Since we're justified by faith alone, how should we understand Jesus' words in Luke 9:23–24?
Luke 9:23–24 is an important part of our understanding of what true saving faith is. There is self-denial in true saving faith. You are submitting to the lordship of Christ at the point of conversion. That is, you are no longer relying upon yourself through self-righteousness, or your own good works, to commend you to God.
This idea from Luke 9 also appears in Matthew 16 and is repeated in Luke 14:26, which says, “Except a man hate his own father and mother and brother and sister, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” I think it is simply saying that true saving faith is this: you come to the end of yourself, Christ begins, and you are under the authority of Christ. You are stepping out of the world, out of the slave market of sin, and you are now following Christ by putting one foot in front of another.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “Carry your cross.” A cross was an instrument of death. It was the beginning of the death march to the execution site. There is an element in the Christian life where we are to carry our cross daily, meaning that we are to die to self daily. That is evidence of true saving faith.
Carrying our cross is not a work. That would be a misunderstanding of Luke 9:23–24. It is simply saying that true saving faith is not mere head knowledge, nor is it mere sentimental emotion. Rather, it involves a decisive break with self and an entrusting of your life to Jesus Christ.
This is a transcript of Steven Lawson’s answer given during our 2020 Dallas-Fort Worth Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.