Julian: That’s encouraging. But what about the pain, surely that’s very real? What do you do with that?
Vaughan: Yes, the pain is real — I can’t deny that. The world, the flesh and the devil all conspire to make sin appear very attractive, so it will be hard for believers to remain godly in this area for the sake of the kingdom of God. To do that you need a clear understanding of the call to self denial in the kingdom — and the dynamic of resurrection life proceeding out of sacrificial death. Christ does call us all to a life of costly suffering as we take up our crosses for him, but, just as it was in his experience, that way of the cross is the path to life: ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mark 8.35).
And here is another article, found via Peter Ould:
The reality is that I acknowledge my same-sex desires. I talk openly with family and friends about homosexuality, especially as it relates to my commitment to Christ. More importantly, I’m honest with God about my struggles with same-sex attraction. I don’t pretend the feelings aren’t there; on the contrary, I consider them very real temptations. The only denial happening here is self-denial, the daily charge to take up my cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). That’s the calling of every Christian, not just those who fight against homosexual desires.
For me there is something significant being missed in this sort of language and the understanding of "taking up our cross" that is being assumed. I am not persuaded that what these two articles are describing counts as the denial of self that Jesus is talking about.
What, after all, is the key point to understand about the crucifixion? Is it about Jesus denying himself, or is it about Jesus being rejected by society? I am sure that there is some mileage in talking about Jesus denying himself on the path to Golgotha, but if we want to say that when Jesus was crucified he was denying what was most central to himself then I think we have misunderstood what was happening. I would, in contrast, want to say that on the cross Jesus was most truly himself, he was most authentically keeping faith with his core vocation and destiny. To me, the crucifixion - why it was necessary for Jesus to be crucified - centres upon the contrast between what is acceptable by society and what is called by God.
This came up in the lectionary reading set yesterday (Mark 9.42-48) when Jesus is saying that it is better to be maimed and enter the Kingdom, than to be whole and not enter it. I understand this to be about drawing a contrast between being a fully accepted member of the community (which at the time necessitated being bodily whole) and being a member of God's community, where being the person God has called us to be is more important than any particular physical attribute. The contrast repeatedly drawn in the gospels, so far as I can see, is between what it means to follow God, and simply falling in with what society sees as acceptable.
I believe that when we interpret 'deny yourself and take up your cross' as being about the repression of a part of ourselves, we are misunderstanding what Jesus is describing. I understand Jesus to be saying that if we are to follow him then we have to let go of any desire for social approval and acceptability. This is why in the context of the Mark 8 passage that Vaughan Robert references, Jesus rebukes Peter and says 'Get behind me Satan' (ie prince of this world, society) 'you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men'. That is the contrast we are to have in mind when understanding this teaching.
To take up our cross is to embrace the necessity of social rejection. Each of us has a tailor-made cross - it is what happens when we follow the law of love, accept Christ's invitation into the Kingdom, and are rejected by society as a result. The cross as I understand it is about what the wider society will do to us; it is not about what we do to ourselves. In other words, taking up the cross looks more like Matthew Shepard than these other commenters.