Jesus said to his disciples, “whomever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24).
Calvin begins the discussion of why we need to bear our cross, by setting the standard for the “godly minded” to the same standard as for Christ’s disciples. The standards include, tests and tribulations which, is prepared for the children of God.
Calvin affirms that it is the heavenly Father’s will to put his own children to a test. “Beginning with Christ, his first born, He follows this plan with all his children” (Institutes, 3.8.1). Therefore Jesus Christ bore the cross while on earth at the Father’s behest. The Apostle Paul wrote, “That it behooved him to learn obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5: 8).
Christ by his example of submission to obedience for our sake takes the lead such that we have no choice but to follow this lead. It is therefore part Apostle Paul’s teachings that we are destined to conform to Christ. Calvin supports Apostle Paul that suffering, difficulty, and harsh conditions be our portion but in bearing our cross, “a great comfort comes to us; we share Christ’s suffering in order that as he has passed from a labyrinths of all evils into heavenly glory, we may in like manner be led through various tribulations to the same glory” (Institutes, 3.8.1).
Calvin wants to know how such bitterness and suffering of the cross strengthen our fellowship with Christ. He is of the opinion that “by communion with him the very suffering themselves not only become blessed to us but also help much in promoting our salvation” (Institutes, 3.8.1).
Accordingly, Calvin writes that “the cross leads us to perfect trust in God’s power” (Institutes 3.8.2), for which reason we must continually be under the cross. We are inclined to depend on our weak nature and attribute whatever happens to our nature and confidently and proudly rely on it as if our powers are sufficient without God’s grace. For this Calvin teaches that God can prove our incapacity and frailty by afflicting us with disgrace, or poverty or other calamities that we learn to depend on the power of God.
In bearing the cross, God provides the necessary assistance that He has promised which Apostle Paul teaches – in which our hope is strengthened. It is in this that the “goodies,” are to be expected for the cross also teaches us to rest upon God alone with the result that we do not faint or yield and you may persevere unconquered to the end.
Another purpose of bearing the cross, according to Calvin is, “to test our patience and instruct us to obedience,” (Institutes 3.8.3). For this God tried Abraham and he did not refuse to sacrifice his only son” (Genesis 22: 1, 12). Peter also teaches that our faith is proved by tribulations as gold is tested in a fiery furnace.
To Calvin, the Cross is a medicine. Calvin stresses the importance of obedience by considering also what he calls “the great wanton impulse on our flesh to shake off God’s yoke if we for a moment softly and indulgently treat that impulse” (Institutes, 3.8.5). That we tend to ignore God’s goodness and rather get ourselves corrupted all the time without discipline. But God sees this and restrains us with the cross.
Finally, in the suffering salvation is achieved as an honor from God. Calvin states that “not only they who labor for the defense of the gospel but they who in anyway maintain the cause of righteousness suffer persecution for righteousness” (Institutes, 3.8.7). Calvin advices that we should not grief when we devote our efforts to God, when we find ourselves in difficulties for God’s sake because in such matters God declares us blessed.
Calvin mentions Jesus Christ the first Son of God and Abraham in the light of suffering and obedience for us to emulate. What is suffering today, and how do we find obedience in such suffering?