Author: Ron Graham
Jesus asks what you would profit by gaining the whole world at the expense of your soul. You should instead dedicate your soul to his cause. To save your soul you must lose it! You must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.
¶“34'Jesus called the crowd to join him and his disciples. He said to them, 'If you desire to come after me, you should deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.'” (Mark 8:34).
¶“35'If you desire to save your soul you will lose it, but if you lose your soul for my sake and the gospel’s, you will save it'” (Mark 8:35).
¶“36'For what will you profit, if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul? 37Or what will you give in exchange for your soul?'” (Mark 8:36-37).
¶“38'If you are ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, the Son of Man will in turn be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels'” (Mark 8:38).
Similar readings: Matthew 16:24-27, Luke 9:23-26.
There are three commandments in Mark 8:34 that lead up to our Lord’s question. We will consider each of these commandments, because if we keep them we will save our souls. Otherwise, we might gain much temporarily in this world, but forfeit our souls and eternal life.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me...” (Mark 8:34). Jesus doesn't mean that this desire is optional —it's ok to have the desire, and it's ok not to have it. Rather, this desire is essential to saving your soul.
Jesus defines the desire as “to come after me” (Mark 8:34). By this Jesus means that he is going somewhere, and you can go there too, at a later time. He was predicting his death and resurrection followed by his ascension.
Jesus is “our forerunner” (Hebrews 6:20). He has gone on into heaven before us. He promises that we can “come after” him. We will do that “when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
However, for that to happen, we must desire it, not resile from the commitment needed to gain it. And the desire must be consuming —not half-hearted or lukewarm.
Jesus says, “If you desire to save your soul, you will lose it” (Mark 8:35). Jesus isn't here speaking of salvation to eternal life, but of saving your soul from the pains of discipleship —from carrying a cross.
You can desire pleasure and power in this world to save your soul from suffering here. But that profits you nothing, for you lose your soul in the next world. Or you can desire to bear your cross in this world so that your soul will be saved in the next.
The second commandment is to translate desire into dedication. Jesus says, “deny yourself and take up your cross...” (Mark 8:34). We all know that you must sacrifice much to gain much.
Jesus expects you to deny yourself, and he doesn't mean denying yourself chocolate. He means dedicating yourself to him at the expense of your very soul. Lose your soul to save it. He denied himself and carried a cross for you. Now its your turn.
This doesn't mean you have to give up the things that are normal and needful in this life, such as education, career, material possessions, food and healthful activities, rest and recreation, caring for others. But these things must be secondary and fit Jesus’s framework, not a “me first” framework.
We need to be consistent and constant in our dedication to Christ. The command to “take up your cross” (Mark 8:34) carries an extra word in Luke’s version: “Take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23).
The third commandment gives direction to desire and dedication. Jesus says, “and follow me” (Mark 8:34). This is not the ultimate following of Christ into heaven that we discussed earlier, but following Christ’s teaching and example while in this world.
Not every disciple can be a leader, but we all must be followers of Jesus. As Peter wrote, “You were called to suffer, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps” (1Peter 2:21).
This same Peter was the one Jesus rebuked before asking the question, “What shall it profit...?” Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).
Jesus is aware that following him is not easy. There's a lot of opposition along the way. But he says, “If you are ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, the Son of Man will in turn be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
It profits you nothing to follow the world. So, although the journey is difficult, follow Jesus. And remember, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).