Here is a portion of John Piper’s article at Desiring God: Deny Yourself for More Delight.
Piper’s understanding of Jesus’ great statement in Mark 8:34 demonstrates the pervasive misunderstanding among Evangelicals regarding what Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Like so many others Piper is applying Jesus’ great statement to our discipleship, when Jesus is speaking about what is necessary for our salvation. What it means to deny ourselves and to take up our cross, for our salvation, is what we must understand.
His error has caused him to paint himself into a corner. He knows that it cannot mean that in order to be saved we have to literally take up a cross. Namely, that only martyrs are saved. Instead he goes, like so many others, to a mere willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. He reduces Jesus’ awesome requirement for salvation to: “Jesus has become more precious to us than approval, honor, comfort, and life.”
Ironically, out of a high regard for Jesus’ teaching Piper has undermined the true seriousness of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says that we must deny ourselves and we must take up our cross in order to come after Him. How can Piper reduce it to a mere willingness to do so? Sadly, he has trumped up a position based upon a confession of ignorance, for in introducing his argument he says, ‘he meant at least this….’ For those who listen to him there is only a lesser understanding, which is to err seriously.
Piper says that taking up our cross is when we subject ourselves to opposition, shame, suffering, and death. Ok, go ahead and try to come after Jesus by any one of these things or all four upon a literal cross and it still will not determine your salvation. This is perfect teaching for those who are self-righteous, who think that they can merit coming after Jesus by the sad story of their life.
The problem with Piper’s understanding of equating things in our life that we could consider opposition, shame, suffering, and death, as taking up our cross, is that our bodies, our flesh, our very selves, are counted dead in sin. It is of as much value as beating a dead horse. Our flesh merits nothing, no matter what it suffers, and is useless as a medium in order to follow after Jesus. While we are to put to death sin, in doing so, our flesh has not suddenly become meritorious.
Piper’s view of taking up our cross is also incomplete because it is necessarily of an undefined measure, unless we are actually put to death! Can we say that we have taken up our cross when we have had only a little opposition, a little shame, and just a little bit of suffering? What if it is only for a short period of time? Do we still count ourselves having taken up our cross when we are enjoying life and there is no opposition, no shame, and no suffering? Furthermore, if a mere willingness fulfils our Lord’s requirement, in order to follow Him, what is the outcome of even the slightest vacillation?
Why do I feel like I am opposing a Roman Catholic? Evangelical Christians, like the Galatians, are time and again constructing idols. Idols are easily smashed by the truth of God’s Word, though they are skillfully crafted by persons who wield spiritual authority when they misrepresent the truth.
There is a reason why men teach such things. By putting people under burdening error the hearers become dependent upon false teachers and will seek them out for the false fulfillment of such errors. As Paul warned, ‘They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.’ [Galatians 4:17].
Taking up our cross cannot mean a mere willingness to suffer and to die. Jesus was speaking about what is necessary for our salvation and that means we need to be able to say concretely that we have denied ourselves and we have taken up our cross! Jesus was saying that in order to come after Him we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross in a far more profound way than what Piper would have us to do.
We need to take up a cross that causes us to die to sin and to the Law, not a cross of our own estimation that is of no fleshly value.
For more information about what taking up our cross really means, by which we can be enabled to come after Jesus, read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.