The Huge Cost of Worldliness

by Spiros Zodhiates

"For whosoever wills to save his soul shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25).

In the context, Satan had just tempted Christ through Peter to save Himself from the cross. It did not work. It is interesting, however, how the Lord consequently weaves together the physical and spiritual lives. Shirking the cross means more than just sparing a physical body; it means defying the very plan of the triune God. The Lord wants His disciples to know that the person who goes through life saving himself will ultimately lose his very soul, not just his physical life. A life-style of self-centeredness does not represent true Christian faith or experience.

By extension, losing one's life for Christ's sake does not mean killing one's body (suicide), nor is it limited to just the sacrifice of the body for someone else or for God (martyrdom). Spiros ZodhiatesLosing one's life means the day-by-day sacrifice of self-centeredness, of self-salvation, for the glory of Christ.

Consider Paul's words: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:1-3).

In essence, Paul is following the example Christ set, who was "made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). The words from the cross, "Why has Thou forsaken Me?" represent a real substitutionary atonement, the human Jesus enduring a temporary separation in His relationship with the triune God so that we might not have to experience this. By faith, we escape the forsaking He endured on our behalf! Now, would we, like Him and the Apostle Paul, do the same for our "kinsmen according to the flesh"? As Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his soul [psucheân, that immaterial part of man held in common with animals] for his friends" (a.t.; John 15:13).

Yet the disciple does not lay down his soul primarily for his friends. The Lord Jesus qualifies the loss as "for my sake [héneken {1752}]," that is, for His glory. This means that as we stand for Him, for His cause, our opponents are ultimately opposing Him.

This is not equivalent to saying that in order to find eternal life we must first lose it. (Such a possibility would deny the very meaning of "eternal.") The same One who said, "Why has Thou forsaken Me?" said, shortly after, "It is finished," even before He physically died. So the call to the destruction of our self-centeredness extends only through this life; it is as temporary as the forsaking of the human Jesus by the Father on the cross. The Father did not "leave [His] soul in Hades" (Acts 2:27).

The Lord then asks, "For what does 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?" (v. 26).

The only valid exchange for the soul of a man is the human soul of Christ: "when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin" (Is. 53:10). No other payment can satisfy the judgment of God. Even if a man could gain the wealth of the entire world, it would not be a sufficient payment to secure his eternal soul. The person who perseveres in self-affirmation, in gaining the whole world, will certainly achieve eternal death. Only through self-denial and taking the cross does the believer "find" his soul. Before that, he's detaching from it.

The verb allásso, to give in exchange, presupposes the existence of something of equal value. What the Lord Jesus rhetorically asks is this: What thing of equal value shall a man offer as an equivalent exchange for his eternal soul? The answer is nothing! There is no single thing in our world that justly compares with the eternal salvation of the eternal soul. There is absolutely no worldly equivalent to spiritual salvation. No person can earn in the world what only God can and does give without charge.

Adapted from Dr. Zodhiates' exegetical commentary on Matthew