man emptied himself of all self-serving motives to the point of accepting ridicule, torture, and death.
At the incarnation Jesus is the perfect union of sinless humanity and perfect divinity, yet he emptied Himself of all self-service and self-promotion, all self-will and self-determination. As an act of love for us, He denied Himself and walked in the way of the cross every day, which led ultimately to His crucifixion. We, too, are called to empty ourselves of our human prerogatives and yield every moment of our living to our God. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”
The way of Jesus, the way of the cross, is the way of every true follower as well. To empty ourselves, to be crucified daily, is an act of worship on our part. This is what Paul was speaking of in Romans 12:1-2 when he said, “I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God to present yourselves to Him as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto Him, which is your reasonable service of worship.” Conversely, if we resist this emptying we are engaging in self-worship, which is idolatry springing from our rebellious old nature. If we resist we are disobedient to the command of Paul here, and the words of Jesus in Luke 9: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up cross, and follow me.”
Some might argue that this makes our God sound like an exacting taskmaster, but the opposite is true. We were created as a race to love our God and to enjoy a deep, abiding, mutual love relationship with Him. Sin has interrupted this purpose in us, and our natural self has been corrupted and is disconnected from our only source of deep, soul-level satisfaction and love. The old nature in us fights against this love relationship with our God.
The crucified life is the only means by which we can experience the life our God has for us. We think it is up to us to pursue our God in our strength, to work to gain His love and attention, when in fact it is our God who is pursuing this love with us. We realize the love of our God not when we finally are behaving well enough to connect with Him. We finally and fully realize His pursuing love for us when we stop trying to control and manage our living, stop relying on our natural self with its self-will, self-service, self-determination, and self-fulfillment. It is only in our self-denial, the yielding of ourselves to walk in the way of the cross that we stop running from our God. The crucified life is the only pathway to the love and communion with our God for which we were made.
“The way of the cross is the way of suffering. Christians are called to die, not to kill, in order to show the world how they are loved by Christ.” John Piper