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whosoever shall lose his life

The greatest lesson that the world teaches us, the greatest lesson that we have to learn from all worldly pursuits, is that we may save our life only to lose it. This is a worldly lesson, built upon a worldly understanding of life as what can be accomplished in a lifetime, what we can attain, the “mark” we can leave on the world, whatever that means. This viewpoint reveals itself as despair when we realize that, from the worldly perspective, all must perish in the end. Really we can’t leave a mark. If we really and truly learn this lesson, then we are “not far from the kingdom of God…”; that is, we are ready for Christ, for his rule, for his way of living. The man in the gospels who Jesus told this to was a person who had realized that love of God and love of neighbor were more important than all religious ritual (cf. Mark 12. 34).

And so Christ comes along and solves the puzzle, by telling us two facts. First, he tells us that we actually do leave a mark. But it isn’t the mark we were trying to leave. Every deed, every word, every thought and action will be remembered. Really this could not be otherwise; God does not forget. And because of this, and by his grace in other ways, we come to see that how we have been living–our efforts to have led the good life, to have left our mark, to have made the most of things, etc–are not necessarily pleasing to God, the good judge of all things.

The mark is not what we thought it was; we didn’t really know the things that mattered. In the things we had pursued, we forgot about loving our neighbor. And we hadn’t honored God in what we did, but rather sought to glorify ourselves. This can be horrifying, and is horrifying, but he gives us the second fact, which is the comfort: whosoever shall lose his life shall save it. We didn’t really know what life was, you see. We strove after the sort of life that perishes, but he gives us his life, the eternal life, the sort of life that will not perish. He gives us this by giving us himself. But we had to give up the life we thought we had, in order to gain it.

Many people think that if they come to Jesus, if they become Christians, that they are giving up something that they could never give up, and thus that it’s not worth it to pursue God. And indeed, much of religion conveys this message, making it seem as if we have to choose between God and pleasure, between God and joy. But it is not so. This is not the offer. Jesus’ words confirming this are as follows:

“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19.28-29)

The parallel in Mark has a valuable shift of emphasis that helps us understand the meaning:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10. 29-31)

Everything in this world that is of value that we give up will be replaced. In fact, “replaced” is not the right word. Mark makes it clear that the we get the same things back, including things that are irreplaceable (for example, mothers). The point is, everything that really has eternal value in the present age will be given to us now according to God’s good love for us, and will survive into eternity. It’s just, at this point in time, our hearts have very mixed up priorities, so that the call to follow Jesus will seem like a loss. It seems like many good things will have to be absolutely abandoned. What Jesus is telling us here is that this is not actually so.

The renewal of all things will feature abundantly more of what we had clung to, and if we hope for the redemption of these things that we cling to, we must abandon them as our idols in order to follow the one and only God. So we do have to abandon many things in the way that we had considered them, and this will be difficult. We ought never trivialize this. And we ought never pretend that the things we have selfishly pursued are actually God’s blessing. For these things do perish, and we along with them, if we make them our gods. Jesus tells us above that the good in the present age comes “with…persecutions”–we must take this to heart and realize that even the joys of this age come with difficulty and strife. But strife which we can endure because we know the promises of our great king, that the goodness he is building on earth now will survive and blossom in the new heavens and the new earth.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    This reminds me of John Piper’s definition of Christian Hedonism: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” In fact, while Jesus tells us to count the cost of following him, he’s telling us we’re actually going to be happier in the long run, and he’s encouraging us to seek our own happiness. Ultimately, this is best done through loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, no matter what the cost is in the short run.

    I wish I could “know” this at such a level that living it would be automatic!

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