THE SYMBOLIC MEANING: Jesus Himself establish established the primary figurative interpretation of the cross as a call to complete surrender to God. He used it five times as a symbol of true discipleship in terms of self-denial, taking up one’s cross, and following Him (Mark 8:34; 10:38; Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23; 14:27). Building on the Roman practice of bearing the crossbeam to the place of execution, Christ intended this to point to the necessary death of self, involving the sacrifice of one’s individuality for the purpose of following Jesus completely; and a willingness to imitate Jesus thoroughly, even to the extent of martyrdom.
Closely connected to this is Paul’s symbol of the crucified life. Conversion means the individual “no longer live (s)” but is replaced by Christ and faith in Him (Gal 2:20). Self-centered desires are nailed to the cross (Gal 5:24), and worldly interests are dead (Gal 6:14). In Romans 6:1-8 Christians are “buried with [Christ]” (using the imagery of baptism] with the result that we are raised to a new way of life (v 4). This is taken further in 2 Cor 5:14-17. The believer relives the death and resurrection by putting to death the old self and putting on the new.
In one sense this is a past act, experienced at conversion. Yet according to Eph 4:22,24 this is also an ongoing act, experienced in the corporate life of the church. In other words, both at conversion and in spiritual growth, the believer must relive the cross before experiencing the resurrection life. The Christian paradox is that death is the path to life.