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.
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.”
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! Do 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?
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 by misrepresenting truth.
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 we need to correct our understanding so that we can obtain the blessing of a right understanding from Jesus’ great statement.
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.