Last night after church, one of my friends and I hung around for a while talking. At one point, the topic of Biblical Christianity versus modern-day mainstream American Christianity came up, and during the course of that conversation, I was reminded of a journal entry that I’d made some time ago. In that journal entry, I commented about the idea of a “paper cross.”
In Luke 9:23, we read of Jesus telling us to pick up our cross daily. The idea behind picking up our cross doesn’t necessarily mean walking to our physical death as He did when He gave His life for our sins, but it does mean dying to our own selves, selfish desires, and the plans we have for our lives – of figuratively giving our lives for Christ in the same way that He gave His for us, and allowing Him to guide us along in the life and plans that He has for us.
However, in present-day America, the prevailing idea behind Christianity isn’t denying ourselves, but taking ourselves and adding a dash of Jesus – leaving ourselves not dead, but alive and well. We don’t like to hear about the uncomfortable things He spoke about – things like selling our possessions and giving to the poor, about being last and least, about serving others and putting them before ourselves, about being willing to leave everything behind for Christ and follow wherever He leads us. So we justify our actions by watering down His words – modernizing and “contextualizing” them for the “modern day,” making them “seeker friendly.” We take only the convenient, safe, comfortable, reassuring sayings of Jesus, while leaving the challenging, outside-of-our-comfort-zone ones behind in the realms of the “early church,” ending up with an impotent, empty, powerless, watered-down remnant of “Christianity.”
In other words, we pick up our paper cross.
The idea behind a paper cross is that it’s easy to carry – light, manageable, comfortable, fashionable, non-controversial, and at the same time, easy to hide. It allows us to be “christian” when it’s popular, and then as soon as it gets inconvenient or challenging or uncomfortable, it is easy to put away.
By carrying our paper cross, we place the focus on ourselves – our comfort, our safety, our peace – in other words, lifting ourselves up rather than denying ourselves. As Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, carrying our paper cross gives us a form of godliness but denies its power.
The problem with this is that doing so is both dangerous to our soul as well as antithetical to the core of who Christ is and what He calls us to, and puts us at risk of hearing the words of Christ in Matthew 7:21-23 – “I never knew you.”
The answer to this, however, isn’t one of fear and anxiety, but rather one of trust and love. It’s not obeying because we fear an eternity in hell, but it’s being in a relationship with the One we love, the One Who loves us so much that He gave His life for us. It’s trusting that He has our best interest in mind for the long term – not our temporary comfort. Will we always get it right? Of course not. When we fail, He is faithful to forgive us through the Grace we’re given through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Out of that loving, trust-filled relationship between Creator and creation will naturally flow a love for others, a passion for showing them the same love that we have been shown. Taking up our cross daily is a labor of love, not a burden of necessity. And the cool thing about that is – it’s one that we are promised that we won’t go alone.