“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:35-36
Jesus confronts us with four profound realities:
- Your soul is of great value.
What shall a man give in exchange for his own soul? We are going to see why your soul is of such value today.
- Your soul can be lost.
What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? We are going to see how a soul can be lost today. How does that happen? What is the path by which it can be lost?
- Your soul can be saved.
God willing, we are going to look at what this means next week.
- Your soul should be cared for, guarded, and nourished.
And God willing, we will look at how you can do this in two week’s time.
What is your soul?
I mentioned last week that when our children were very young we spoke about the soul like this: “I have a soul. My soul is inside me. I can’t see it, but it lasts forever.”
Jim Packer says that your soul is your “conscious personal self,” the “I” that knows itself as “me.” i Your soul is the identity that makes you who you really are. It is the seat of your memory, and your feelings, and your imagination, and your convictions, and your desires, and your affections.
Why Your Soul Matters
John Bunyan wrote a book called, “The Greatness of the Soul,” and in it he gives us 11 reasons why the soul is so valuable. Bunyan was in prison for a dozen years, so he had a lot of time to think about his. I’ve condensed this down to four reasons.
Your soul is breathed into you by God.
The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7
Grasping this is of huge importance in knowing who you are, and why your life is of such great value. Adam was created in two stages. There were two steps in the process by which God gave him life.
The first was that God, “formed the man of dust from the ground.” God formed a body. It was made from the dust of the ground. Now in this way, the man and the woman were similar to the animals: “Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” (Genesis 2:19).
We share this in common with the beasts and the birds, that like them, God made us out of the ground. That is why God says, “Dust you are to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). When we die, this is precisely what happens with regard to the body.
But there is a second stage in the creation of Adam which shows why we are different from the animals, “The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).
God breathes life into this corpse, and this makes Adam different from the animals. He is more than a body. Adam is a living soul. This soul is capable of knowing God and enjoying God, and it is capable of sinning against God, something the animals cannot do.
Adam has something breathed into him by God that makes him different from the beasts of the field. He has a soul. You have a soul! That’s what makes you different. Your soul gives you the capacity to know God and relate to him in a way animals never could.
This is at the heart of what God is saying when he says, “You are made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). God has breathed life into you and that life will never end.
Your soul is the source of all your achievement.
The body apart from the spirit is dead. James 2:26
Think about everything that is important in your life, and you will say, “Yes, that came from my soul.” Think about this in relation to the world.
Think about music: The symphony, classic rock—where did these things come from? They came from the soul of the composer who wrote it.
Think about art: The ability to depict beauty came through the hands of the artist, but where did it come from? It came from the soul of the artist.
Think about science: Why have women and men pursued science? Where did that come from? It comes from a desire in the soul to know, to explore, to discover, and to understand.
Think about business: If you were to pick up and read one of the many books today about the great companies of the world, you would discover that they were all born out of some kind of vision. Where did that vision come from? It arose from the soul of a leader.
Then think about sports: You may say, “Surely sports depends on the body.” But James says, “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). Every great sports achievement has come through relentless commitment, disciplined desire, and the determination of the athlete, which is of course in the soul.
People are flooding into gyms these days for the cultivation of their bodies. When I meet someone who is super fit, really bulked up, or super lean, I want to say, “This has come from your soul. All the work you have put in to sculpting your body came from a desire in your soul. Without that desire that was in your soul, you would be a couch potato!”
Your soul is what gives direction to your body. All that you achieve in life, everything that is achieved in the world, will arise from the life of the soul.
Your soul is the cause of all your sin.
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. James 1:14
Why do we sin? Where does it come from? How does it come about? James 1:14 is a very important verse in the Bible because it tells us how temptation works.
Temptation comes to us through the world, the flesh and the devil. The problem is that, wherever it comes from, it attaches itself to the soul. Our souls are sticky towards sin. Sin attaches itself to our souls.
If this was not the case, then temptation would not be a problem for any of us. If your soul was pure, then when you saw a house that you couldn’t afford, your soul would say, “I can’t afford that, and I don’t need it,” and you would move on.
The problem is that our souls are not pure. So what happens is that you see something, whatever it is, that someone else has, and you say, “That’s what I want,” and it sticks.
What causes temptation to stick? James says we’re enticed by our own evil desires. The principle of greed makes your soul sticky for materialism. That’s why advertising is so effective. People are willing to pay for it because it works: You see a thing, you want it, and you have to get it. It sticks to your soul. Why?
Lust makes your soul sticky to sexual temptation. Anger makes your soul sticky to all kinds of viciousness towards other people. Laziness keeps your soul doing absolutely nothing, and from following through on your responsibilities. Pride makes your soul sticky to the greatest temptation of all, which is to take the place of God and crown yourself Lord of your own life.
These sins are in the soul, not outside. People like to say, “The problem is out there,” but Jesus says, “from within, out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery… all these evils come from within (Matthew 1:21-23).
If your soul was really pure, then when temptation came it would be like a fried egg on a Teflon pan. It would just slide off. Why is it not like that when we are tempted? Because of our sinful desires. When temptation comes, the soul receives it, retains it, welcomes it, embraces it and holds on to it.
You may think to yourself, “All my temptations come from my body,” but the real problem lies in your soul. Bunyan says, “Your soul has the deepest hand in your sins.” It sticks to you, because that’s what your soul loves.
Your soul will last forever.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Matthew 10:28
Your life had a beginning, but it does not have an end. One day, you will die and your body will be laid in the ground. That can happen in a number of ways. You may be killed, your life may be lost in an accident, it may be ended by sickness, cancer, heart attack or a stroke, or you may simply grow old to the point where your body is no longer able to sustain life and function effectively.
One day you will die and your body will be laid in the ground. But your soul will last forever. So, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” Your soul has an endless life. That’s why it’s so important. It’s immortal. It has a beginning, but it has no end. I have a soul. It’s inside me. I can’t see it, but it lasts forever.
Some of you are actively trying to decide if you are going to follow Christ, knowing that it’s costly. You need to know what’s at stake. You try to save your life and you lose it. But Jesus says “If you lose your life to me, you will save it.”
Your soul will experience everlasting joy or misery.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:22-23
Our Lord tells the story of two men who died. One of them was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” What was carried to Abraham’s side? Certainly not the poor man’s body. That would have remained on the earth.
Since he was a poor man, he may not even have received a proper burial. Nobody cared for him in life, so it may well be that nobody knew where his remains were after he died.
So what was carried to Abraham’s side? Not the poor man’s body—his soul!
Then we read: “The rich man also died and was buried,” so everyone knew where his grave was. His body was placed in a rich man’s tomb, with words and dates carved into it. Then Jesus says, “in hades… he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off.” What was in hades? Not the rich man’s body. It was in the tomb. It was the rich man’s soul!
The point here is very simple. Death takes life from the body, but not from the soul. When you die, your soul goes on to one of two places: One is a place of great joy. The other, according to Jesus, is a place of great torment. And there is a great gulf fixed between them (16:26). You can’t get from the one to the other in either direction.
So what we learn from this is that there is a heaven to pursue and a hell to avoid. You have a soul: Your soul can be saved and your soul can be lost. To lose your soul is the ultimate disaster, because it is the only loss from which you can never recover.
How a Soul Can Be Lost
I can’t think of a more critical question: Is your soul going to be saved or is your soul going to be lost? Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:35).
How does that happen? There are three ways.
You can starve your soul.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
Think about the rich man in Jesus’ story: He lived well. He enjoyed life. He was dressed in purple. He never really thought about his soul. He only lived for this world.
Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Bread sustains your body. The Word of God sustains your soul. But this rich man had no taste for the Word of God—no hunger for it, no appetite for the things of God. He wasn’t interested in these things.
Jesus told another story about a man who lived the American dream. He worked hard. He stored up all that he needed for a long retirement. And he said to himself: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. So, relax, eat, drink, and be merry. I’m going to enjoy myself. I’ve earned it.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:19-20).
Let me speak to those of you who are older. You have worked hard, and you are enjoying your retirement. You’ve made your will, and you’ve appointed your executor. You’ve thought about what will happen to all these things that you own when you’re gone.
But what about you? What about your soul? Why are you not thinking about that urgently? Why would you not go after this until you come to the point of being sure of your commitment to Christ, and his commitment to you.
You can strangle your soul.
The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Mark 4:19
Let me speak for a moment to all of you who are in mid-life. Your schedule is relentless.
Your career is at the point where the greatest demands are on you. Your kids are involved in multiple activities.
There was a time when your heart was tender towards the Lord. You wanted your life to count for him, but now your whole life is taken up with the cares of this world. The desire for other things have taken hold of your heart. The Word of God has been choked, and it is becoming unfruitful in your life. And you are losing your soul.
Jesus is talking about what happens in the lives of people who hear the Word. It’s like a vine wrapping itself around you ever tighter. It is strangling the life out of your soul.
You can surrender your soul.
Beloved, I urge you…to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
Let me speak for a moment to all who are young. God says there are “passions of the flesh,” and that they “wage war” against your soul. They wage war! That means these passions of the flesh are out to destroy your soul.
When you are tempted with some passion, and you give yourself to it, here’s what is happening: You are surrendering your soul! You are raising the while flag. You are saying to the enemy of your soul, “You win! I concede! I’m yours now,” and he takes you captive.
Think about this the next time you are tempted. The passions of the flesh are waging war against your soul. They’re seeking the destruction of your soul. They’re out to take your soul captive.
But your soul is of great value. It lasts forever. If you surrender your soul to sin it will be your everlasting loss, and you will have no one to blame but yourself!
Maybe you can see all three of these working in you. You say, “I look at my life and I see them all.” You have surrendered your soul to the passions of the flesh, you have been strangled by the cares of this world, and now your soul is starved. You no longer have a hunger for God or his Word.
You are losing your soul! Every day, every week, and every year your soul is being starved, strangled, and surrendered. Inch by inch, it’s on its way to being lost.
What Can You Do?
Bishop Ryle said, “The first step towards heaven is to find out the worth of your soul.”
Thank God if you feel that today.
The soul that is saved is the soul that is given to Jesus Christ. If you see the value of your soul, this is how you will respond to Jesus Christ today.
You will come to Jesus Christ and say to him, “You have called me to love God with all my heart and soul, and I haven’t done that. Without you, I’m going to starve my soul, strangle my soul, and surrender my soul.”
“I need you to be the Lord, Savior, and Captain of this soul. I need you to feed my soul.
I need you to guard my soul. I need you to save my soul. I need to turn my entire life, all that I am, over to you and place myself wholly in your hands.”
“Have mercy on me, Lord! Give me a new heart. Take away this stony heart and give me a heart that loves you, and desires you, and submits to you.” What advantage would it be to you, if you were to gain the whole world and lose your soul?
© Colin S. Smith
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