“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” -Romans 6:16 (NKJV)
If you are truly born-again then you have experienced this at least once in your life, in at least one area of your life. At least once you have come to recognize your inability to save yourself, and so you surrendered to Christ and trusted Jesus to do in you and through you what you could not do on your own. That surrender was, in essence, “taking up the Cross” with respect to your salvation. I have died to saving myself. I cannot save myself; and since I cannot, I will not. I will only trust in the Life of the Lord to do what I have (at last!) learned that I cannot do. This is what is means to “embrace the Cross” in the area of salvation. And we see that when the death to Self is thorough and complete – that is, when we stop trying to save ourselves and cast ourselves upon the grace of God, then God raises us from the dead. That which was impossible before is now accomplished by God. We are thankful recipients of His grace, and He receives all the praise and the glory since we have done nothing and He has done everything. This is the principle of the Cross.
It does not matter what your situation is; the Cross is sufficient. If the Cross is the power of God for salvation, then the Cross is also the power of God for your relationships, your spiritual growth and development, your life’s purpose, your encouragement and strength, and your victory over everything which hinders and distracts and comes against you. At one time in your life you learned you could not save yourself – that was the work of the Cross. Now, accept the work of the Cross and learn that just as you could not save yourself, neither can you love God, love your neighbor, forgive those who have sinned against you, cast out devils, be a bold witness for Christ, or fulfill your destiny in your own strength. Just as you once relied upon Christ to save you, so now you must rely upon Christ to live through you every day. Just as you continually rely upon Christ for salvation, so you must continually rely upon Christ for everything else.
“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord…” That is the Gate. “…So walk in Him.” That is the Path. If you can admit defeat, if you can surrender yourself over to God in the area of “salvation” then you can (and should) do the same thing in every other area of your life. Walk in Him as you received Him: by unconditionally surrendering to His Will, His Purpose, His Power, His Lordship. Embrace the Cross! The sooner the better!
When we cease doing what we cannot do, then He begins to do what we cannot. This is the fruit produced by those who are truly born again. Our works are not religious works at all, they are simply the works of Him Who now lives in us. When we cease struggling and surrender to crucifixion then He comes forth in power and glory to raise us from the dead. This is what it means to be a Christian and a disciple of Jesus.
A brother came to me who suffered from a bad habit. He had tried every means known to man to break himself from this habit. No stone was left unturned. First he tried all the “Christian” cures: prayer, fasting, binding and loosing, exorcism, positive confession. He had made vows to God and had threatened himself with dire consequences if he ever broke his vows. But break them he did. When all these attempts to address the problem spiritually failed, he tried some psychological remedies: visualization, counseling, psychotherapy, self-help courses, motivational speakers, natural remedies, prescription drugs. He even wore a rubber band around his wrist so that he could snap it against his skin whenever his thoughts began to go astray. In this way (he had been told) the pain would interrupt his thought patterns and he would “snap” back into reality. He had red welts on his wrist from snapping the rubber band over and over. Obviously the rubber band trick wasn’t working. In fact, nothing had worked. This is the condition he was in when he sought me out.
“I have tried everything, and I cannot break this habit! What else can I do?” he asked.
“Let me repeat what I just heard you say,” I answered. “You said you cannot break this habit.” He nodded. “Then you asked, ‘What else can I do?’” He nodded again.
“Listen to what you just said,” I replied. “You said, ‘I cannot… what else can I do?’” He didn’t understand, so I tried again. “What you are saying is, ‘I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.’ Then, in the same breath, you are asking, ‘What else can I do?’ And the answer is: nothing. There is nothing else you can do. You have done it all. So if you really believe that you cannot do it then stop trying to do it. Every time you try, you are expressing a belief that you still think you can do it. Clearly you cannot.”
He thought on this and said, “Yes, but if I stop trying, then it will surely defeat me.” I answered, “You are already defeated. Now you must admit your defeat so that you can overcome. What do you have to show for all your trying? Nothing but a series of disappointing failures. Do you see that if you cannot, then all the trying in the world is pointless? If it is impossible for me to lift 1,000 pounds then I should not even attempt it. This habit is 10,000 pounds to you. Can you lift it? No. Do you still think you can? Then God will allow you to keep on trying, and will wait for you to give up trying. Sooner or later you must learn to stop trying to do what you cannot do. The purpose of these multiple failures is to teach you one thing: you cannot. If you will learn this lesson then it is worth failing a thousand times. If you have truly learned it this time then go to God and tell Him that you quit. Tell Him that you have tried to do it your way but you are powerless. Surrender it all to Him. Give up trying and admit that apart from Him it cannot be done. Go to the Cross and die with respect to this thing and see what God does with it.” He thought on this and wanted to disagree but his experience had proved that the more he tried the more often he failed.
Then something happened. He finally saw that there was no use in trying to do what he could not do. “I cannot,” he said, “Therefore, I will not!” A new hope had dawned within him: he saw that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27). But now he understood that in order for God to do what is impossible for man to do, man must first realize that it is impossible for man to do it! He saw for the first time that God can do more for him in five seconds of “giving up” than he could do for himself through a whole lifetime of “trying.”
So together we prayed, and his prayer went something like this: “Today, Lord, I am finished. I give up. I have tried everything and nothing has worked. This is impossible with me, but not with You. With You all things are possible! Therefore, I trust You to do what I cannot do. If you do it then I will overcome; if You do not do it then I will forever be defeated. Just as I trust in You to save me, so I trust in You to overcome this thing. I cannot, but You can.” Without realizing it, this brother had embraced the Cross. He “died” to all his efforts and God “raised him from the dead” with a tremendous deliverance.
Embracing the Cross is not a once-and-for-all act, but a daily attitude of knowing our insufficiency in order to know the sufficiency of Christ. Jesus asks us to take up the Cross “daily” (Lk. 9:23) and Paul said “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). Since we daily meet with temptations, tests and trials, so we must daily affirm and re-affirm who we are in Christ: the crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended and seated Branches of the crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated Vine. As disciples, we take up the Cross daily, which means we are always in a state of surrender and submission to the Lord Jesus, constantly forsaking our own way for His Way. This moment-by-moment yielding to Him is summed up in this saying: “Not I, but Christ” (Gal. 2:20ff).