John Stott’s very popular book The Cross of Christ, Inter-Varsity Press (1986), has very serious error. He undermines the very gospel itself!
In part four: Living under the cross, under Self-understanding and self-giving, Stott has taken the glorious truth of the cross and made it into a works righteousness that can never be accomplished by any saint.
Under the heading Self-Denial [p. 278] Stott says, ‘First, the call to self-denial. The invitation of Jesus is plain: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mk. 8:34). Jesus has just for the first time clearly predicted his sufferings and death. It ‘must’ happen to his followers as well. He must go to the cross; they must take up their cross and follow him. Indeed, they must do it ‘daily’. And, as the negative counterpart, if anybody does not take his cross and follow him, he is not worthy of him and cannot be his disciple.’
Say hello to works righteousness! What a burden that was never intended by our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. Stott wrote these words in a comfortable chair, perhaps in a lush office at Ridley College or the like, while the true gospel was proclaimed by Paul the apostle, while in less comfortable circumstances. It is ironic that those seated in lush offices, with all sorts of prestige and honor, burden the people of God, while our beloved apostle Paul, who was not so honored, gave us the right understanding of Jesus’ teaching!
Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Stott’s error with Jesus’ teaching about denying ourselves and taking up our cross is that he applies it to our discipleship. Jesus was speaking about our conversion and that in order for us to come after Him we needed to know a profound denial of trust in ourselves and a death of our sinful selves that is to be counted as a completed event.
Stott opposed this. He says in The Cross of Christ [p. 280], ‘This death is not something which has happened to us, and which we are now told to ‘reckon’ or remember, but something which we must deliberately do ourselves, though by the power of the Spirit, putting our old nature to death.’
Go ahead and try to take anything in your life and say that this is taking up your cross. This is moralism. Putting to death sin in our lives is not a fulfillment of taking up our cross. Rather, taking up our cross, in being crucified with Christ, is the only power to then put to death the deeds of the flesh, by the Spirit.
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].
Paul the apostle would have none of this sort of teaching by Stott and others, as he argued in Galatians. Paul only boasts in the cross of Christ. Paul does not have a cross of his own separate from Jesus’ cross. In fact, Paul understood that only by means of the cross of Christ was there a crucifixion between himself and the world.
For more information about a denial and a taking up of your cross, not as a Pharisee would have you do so, but as our Lord Jesus and Paul would have you to do, read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.