“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28).

In our rabidly materialistic society we are bombarded with the not-so-subtle message that we can have it all and we can have it right now. ING, the financial services company, advertises, “What is Your Number?” and encourages folks to save grotesquely large sums of money so they can “enjoy the retirement you deserve”. The mantra is clearly that we deserve to have the best in this life – accumulate, cherish, selfishly consume, and find meaning in possessions. According to this ideology, the more we gain of these things the greater our satisfaction and enjoyment of this life. “Get all you can and can all you get” is pretty good synopsis of the prevailing recipe for earthly happiness. True disciples of Christ must listen carefully and with keen discernment – this diabolical message is constant in our culture. And it is coming from both inside and outside the professing church. 

The world says that you can never have enough stuff. The Word (Jesus) essentially teaches, “Wrong”! He said just the opposite is true – that if you want to gain a full experience of life you must give up such aspirations. Jesus’ words are, “”Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He contradicted the “greed is good” mentality by, in some instances, telling His followers to sell all they had and give it to the poor (see Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 12:33).

The paradox is that in Christ we gain what is most important, lasting, and deeply satisfying only by forsaking and abandoning such materialistic aspirations and our worldly desires. Commenting on this passage J. M. Boice said, “There is no salvation apart from cross-bearing”. In other words, we must give to receive. We must lose to gain. In order to have a full experience of life now and forever we must willingly give up our carnal dreams and resources in the service of God. Anytime a believer surrenders his natural desires in order to obey and serve God he is losing his life that he may gain something infinitely greater.

Jesus is teaching by metaphor. But our minds quickly question: How can one give up his life in order to gain his life? How can a believer lose his life for Christ’s sake (i.e., deny himself and take up his cross)? Only through the Holy Spirit can we understand this teaching. However, this passage reveals 4 spiritual concepts related to this that are worthy of our contemplation. These ideas are tied to the use of the Greek word psyche. This word speaks to the eternality of every person’s existence and is translated “life” or “soul”. This clearly delineates the teaching of Christ concerning what really matters:

  • Whoever desires to save (cling to the stuff of) his life will lose it.
  • Whoever loses (surrenders or gives) his life for Christ’s sake will find it.
  • What eternal good is it if a person gains the whole world (every imaginable earthly possession) and loses his own soul?
  • What will a man give in exchange (count as of equal or greater value) than his soul?

So it comes down to a choice – God or materialism. What do we desire and value most? What do we serve most? It was this same thought Jesus was conveying when He proclaimed from the mountainside:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt 6:19-21).

Are we willing to lose our lives (our materialistic aspirations and consumptive urges) that we may gain His immeasurably more valuable life? I pray we don’t let “stuff” get in the way – for even if we obtain all of it we still, in the end, have lost everything of real value. However, if we lose our lives (our “stuff”) to Him we gain the greatest Treasure imaginable; we gain what is truly everything and do so for all of eternity. “ But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”, Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippian Christians, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ(Philippians 3:7-8).