The WHAT & WHY of The Way of The Cross

 WHAT Do We Mean By “The Cross”?

The first mention of “the cross” in the Bible is spoken by Jesus Himself:

And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].”[1]

Jesus is “the Author and Perfecter of faith”[2] and He defined “the cross” in terms of “denying self”.  According to Jesus, a second aspect of the definition of “the cross” is that it is “for the glory of the Father”.  In His prayer to the Father just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus said:

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name ” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”[3]

One insidious danger associated with desiring to walk the Way of the Cross is falling into the trap of taking pride in our self-denial.  This does not glorify the Father, but instead, ironically, leads to self-glorification.  This type of spiritual pride is in direct contradiction to the Way of the Cross. 

A third aspect of the definition of “the Cross” is that it is “daily”, as Jesus said that we were to “take up our cross daily and follow Him”.  That is, the Way of the Cross is not some kind of single special act of spectacular sacrifice which may even bring notoriety and popularity; but rather, the Way of the Cross is a daily lifestyle of self-denial – usually in ways that may go totally unnoticed except by God.    

We can make a distinction between the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross”: The “Work of the Cross” is Christ’s sacrificial work on the Cross as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the World”.[4]  The message of the “Work” of the Cross is directed to the unconverted – the “old man”.[5]  The “Way of the Cross” is Christ’s example which He gave to “any person wills to come after Him…and follow Him.[6]  That is, to “cleave steadfastly to Him, conform wholly to His example”[7], and “take the same road with Him that He takes as a habit of life”.[8]  The message of the Way of the Cross is directed to the “new man”.[9]  

WHY The Way Of The Cross?

Why is the “Way of the Cross” necessary?  It is God’s way.  From eternity past to eternity future, the Way of the Cross is the only way God does things:  In Revelation 13:8 it is written:

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”[10] 

From this verse we see that both the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross” were established

in God’s heart and mind as His plan and purpose from before the beginning of the world

Also, at the end of the Book of Revelation, in the new heavens and the new earth, in the midst of the New Jerusalem, we see “the throne of God and of the Lamb”[11], Who embodies the Way of the Cross. 

God’s eternal plan and purpose was accomplished only by the Lamb through the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross”.  In his vision into eternity, this is the truth which the apostle John saw and heard declared by angels, the living creatures, and elders at the throne in heaven: 

“I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.  And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?”  And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.  Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.  And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.  When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”  Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”  And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”[12]  Do you see?  The Lion is a Lamb!  Overcoming – God’s way – is through the Way of the Cross.

The apostle John also wrote the following in one of his epistles:

 “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[13] – the sin sacrifice on the altar of the cross.

Why the “Way of the Cross”?  It is God’s way.  From eternity past to eternity future, it is the only way God does things.  This is so, because both the “Work of the Cross” and the “Way of the Cross” are perfect expressions of the very essence of God’s nature, which is self-denying love.        

Suffering, Ruling And Reigning

 As we continue with the question of WHY the Way of the Cross, we see that the Scriptures reveal that those who have come into Christ are destined to rule and reign with Him in the age to come.[14]  In order to rule and reign WITH Him, and not contrary to Him, we need to learn HOW He rules and reigns.  And we know from Scripture and experience that He rules and reigns with a self-denying love.  If we are to rule and reign with Him, we are to learn this self-denying love, which is so contrary to our self-centeredness.  This is something that we must learn to obey; and this “learning to obey” presents suffering to us.  It is even said of Jesus that, “although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered”.[15]

A man named Paul Billheimer wrote effectively concerning these concepts.  In his book, Destined For The Throne, he discusses our calling to rule and reign with Christ; and in the sequel, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, that through the Way of the Cross, we learn the self-denying love which will enable us to rule and reign with Christ.  Billheimer refers to the Cross as “the throne of the universe”.

The apostle Paul expressed the desire to know Christ “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”[16]  This “fellowship[17] of His sufferings” is a participation in, a sharing in, the sufferings of Christ.[18]  And Paul mentions twice in his epistles that if, through these sufferings, we learn self-denying love (the Way of the Cross), we will be glorified with Christ and reign with Christ:

“And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”[19]

and …

“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure (suffering), we will also reign with Him….”[20] 

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“The What & Why of the Way of the Cross” is an excerpt from the eBook “The Way of the Cross“, pages 8-16. See the corresponding eBook on our website.

At Christ’s Table – ACTpublication © 2009

“Explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

* * * * * * *


[1] Luke 9:23 The Amplified Bible

[2] Hebrews 12:2

[3] John 12:27-28

[4] John 1:29

[5] Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9

[6] Luke 9:23   

[7] The Amplified Bible

[8] The Wuest Expanded Translation

[9] Ephesians 2:15, 4:24; Colossians 3:10

[10] New International Version. Now, there are alternative translations for this verse.  Some are communicating that it was the “names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” from (before) the creation of the world.  Others, like the NIV, are communicating that it was the “Lamb slain” from (before) the creation of the world.[10]  I favor the later.  Admittedly, both views are logically problematic, requiring a worldview and faith in spiritual realities existing before empirical human history.  There is an interesting phrase in Hebrew 9:14 which I think could be seen to give added support to this concept of “the Lamb slain from the creation”: “… how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” ( Hebrew 9:14)  “… through the eternal Spirit (He) offered Himself”: The simple understanding is that Jesus was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  This sacrifice was taking place through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  That can mean a number of things – one of which is that this sacrifice was taking place in the spiritual dimension.  And because it was taking place through the eternal Spirit, it could have very well been taking place in “eternity past”, or “from (before) the creation of the world”.  This concept is also supported in 1 Peter 1:19-20: “… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.  For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.”   In these verses, the apostle, Peter, is clearly stating that the Lamb was foreknown before the creation of the world.  So, from the Scriptures we know that Christ existed before the creation of the world, and that He was foreordained, if not “slain” – before the creation of the world.  So, the Lamb “became flesh”, came into the world, and was physically slain during human history; but there also seems to be the spiritual reality that He was slain in an eternal, spiritual dimension “from (before) the creation of the world”.

[11] Revelation 22:1 & 3

[12] Revelation 5:1-13

[13] 1 John 4:9-10

[14] Romans 5:17, 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12

[15] Hebrews 5:8

[16] Philippians 3:10

[17] (Greek) koinonia

[18] Paul also referred to his sufferings as “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24), indicating that God intends for Christ’s sufferings to continue in some manner through the members of Christ’s Body, the Church.

[19] Romans 8:17

[20] 2 Timothy 2:11-12

“Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:28)
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Quo Vadis

God is always moving forward in His kingdom plans and purposes. He never moves backward. And for those who love Him, He never stops moving in our lives for His glory. But to continue moving on with God “from glory to glory” requires our living “from faith to faith”. It takes an act of faith