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Losing to Save and Saving to Lose
By David A. DePra
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man 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: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mat 16:24-26)
Jesus began this statement with the phrase, "If any man will come after Me…." Now, you would think that such a phrase would get our attention. He is stating outright that if any of us want to follow Jesus Christ that what He is about to say is essential. And yet in all of the thousands of teachings given in churches each week, and in all of the Bible principles put forward as to, "how to follow Jesus," how often is this passage quoted? How often are Christian people told that if we want to follow Jesus we need to BEGIN with this passage from Matthew 16?
Rarely is this passage ever quoted. Or, if it is quoted at all, it is made to mean something other than what Jesus meant. Recently, on Christian TV, a well-known preacher – who claims to teach, "the message of the Cross" – said that this passage means we ought to help him get that message out to lose souls. To him, to, "take up your Cross," means to take up his message of the Cross -- presumably by sending him money. I have also heard this passage made to refer merely to getting saved. And still others make it mean anything but what it really does mean.
There needs to be no confusion about what Jesus meant by these words. He had just told Peter that He was going up to Jerusalem and was going to be crucified. He then tells all of them that if they want to follow Him they must do the same. They must take up the Cross and, in doing so, must LOSE their lives. According to Jesus, this is the only way to, "come after Him," or follow Him. We must LOSE our lives for His sake. Only then will we FIND life.
He is obviously talking about death and resurrection. But despite the fact that salvation is the starting point in what Jesus is describing, He is describing a process that occurs as the working out of salvation – we come to Christ for salvation, but now Jesus is describing how to FOLLOW Christ as a saved person.
So the question is this: What does it mean to LOSE your life for Jesus’ sake? Again, this is what Jesus said we must do if we want to truly follow Him. Indeed, it is what He said we must do if we want to FIND LIFE. What could be more important?
What is a Christian?
This statement of Jesus from Matthew 16:24 is clearly a foundational Truth. He is talking about true LIFE. Isn’t that what redemption is all about? Indeed, isn’t new life in Christ the very definition of Christianity?
Sure. A Christian is a person who has been, "born from above" – due to the fact that Christ has made Himself one with our spirit. Because CHRIST IS THE LIFE, when He becomes one with us, He becomes OUR LIFE. Christianity is CHRIST IN US – or, US IN CHRIST – and thus, we are alive with His life. That is a Christian – one in whom Christ dwells, and thus, one whose life is Christ.
This is THE LIFE Jesus promises we will FIND – if we LOSE our life. Read His words again. Can we see that the possibility of finding Christ as our life is fully contingent up our losing OUR LIFE? You cannot get around it. Death must precede resurrection. Skip the Cross and there is no resurrection life. Refuse to lose your life by taking up the Cross and you cannot find true life in Christ.
Now, clearly, this is supposed to happen when we are saved. When we are saved we are supposed to fully relinquish our lives to Christ. We are supposed to take our place in His death. Then we are raised in Him unto newness of life. Salvation is not a process. You cannot be born from above progressively. Neither is salvation reversible. You cannot be born again backwards into death. But despite the fact that salvation is all at once and forever, we must go on to FOLLOW JESUS. We must, once born, GROW. There is a Christian life.
Paul speaks of, "WORKING OUT your salvation," in Philippians 2:12. And then we have this passage from II Corinthians:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:7-11)
Can we see that despite the finality of the life of Christ within us that there must be a work that goes on to make Christ manifest in and through us? Note Paul’s words, that Jesus MIGHT BE MADE MANIFEST in us. That is a progressive work. It is not salvation all over again, but the result of the new birth of Christ in us being released and made manifest.
It must also be noted that Paul echoes exactly what Jesus stated: Christ being made manifest – the new life being released in and through a person – is the result of, "bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." In other words, a person must, "take up the Cross," and, "LOSE their lives," into the hands of Christ, if they are going to FIND true life in Him; if they are going to manifest Christ. It is the same Truth in different terms.
Paul also exclaimed to the Galatians:
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. (Gal 4:19)
The Galatians were SAVED – not once in his epistle, despite their grave error, does Paul question their salvation. No. Paul is saying to them, "Christ is in you. He is your life. Why are you trying to live out the new birth on the basis of your own works? Christ is your life. I travail until the Christ who is in you is FORMED – inwardly expressed and realized IN YOU. I want HIM to be your life."
This is the same Truth again. Christ is already in you if you are saved. But now He must be formed in you – the Greek means to be inwardly expressed and realized. In short, Christ must be made manifest in and through Christians. We must find HIM as our life.
So we see that this is what Jesus Christ was getting at when He told us that if we want to come after Him we must, yes, first be saved, but then we must continue to follow after Him by taking up our Cross. Only by taking up the Cross could we, "bear in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus," that the life of the Lord Jesus could be made manifest. Only then could we decrease, that Christ might increase, and be formed in us. Only then could we find true life in Him. There is no other way. This cannot be accomplished by works or by religion. We must LOSE our lives in order to FIND them IN CHRIST.
There is one other passage that speaks to this great necessity. It is found in Philippians:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:7-12)
Note closely some of Paul’s words. He says he LOST all to WIN Christ. Isn’t that what Jesus said we must do? But Paul is not talking about salvation – he was already saved. This is why he is able to say, "not as though I had already attained." He HAD been saved but is talking about the greater purposes of God FOR the saved – that we might win Christ, be found in Him, have Him formed in us, and manifest Him. That is a progressive work that is only possible FOR the saved – precisely because we have Christ in us.
If we want to follow Jesus Christ into the greater purposes of God – if we truly want the will of God – there is only one possible path: We must LOSE our lives for His sake, indeed, into His hands. We do this by picking up and carrying the Cross – we come under the instrument of death God brings into our experience. Then, and only then, will Christ be formed in us and we find HIM as our real life.
Losing Our Lives
Jesus said, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Now, that does sound scary, doesn’t it? But what exactly does it mean to LOSE your life – in the sense that Jesus means it?
Usually, when we read such commands, we tend to focus on what we might LOSE, rather than finish the sentence and read that Jesus also said we will FIND. Thus, we tend to envision God doing something terrible to us. Or we think that God is requiring us to give away all of our money. Maybe we fear losing our family and friends. It is easy to think that Jesus is condemning any sort of happiness or enjoyment for the Christian. We question why God would want us to be so unhappy. But the rest of the New Testament does not support such thinking.
Note what Jesus said we must LOSE – He said we must LOSE OUR LIFE – as opposed to trying to SAVE OUR LIFE. The focal point here is our LIFE – losing it for His sake verses saving it for ourselves. Thus, the issue here is OWNERSHIP. This is about who our life BELONGS TO. "To LOSE your life," essentially means to let go of it – to relinquish ownership and control. But not as a thing unto itself – we are to relinquish our life into the hands of Jesus Christ – which is what it means to lose it for HIS sake. We lose or relinquish our self-ownership to Jesus Christ – yes, once for all through a commitment – but step by step we work this relinquishment out by carrying whatever Cross God brings to us. We walk through each experience relinquishing our self-ownership to Him by faith.
It is here that we have to come to terms with something: Self-ownership is the very root of sin. This is the root of all sin – man as his own god; man owning himself, over and against Jesus as Lord. If we want to exist that way – seek to save our lives for ourselves – we will lose them. It is only by relinquishing self-ownership that we can find true life in Christ.
God never made human beings to possess themselves. He never made us to possess ourselves for ourselves. Our utter and complete desire to do so, and our unconscious patter of doing so, is nothing but the result of the fall of Adam. What we think is normal is abnormal. The possession that we think is secure is the greatest danger.
Try to divorce our possession of things from our possession of ourselves. They are not the same. Our possession of THINGS is merely the manifestation of the core problem of self-ownership. God doesn’t necessarily want THINGS from us. He wants US. This is always behind His intentions when He touches things.
So when Jesus said to LOSE OUR LIFE He is not primarily talking about the THINGS that are in our life. No. He is not saying it is wrong to possess – what is wrong is when THINGS possess us or govern us and mar our relationship with God. Thus, Jesus is talking about our LIFE itself – we lose those lives by relinquishing ownership over our lives INTO HIS HANDS. There must come a death to the spirit of possession and control that is born into all who are in Adam. This is accomplished as we take up the instrument of death that God puts in front of us. But again – this is not about THINGS. It is about US. We must lose ourselves to Christ.
We could launch out and give away all of our possessions and yet never lose our self-possession. Indeed, some folks have done so merely as another manifestation of self-possession – to try to fix what ails them or to make themselves righteous. No. The only solution here is to pick up the Cross that GOD HIMSELF has given you. You must DIE and put all of our faith solely in Christ.
So how does LOSING YOUR LIFE work out in practical living? Well, you are going to meet what constitutes the Cross for YOU. If you pick it up it this will necessitate that you hand yourself over to God – no matter what it takes and no matter what it means – in that situation. You will note that I did not say that you surrender to the situation. No. Neither did I say that you become passive. No. Rather, you tell God to do whatever it takes to accomplish this work in you. And where a point of obedience is necessary, you obey. But all of your faith – some of which may have been in yourself or in things – shifts progressively over to Christ.
This is a matter of not settling for less than God’s full will and purpose. But never limit this will and purpose to situations in life or things. Never. You will not settle for less than God’s will and purpose IN YOU – in forming Christ in you. That is the point. Everything else is secondary to that.
Read Philippians 3. It is really a description of how Paul lost his life. Paul lists many things that were assets to himself and that he had to lose. You will find a few things listed – such as position as a Pharisee. But if you read through that passage you find that what Paul really had to lose was everything about himself that he thought made him righteous before God. Paul had to lose all self-righteous!
Now, we might not thing that is a big deal. But it is a HUGE issue. Losing everything about ourselves upon which we might stand before God, walk with God, and base our Christian life, is going to cut at the heart and core of what makes us tick. We will need to be EXPOSED as unrighteous. As empty. As having no good thing in us. That isn’t fun, and it is a Cross. If we will pick it up and carry it, we will find that losing a life that is exposed in such a way is NOT a difficult thing to do. We will WANT to lose it.
Most of us think that God wants to make our life strong. Wrong. God wants to make us weak so that the power of Christ can rest upon us and work through us. This is only possible if our life – and all of it’s soul power – is broken by the Cross. Remember Jacob. He was strong – indeed, he wrestled to the very end and would not let go until God blessed him. That was not good – it was his undoing. Did God give in? No. God crippled him – made him weak. This was not to punish him, but it was so that Jacob would be safe from himself to receive what God had for him. This is the opposite of what we think. But it is the Truth and the nature of things as God must work with us.
Amazing that if we actually see the Truth and embrace the Truth about ourselves and about this life we must lose – well, we will see that Jesus knew what He was talking about. We will do as Paul did – count it as dung – because that is the TRUTH about it! We will rush to lose it. We will not only want to be free of all that terrible stuff, but we will also know that Christ as our very life is the most incredible thing of all. God isn’t out to deprive us. He is out to give us all things freely in His Son – if we will let Him.
The details of how we lose our lives differs for each of us, but in the end, it is all about who is our life, what we are living for, and who possesses and governs us. God wants Jesus Christ to govern us – to be our life – which means that Jesus Christ is our Lord. This will be more than a religious slogan. It will be something that is worked into us.
The Nature of Things
The command of Jesus to lose your life in order to find it is not some arbitrary religious principle that God one day invented – not a requirement God dreamed up just to make things hard. It is simply what is necessary because of the NATURE of things. It is the nature of fallen man, and the nature of Jesus Christ, that makes this necessary.
To see this Truth, it is necessary to explore a few foundational points of Christianity. We saw earlier that a Christian is one in whom Christ dwells – Christianity is Christ in us. But there is another name that God uses for the redeemed that sheds light on this issue as well: God often calls believers SAINTS.
The term, "saint," comes from the Greek word that means, "holy one." It is the same Greek root that is translated HOLY. It is also translated SANCTIFY, or SANTIFICATION. But the term goes deeper. "Holy," "holiness," or the Greek word, HAGGIOS, means, "to be set apart for God’s use." In short, to be a SAINT means to be one who BELONGS TO GOD.
Can we see that at the root of the name SAINT is ownership? God’s ownership over those who in His Son? That is a saint – that is a Christian – that is one who belongs to God? Sure. The NT is filled with such Truth.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Cor. 6:20) (1 Cor. 6:19)
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. (1 Cor 7:23)
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Cor 13:5)
Add to these proofs yet another – the very name, "HOLY Spirit." The HOLY Spirit is the Spirit that, "sets apart for God’s use." It is the Spirit that sets us apart as belonging to God Himself – sure, it is HIS Spirit. Thus, we see that the very definition of a Christian, and a saint, is one who belongs to God.
Well, if all of this is true – if the very name God uses to refer to a person in whom Christ dwells is, "one who belongs to God," then unto what end is God going to be working? What will be the characteristic of the life we will find if we lose our old life? It will all be unto the end that we belong to God – that we be holy unto Him. The very words themselves lead us to this conclusion.
Redemption means to buy back to God. It means to deliver us from the realm of darkness – from the old creation. But the very nature of the realm of darkness and the old creation is SELF-POSSESSION. Christ has delivered us from this over to redemption – to being set apart for God’s use. Do we realize that if we are set apart for God’s use that the primary use God has for us is to manifest His Son? And that if we are used by God in such a purpose that WE are the greatest beneficiaries?
A saint is one who belongs to God. Therefore, if we lose possession over ourselves through a work of the Cross, we will FIND a life that corresponds to our identity. We will find Christ as our life. This is Christianity and our hope of glory.
You will note that in the Matthew 16 passage that Jesus speaks of TWO LIVES – the one we must LOSE, and the one we can FIND. The life we must lose is the life we already possess through natural birth – otherwise telling us we must lose it would be silly. That life is the life into which we are born in Adam. It is life that is death – as ironic as that sounds. It is life that is void of the life of Christ and the Truth of God – but is characterized by SELF ownership and unbelief.
If there is one thing we must see about this life that Jesus tells us to lose it is this: It is the life – it is of the creation – that died in Christ on the Cross. Jesus Christ did die for our sins. Jesus did bear our sins. But Jesus bore US – He bore, as the Bible calls it, "the body of sin," or, "the old man." In short, God is not dealing with that old life as the basis of His purpose. That old life is dead in Christ. That is why Jesus tells us to LOSE it. It is also why He says that if we try to save it, that we are going to be left empty.
It is here that we must realize the full meaning of what Christ did at the Cross. At the Cross, the old man in Adam is crucified – in short, the Adamic race is ended. That is why Christ is called The Last Adam. As the perfectly sinless man, Christ had become all that God intended Adam to become – and then offered Himself to bear the entire Adamic race down into a death. In effect, the LIFE that we possess was ended at the Cross. The life that Jesus tells us to LOSE is already ended in the Cross. As noted, we take our place there and the dying of the Lord Jesus is worked out in us. That is what happens when we pick up our Cross and lose this life for His sake – we are losing that old Adamic life – we are relinquishing our ownership over ourselves to God.
Now, there are tremendous ramifications to all of this. They are shocking, sobering, and hopefully, freeing. First of all, this means that God is never going to bless the life that He tells us to LOSE. So many of us are unwittingly praying and crying to God – trying to get Him to bless the very life He tells us we must lose. This kind of thinking is everywhere in Christian teaching today – and Christians don’t even realize it. If we would understand this Truth it would explain so much.
For example, Christian people have this notion that if we walk according to certain Bible principles, or simply because we are saved, that God has promised to come down and enhance our lives. We think that God will sort of, "add a little bit of Jesus," to us – in order to bring out our potential. Many believe that the gifts of the Spirit are enhancement to assets that we already have in ourselves. There is this idea of human greatness that is latent in each of us, and all we need is for Christ to bring it out. Thus, rather than put an end to the old creation in Adam, and birth a new creation in Christ, many have fashioned for God a purpose wherein Christ died to simply bring out our inherent greatness.
We need to read and reckon verses like these two:
Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith. Prove your own selves. Don’t you know of your own selves, that unless Jesus Christ is in you, you are reprobates? (2 Cor. 13:5)
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Rom 7:18)
Have we seen the Truth that is revealed here? Oh, we probably give assent to the teaching. But have we seen the Truth revealed here about our own selves, personally? Or do we still think we have something in ourselves to give to God? Something that attracted Him to us? Do we think that Jesus simply died for us so that our greatness could be released? Well, the fact is, if there was anything in us in Adam upon which God could build, then there would have been no need for a NEW creation, or a NEW man, or really, the death of the old. If the life we posses in Adam was salvageable, then Jesus would not tell us to LOSE it.
Our understanding of the Truth of the Cross must extend to the fact that in Christ crucified God brought an end to the entirety of the Adam race – ultimately to the entire old creation. God is not working there. He has birthed a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Now, the life that Jesus tells us to lose is the life in Adam that is of that old creation. We are to take our place in the Cross and relinquish all ownership over this life. Can we see that if we do, we are obeying the Truth? The old man is already crucified in Christ and we are simply bringing ourselves there. Can we also see why this is the ONLY way to follow Jesus Christ? Sure. It is the only Truth. If we will not pick up our Cross and allow God to work out this reality in our lives then we are walking contrary to the Truth. How far do we think we are going to get? We will be holding on to that which is already under death.
God is NOT going to bless or enhance or promote that which He has already condemned to death in Christ. He is not going bless the life we are told to LOSE. If we would understand this we might find the answer as to why God is often silent, or why God seems to be working contrary to what we desire. We may be operating from the life we are told to LOSE. God’s answer is that we must LOSE IT!
There is a common question that pops up on this matter of losing our life. That question is this: Does God want us to be happy? Have you ever asked that question? I would hope that we can see that as it pertains to our old life in Adam that the shocking answer is: NO.
Now, if you doubt that, you are essentially saying that God wants you to be happy in the life He has told you to lose. You are actually saying that it is God’s will for you to be happy, indeed, it is God’s will to MAKE you happy, in the very life that He has put under the death of the Cross and told you that you must LOSE. That is nonsense. If we have not yet figured it out, we need to get this straight – it is NOT God’s will for us to be happy, content, and satisfied, with the life He tells us to lose. In fact, God is working contrary to that. This is why it sometimes seems God is against His own people – He is seeking to push us to see the Truth about these things. God is not going to affirm that old life, and feed our desire to possess it. He wants us to LOSE IT.
Of course, we are all so blind to the Truth on these matters. Because life in Adam – the natural, soulish life – is all that we have ever known, to us, that life is NORMAL. It is all that there is – TO US. And because we are absolutely wired to live according to that old life, protect it, possess it for ourselves – again, we think this is NORMAL. We don’t really have any frame of reference for anything else at all. Thus, when we are told to LOSE it, we easily interpret this to mean something terrible, scary, and unhappy. We cannot imagine it. And yet, the Truth is, all that we have known as life – and the spirit of self-ownership – this is not NORMAL. It is not how God originally created man. It is totally ABNORMAL. It is a life out of which God has worked a deliverance through death and resurrection.
The Life We Find
Paul writes to the Colossians, "Christ, who IS our life….." (Col. 3:4) If we lose our lives, this is the life we will find – HIS life. We will see that Christ IS our life. In short, God does not give us a thing called, "eternal life." Rather, He gives us Christ, in whom there is all life. Through the new birth we become ONE with the very essence of life. We are planted into Him. He is our life – the only life we will have.
This is the end unto which losing OUR life is intended. Pick up the Cross that God gives and as we do, ask God to do what it takes to set us free from that old life – lose it without conditions attached. Lose self-ownership. And what is going to emerge is not a thing, or merely doctrinal understanding – but Christ will begin to be formed in us. We will see Him and know Him. The fact that we are united with Him in His resurrection life will begin to be made manifest TO us, IN us, and THROUGH us.
So if we still want to ask the question, "Does God want us to be happy?," the answer is that God wants to give us Christ. That will not always please us – we are not going to enjoy carrying a Cross. But in the long run, and in the eternal sense, we will be able, with Paul to say, "The sufferings of this present time cannot be compared to the glory that is to be revealed IN US." And, "I suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung, that I may win Christ….and be found in Him." Does Paul sound like he regretted LOSS?
This is what God is doing. He simply wants to set us free from what is already dead. He wants us to lose what is lost anyways. But He wants to give us all things freely IN HIS SON. (see Romans 8:32) Jesus said, "IF anyone would come after Me…." God help us see this Truth.
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