When he had called the people to Himself, with his disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34,35)
We can see here plainly enough that the recommendations of Jesus Christ fly in the face of everything that our natural instincts tell us. We are not going to hear these kind of words by reading popular self-help psychology, by watching lots of television or by attending seminars on personal success and wealth creation. No, these words come as a stinging rebuke which cuts against the core motivations and philosophies of most people today. Even many pastors and church leaders today would be fearful of telling it like it is here, lest they offend people, and lose them and their financial contributions to other backslidden churches.
The word for life here is the Greek word ‘psuche’ – which means ‘soul life’. Jesus is not talking about the instinct for bodily self-preservation, nor is he talking about preserving the spiritual life with God. He is talking about what will happen to people who try to save their soulish life – which is the area of the mind, will and emotions. Most people are strongly attached to certain ideas, passions, objectives and relationships which they hold onto with the grip of death. They are quite unwilling to allow God to interfere with the things that are most important to them. They would strongly agree with the sentiment expressed in the song, “Its my life!”. These people may go to church, they may be religious also, but they cannot follow Jesus – because Jesus demands total commitment and a willingness to FORSAKE self, as well as all worthless and harmful things and ideologies. Jesus demands that our strongest attachments – even to family – should look like hate compared to our love and devotion to Himself. Those who would refuse or withhold this from the Lord CANNOT be His disciples. (Luke 14:26-33).
People who are unwilling to let go of their strong soulish desires for the things of this world – its lusts and entertainments, the ambitions for wealth, fame and the applause of the world – these people are going to lose their soul. It seems clear to me that according to the words of Jesus, most people in Australia today, most Americans, most Europeans, and most everyone in the world today is going to lose their soul. This is very sad. It is tragic beyond words. We are living today in the perilous times that the apostle Paul warned about in 2 Timothy 3. In our world today, most people are trying to save their life, and live for themselves, not the true God. If Jesus is right and we have his true words on the subject, the conclusion seems clear enough. It is not as if any one of us deserve to judge the world, least of all myself, but we have been given access to the words that Jesus himself declared would be the standard by which God will ultimately judge mankind.
At least we have all been warned. We have access to Bibles. There is plenty of evidence out there to point to the uniqueness of Jesus, and to back up the claims for his resurrection and activity in His people today, if we care to check it out.
The alternative to trying to save your life is to lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. Jesus wants us to love Him just as a bridegrooms wants the love and devotion of the bride. So if we respond to the invitation, we are going to lose our soul life for Jesus. We are also going to lose our soul life for the gospel, because Jesus commanded us to be devoted to the spreading and demonstration of the gospel (Mark 16:15), and we cannot love Jesus and do nothing for the sake of the gospel. To do nothing for the gospel is not compatible with true love and obedience towards the One who provided us with the Gospel. The gospel is the only way of escape from sin and the satanic world system. These things are holding people in their grip until the people finally slip into the horrible condemnation and eternal torment of hell. Jesus has commanded us to go in His name because this is serious. You cannot love Jesus and not obey His commandments. You are either for Jesus or against Him. And if you don’t love Him, you are surely an idolater. You cannot love God if you don’t love Jesus.
The promise of God to those who lose their life for the Lord and His gospel – who give up their private ambitions and lusts and independent priorities to live for God – is that they will FIND LIFE. They will find such a rich life in God. Religion can be boring, but life in communion with the Son of God, the author of life, is not boring. To the extent that we accept and embrace the work of the cross in our own life, to that same extent we will thrill in the resurrection power of God, and the endless wisdom of God. What we gain is so much greater than what we lost. We lose our selfish, petty and foolish soul life and gain a new soul life, more on the level of God Himself. We become fit to be companions of God.
So we as Christians, as disciples of Christ, are called to a life of self denial, so that we can receive something far higher, which God Himself will give to us. There is something noble about sacrificing one’s own life for any sincere and well-meaning cause – but how much more when it is the cause of God himself, the cause of truth, and the cause of the salvation, the rescuing of our fellow human beings! We too, not long ago, were lost and in danger of eternal hellfire. It is our duty, and privilege, to serve Jesus Christ through embracing his cross, his Spirit and his message with a passion and a zeal. In doing this, we will find more life than we ever had before. As Jesus said, he has come that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). This life is received however, when we forsake the old natural life, so that we might take hold of the new. It is not a guarantee that we will have an abundant life in the Babylonian world system, with Jesus tacked on there somehow as an appendage of sorts. It is the promise of something totally new, a quality of life unknown to the man outside of Christ.