The Price of Your Soul
Sunday, September 10th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
34 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. 35 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. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 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.
Father, we are challenged by these words of the Lord Jesus, to pick up our cross and follow Him. Help us as we seek to be obedient to Your Divine Will, and kindle in us the gift of true and heavenly love, such that we can endure all suffering with joy. We ask for Your Spirit in Jesus name, Amen.
Once upon a time there was man named Demas (Δημᾶς). Demas was a friend and companion of the Apostle Paul, and Paul mentions him by name at the end of his letter to the Colossians and his letter to Philemon.
He writes in Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.”
He says to Philemon in Philemon 23-24, “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.”
So who was Demas? Demas was a fellowlabourer with Paul in the gospel. He was what we would call a professing Christian, a man who served the Lord and assisted the Apostle, and yet at the very end of Paul’s life, he writes a final letter to Timothy. And Paul says to Timothy, “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica…Luke alone is with me” (2 Tim. 4:9-11).
There were roughly seven years that passed between what Paul wrote in Colossians/Philemon (AD 60), and what he wrote in 2 Timothy (AD 67). What happened in those seven years to Demas’ faith? What changed? How did he go from being called a “fellowlabourer” with Paul to forsaking him? How did he go from appearing to love God to actually loving this present world?
Paul says, “having loved this present world, he departed unto Thessalonica.”
We can only guess at the reasons for Demas’ apostasy. We are not told exactly what seduced him.
Perhaps there was a woman in Thessalonica.
Perhaps there was a lucrative job opportunity there that he just could not turn down.
Or perhaps he was just tired of the missionary life, of persecution, of troubles, and he thought, “I’ve put in my years of service, now I deserve a little Me-time.”
Whatever the specific reasons for Demas’ abandoning the faith, they are fittingly described under the heading, “having loved this present world.” Or in the words of Jesus, Demas having gained the world, lost his soul.
Demas like Judas is a cautionary tale. A warning sign for all believers to take heed to what is in your heart, to not be self-deceived. Take heed to what it is that you truly love and treasure.
For as the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha.”
And the Apostle John in 1 John 2:15, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
So what do you love? What do you prize and delight in? What really makes you happy?
Is it God and the contemplation of His beauty? Is it Christ and the loveliness He bestows on creatures? Is it the new heavens and new earth, and the glories of the world that is to come? Or are your affections stuck down here (wanting the next weekend, wanting the next meal, wanting the next episode of your favorite show), are your affections fixed upon God or are they stuck in this present world that is fading away like vapor?
What do you love? And what are you willing to sacrifice in order to get that thing you love?
This is the question Jesus impresses upon his disciples, and he cuts straight to the heart: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” This is the challenge if you want to live forever. This is the way of the Lord, and it is the only way to salvation.
And so this morning I want to look at three things that Jesus says we must do if we would live forever (if we would avoid becoming Demas).
1. You Must Deny Yourself
2. You Must Lose Your Life for Christ
3. You Must Be Unashamed of His Word
Verse 34 – #1 – You Must Deny Yourself
34 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.
Notice first that Jesus is addressing the crowd and not only the disciples. This call to self-denial is not limited to apostles or missionaries or pastors but rather extends to every single person who professes the Lord Jesus. If you call yourself a Christian then this applies to you.
Christianity is a religion of ultimate ends, of death and resurrection. It is not merely a plan for moral or social reform, though it will demand that your morals and society change. Christianity is a religion that will not let you in unless you die first.
What is the initiation rite into the Christian church? It is baptism. It is the public renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Christian life begins with a “so long farewell” to the self, and it is perfected as we continue in the Apostle’s words to “die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31).
So everything Jesus says here applies equally to all Christians.
Now what exactly is self-denial?
In the immediate context, Jesus is referring to a very literal death on a very literal cross (that’s where is he going). We must not forget that all metaphorical “dying daily” and “picking up our cross” (our trials), must be grounded in a very real commitment to literally die on a literal cross. This is the radical self-denial Jesus calls us to.
Torture and crucifixion was the fate for many Christians in the early church.History tells us that almost all of the apostles died painful and brutal deaths. Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down, James was beheaded, and John was dropped into boiling oil. Other Christians were fed to lions, had their tongues cut out, or were burned at the stake.
And so for those who were hearing this message in the 1st century, self-denial did not just mean waking up early and skipping your morning coffee. Self-denial was not just working out and taking a cold shower.
The kind of self-denial Jesus is calling people to is the kind of self-denial that might get you tortured and crucified by Caesar.
Jesus is saying, “If you follow me, you must deny in yourself that most basic and natural desire to live and avoid suffering.”
And to this we might respond, how is that even possible?
God created us with the natural desire to live forever. It is the essence of living things to desire to keep living. And therefore the only way you can soberly overcome the strongest natural desire there is (the desire to live), is for God to give you a supernatural desire for something greater, namely to attain unto the resurrection and a life of immortality.
We tend to think of living in strictly biological physical terms. If we are moving and breathing, then we are alive. And that is true insofar as it goes. But what God reveals to us in Holy Scripture is that there are actually two kinds of life and also two kinds of death.
There is a physical death which is the separated of the soul from the body. And there is physical life where the body and the soul are united and moving.
There is also a spiritual death, which is the soul’s separation from God. And there is also spiritual life, which is the soul’s union with God.
God told Adam and Eve, that on the day they ate from the forbidden tree, they would surely die. And yet on the day they ate, they did not die physically. Adam went on to live for 930 years (Gen. 5:5). And so what kind of death did they suffer? Adam and Eve suffered a spiritual death, their soul was separated from God, and it was this spiritual separation that caused their eventual physical death. Separation from God leads to the eventual separation of the soul from the body.
To give you a somewhat silly analogy, you can think of these two kinds of death in terms of the life of your smartphone. If you are your smartphone, spiritual death is when the phone gets disconnected/unplugged from the charger in the wall, and physical death is when your phone eventually dies because its charge runs out.
Spiritual death is what caused our physical death.
So when Jesus says, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself,”he is commanding us to subordinate our desire for physical life to the greater desire He gives us for spiritual life.
In other words, more than the desire for your soul to continue to be united to your body, you must want your soul to be reunited to God, and it is only be being reunited with God, that your soul will eventually be united with an immortal/resurrected body. This is the logic of self-denial.
Now what exactly is spiritual life? We said it is the soul’s union with God, but how does that union happen? Well Jesus tells us in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
The essence of spiritual life is knowing God, and the knowledge that Jesus speaks of here is the knowledge of intimacy and love that a husband and wife have in marriage. Adam knew his wife Eve, and the two became one flesh. This is an analogy for Christ and the Church, for the human soul and the life of God, and it is how we become in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, “partakers of the divine nature.” We remain distinct from God, like husband and wife are distinct persons, but we are joined to God in a spiritual union.
So it is by knowing and loving God, that we can be said to have eternal life abiding in us even now. If you know God and truly love him, you have eternal life. And when that is true of you, suddenly, self-denial and even painful martyrdom, becomes something you will gladly embrace for the sake of Christ. And in fact, death is changed from being something you are afraid of, to something you welcome, because death is now our doorway to glory and seeing God face to face.
Just as a man in love will do anything for his beloved, so we are compelled by the loveliness of Christ to do anything for Him. This is how long term, self-denial, even unto death becomes possible. Love makes us into people who will gladly lay down our lives for Christ and His people, if only we might get more of Him. So that’s the first thing, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
The second thing we must do to persevere unto glory is really the same thing but with different words, You must lose your life for Christ. And in verses 35-37, Jesus gives us the divine logic for why everyone should do this. Here’s the basic argument for why everyone should become a Christian.
Verses 35-37 – #2 – You Must Lose Your Life For Christ
35 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. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
The words life and soul here are the same word in Greek (ψυχή), and it appears that Jesus is continuing to play with this idea that there are two kinds of life and death, natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal.
So we could read verse 35 as saying, “For whosoever will save his [natural] life shall lose it [because you can’t actually avoid natural death]; but whosoever shall lose his [natural] life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it [in that he will be resurrected unto supernatural life].”
And then in verse 36, the question is, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” And here soul could be either 1) remaining spiritually dead, or 2) physically dying. In either case, you end up with the same outcome: gaining something that you can only enjoy for a very limited time, death is eventually going take it all away.
This is then amplified by a further question in verse 37, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” In other words, from your perspective, the most valuable thing you have is yourself, your very being. And you need a you to be able to enjoy anything at all.
So to summarize Jesus’ argument in a syllogism:
Premise 1. Your soul is the most valuable thing you “own.”
Premise 2. In order to save your soul, you must die and give it to God.
Conclusion. Therefore, in order to save your soul, you must die and give it to God.
That is the airtight logic of salvation, and the only thing that will keep someone from coming to that conclusion is a denial of Premise 1 or Premise 2, or both.
You could deny that your soul is indeed precious and valuable, and many people are sadly taught and believe this today. You could deny that you have an immaterial soul. That is the logical conclusion of materialism and evolution, and it is what millions of students are taught every year in our tax funded secular indoctrination centers that we call public schools.
The spirit of the age is to exalt ourselves as god. To make ourselves the ultimate arbiters of reality who form our own essence and create our own meaning in the universe.
The spirit of the age teaches that there is no Loving Creator who made you to know and love him, but instead you are the creator and you can make yourselfinto whoever you want to be. You give meaning to your reality.
Our world places the existential burden of who we are and why we are here on the shoulders of the individual, and then we wonder why so many people are on antidepressants. “You have no soul, you create your own meaning, now go be happy.”
That is not a burden we were meant to carry, and the longer our culture denies the answer to Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” the longer our culture will continue on this suicidal path.
So you could deny what even the pagan Greek philosophers knew, that you have an immaterial and immortal soul. And if you deny that, well there’s no soul that needs to be saved, and no need for Jesus or his cross. That is one way of avoiding the inevitable conclusion of Jesus’ argument.
Now perhaps you affirm that you have a soul, and a precious one at that. You agree with Premise 1, Your soul is the most valuable thing you “own.”
But where you have trouble is with Premise 2, that in order to save your soul, you have to die and give it to God.
This is where many people falter and just outright reject Christianity.
Unlike Premise 1 which you can arrive at without any special revelation (Aristotle knew man had a rational soul), Premise 2 requires you to believe the words of Jesus. You have to take it on faith that Jesus is not lying to you when he says this. You have to believe Jesus is a credible source when he tells you this is the only way your soul can be saved.
Do you believe him? Everything hangs on that question. Either Jesus is lying, he is insane, or he is telling the truth. Do you believe him?
At the very least, everyone must reckon with the fact that they are going to die. And Jesus so poses the question, What will it profit you to gain everything you want, and then die, only to bring none of it with you?
Jesus is appealing to that most natural desire that is in you, (the desire to live), and he is declaring that if you want to keep living, this is the only way. You have to die in Jesus and for Jesus. You have to die to this world and its pleasures. You have to actually hate the world if you really love your soul.
So what are you willing to sacrifice in order to live with God forever?
The cry of the Christian heart is, “Take the world, you can have it, but give me Jesus. Take my body and destroy it but give me the knowledge of God. For He is eternal life and He is immortality.”
If you want to live forever, you must deny yourself, and you must lose your life for Christ.
Finally, in verse 38, Jesus warns us about one of the great temptations we will face.
Verse 38 – #3 – You Must Be Unashamed of His Word
38 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.
The third thing you must do if you want to live forever, is you must be unashamed of God’s Word.
How does the world silence Christians? What has been the most effective way of gagging believers?
In some times and places, it has been the overt persecution and murder of the saints. They cut out your tongue, they chop off limbs, they terrorize and intimidate the church into silence.
This has been at times a very effective way of silencing the church, and these kinds of tactics continue today in places like China and in Muslim dominate regions.
However, in the West, the primary tool for silencing Christians is simply shame. Our world shames Christians for believing such silly nonsense as the Bible, that archaic and outdated book.
There are many forms of public and private shaming.
Some of you have had your jobs and livelihoods threatened because of your Christian beliefs. There are all kinds of social, economic, and political pressures to be ashamed of what the Bible says.
Whether it is the laws in Leviticus against homosexuality, or the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy that regulate slavery, or the principle of male headship in society and in marriage, or the radical statement of Jesus that there are only two genders, that from the beginning he made them male and female.
Whatever it is that the world is shaming you for believing, you must not be ashamed of a single word. You might not yet understand why God says what He says about slavery or homosexuality, or marriage, but you must never under any circumstance apologize for the Word of God. That is what being ashamed of God’s Word looks like, and if you do that, Jesus says, God will be ashamed of you.
Shame is a powerful force. Shame is also inescapable in a world of good and evil. The world is going to shame you for loving God and standing by His Word. And God will shame you if you love the world and apologize for His Word. You are gonna get shame either way. So who do you want it from? That’s your choice. Whose opinion of you do you care more about?
What will give you the courage to stand firm, to not budge an inch, when the world is shaming you, is the conviction that God’s opinion is all that matters. When you care exclusively about what God thinks of you, that is when you know you have died to the world. When God’s opinion is all that matters, that is when you know you have lost your life for Christ.
And so the invitation to deny yourself and follow Jesus, is an invitation to take up the most shameful sign there is, the sign of the cross. And the promise of the gospel is that if we are unashamed of the cross, unashamed of being identified with Christ and His Word, then we will win for ourselves, glory, honor, and immortality.
God will turn your shame into a more glorious resurrection than you can possibly imagine.
God says in Isaiah 61:3,
“I will give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
The cross is the only tree of righteousness, and if you are planted with the Lord, united in His death, then you will be glorified with Him.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.