And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.( Mark 8:34-38)
We have been examining the teaching of Jesus on the value of the soul. The teaching came in response to the reaction of Peter to hearing that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem to be handed over to the gentiles, suffer and die. Neither Peter nor his contemporaries could conceive of such a Messiah. Why would the Lord allow Messiah to apparently be defeated?
This underscores the stark difference between the “things of man” and the “things of God”. Man cannot appreciate the gap between himself and God, he doesn’t grasp the extent of the fall, and his descent into sin, therefore the idea of the cross is repugnant to Him.
The natural man looks dismissively at the spectacle of the Son of God on a cross, and thinks, ‘Our redemption required that? Are we really that bad? Is that what it takes to save us?’. This is the same reason modern man cannot believe in the teaching of the final punishment described as hellfire. Speaking from the perspective of natural man, they would say ,’No one is so evil, that they deserve eternal conscious torment! Not even Hitler!’.
Having no revelation of God, they can’t believe that there is any being in the universe who is so august, and so important and authoritative, that to sin against him is to merit eternal punishment. But when men see who God truly is, or should they ever get a revelation of His holiness and perfections, they say with the prophet Isaiah, “Woe is me,I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King!”.
Those who have seen God, know there is a hell, and that but for the grace of God, they should rightly have to go there.
Calling the crowd of would be followers together, Jesus presents a seeming paradox of the soul. That those who seek to save their own lives, always end up losing them, but those who are willing for the sake of God, to let go of their lives, they end up truly living.
Thus the Lord teaches us that the soul, your very being, is a gift of God, but it’s well-being, cannot be an end in itself. Happiness, which is deep and justified satisfaction with life as a whole,, cannot be attained when sought as an end. These things are by products of being right with God.
On the one hand the world says, ‘seek your self, trust your heart, find your own happiness…’. It pushes self-esteem, urges self-assertion and self-confidence. The world’s philosophy teaches us that, “to your own self be true” above all else, and that we must learn to love ourself, before we can love anyone else. This conventional wisdom seems so true and natural, that it is rarely questioned.
But the Gospel offers us counter intuitive teaching. It insists that self-seeking is not the road to ‘fulfillment’. Jesus’ insistence that true happiness can only be attained as we let go of the self, and renounce our own righteousness, and be willing to see ourselves as God sees us, just doesn’t feel right to most of us. We would never come to self-renunciation as the path to true life and happiness by following our feelings.
In my youth, the thing I dreaded the most, was admitting that I was a sinner. I couldn’t entertain the idea that I was truly damned and worthy of hell. (Purgatory, maybe, but certainly not hell, after all, I am no Hitler or Charles Manson!). I justified myself, from as many angles as possible, assuring myself that I had never killed anyone, or stole someone’s wife, or took heroin!
But when I read for the first time the Sermon on the Mount, and realized that I would not be compared to my own standards of good and evil, but to the Ten Commandments, part of me began to die. Especially, after I read Rabbi Jesus’ interpretation of the law, that it was internal, and not merely external.
I had indeed mentally ‘murdered’ many people,and had been an adulterer at heart many times over. The part of my soul that always leapt to my own self defense, citing this good deed, or that comparison with ‘worse’ sinners, shriveled up and died, and I came to the point that I had always dreaded; I realized that I was a lost sinner, a transgressor of God’s law, a rebel against God.
I let go of my sinful soul, acknowledging God’s charges against me.
It was only at that point, that I could actually begin to live, because making that confession opened me up to receive the gift of God’s righteousness, and to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Convicted of my sin, agreeing with God about the state of my soul, and bereft of my former sense of self-righteousness, I stumbled one day upon this glorious verse,
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.( 2 Corinthians 5;21)
It was only then that saving faith entered into my soul and I came alive. Hallelujah!