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. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).
In this passage in the book of Mark, Jesus addresses His words to everybody present, believers and unbelievers alike. He describes two kinds of people: those who want to live life according to God’s terms and those who want to live life on their own terms. There is no neutrality; no middle fence. A person is either with Him or against Him. Look at the contrast between the two types: Those who would live on God’s terms must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ. They will surely lose their lives through this surrender, but by so doing will end up saving it. They will lose the world, yet their souls will be saved. True followers are not ashamed of Jesus Christ or His gospel. Those who acknowledge Christ will be acknowledged by Him upon His return.
The others, those who want to live life on their own terms, want to preserve it as such. They are unwilling to surrender to God and instead, reject His terms. This present world and it’s offerings, however temporal, is their desire. So they gain the world, but in the end, they will lose their soul. Why? It boils down to this: God is God and He will accept no other place in our lives. Let everyone understand this: We will all bow before God; either now willingly, or later, on the judgment day, unwillingly. In the end, God will give us what we want: we will either enjoy eternity with Him or suffer the torment of eternal separation. The choice is ours.
Jesus asks, “Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” It is a rhetorical question. The answer is, of course, nothing. Sinful man can never redeem his own soul. God’s requirement for redemption is a perfect sacrifice. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus is the only one who lived a perfectly sinless life and as such, became the perfect sacrifice. He is the only one who could ever save us. We, in turn, can only receive like a child what is given. It is only by God’s grace, through the faith He gives us, that our lives are redeemed and we become part of God’s family.
Jesus made it clear in these words that the life surrendered to God is not an easy one. Following Jesus means daily self-denial, bearing burdens, and sometimes, great sacrifice. It is living as God desires, not as we want. This life is one of bold, courageous love that extends grace and forgiveness without partiality, just as we ourselves received grace from God who loves us all. Surrendering ourselves to God means exchanging our will for His will. Instead of the pattern of my life being “all about me,” it becomes all about Him. Sound tough? Difficult? Impossible? You’re right, it is … in our own strength. We ourselves cannot live holy lives without help. God sent us a Helper – the Holy Spirit.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Rely on God.
No, it is not easy to follow Christ, and we will stumble many times. That is where confession, repentance, and faith come in. It is a daily challenge. In difficult times, I like to encourage myself to persevere by looking forward to someday hearing these great words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your Master.”