Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
- Matthew 16:24-26
In the passage noted above, Jesus is speaking directly to His disciples who are beginning to wonder if the cost of being a disciple might be a little steep. To this doubt and wavering He responds by telling them three things about discipleship:
- Discipleship requires self-denial. It's about wanting and working towards what God wants for you, not what you want for yourself. These two will often be in conflict.
- Discipleship is an all or nothing proposition. You can't be a part-time or half-committed disciple; you either go all the way or no way.
- Nothing else can give you what discipleship gives you: salvation. There may be a lot of things that look nicer, feel better, seem easier but you can't trade them in for eternal life.
As a matter of fact, there are many ways that a person can lose their salvation once they have obtained it (Galatians 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:26-32). God has warned His people to be careful with this precious gift and not forfeit it for any person or thing. For this reason I'd like to run through the top 10 ways a disciple can lose his/her soul. As we go through these you will soon notice that this is not a new list, but a very old list found in Exodus 20 and referred to as the 10 commandments. I will, however, review them in reverse order like a modern Top 10 list.
#10 - Greed
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
- Exodus 20:17
One of the hungriest soul eaters is greed - the feeling that we never have enough. We use all kinds of tactics to hide our greed, like pretending we want to be the best we can be when what we really want is to be better than everyone else so we can have more than everyone else.
It is a fallacy to think that only the rich are greedy. Greed is a state of mind equally possessed by rich and poor. Greed kills the soul because it fixes the attention on getting rather than on giving, and when we're focused on getting (regardless of the reasons we tell ourselves) then our eyes are off of heaven and riveted on the things of this world.
#9 - Dishonesty
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- Exodus 20:16
What a wonderful world this would be if people always told the truth. How many souls are lost each day because lying is easier than telling the truth?
- Lies to cover mistakes and weaknesses
- Lies to make you richer quicker
- Lies to save you from justice
Dishonesty is the servant of pride. Whenever there is a first lie it is usually told to protect ego or to lift one's ego above another, then the other lies simply come about to protect the original deception. God is true, His word is truth, and to lie is to become a son of the devil who is the original liar or as the Bible says, "...the Father of lies." (John 8:44).
#8 - Theft
You shall not steal.
- Exodus 20:15
A close cousin to lying is stealing. There is a saying that goes "If they will lie, they will steal." One vice seems to follow the other.
In our materialistic, highly competitive world there is much temptation and pressure to get what you need to keep up with everyone else, even if you have to cheat or steal to get it: Steal a car, steal an idea, steal someone's work, cheat to get an edge - it's all the same. Whenever you take what doesn't belong to you, no matter how little it is, it's stealing. The sad part is that a person may save time, money, or effort by stealing but they forfeit their soul in doing it.
#7 - Impurity
You shall not commit adultery.
- Exodus 20:14
The misuse of sex is the most powerful tool that Satan has in destroying us. The natural power of sex makes it a potentially dangerous thing. Like explosives, it can be used for good or bad.
In its proper state (within marriage) sex has the power to bond two people together into a family for life. But when used outside of this format (adultery, homosexuality, pornography, other perverse sexual activity and impurity) illicit sex creates guilt, self-hatred, shame, and the feeling of unworthiness.
Some people can't ask for forgiveness, and those that do often struggle their entire lives with feelings of uncleanness. It is no wonder that Paul warned that sexual sin was a "sin against one's own body." (I Cor. 6:18)
#6 - Murder
You shall not murder.
- Exodus 20:13
Murdering someone is definitely a soul destroyer because it is a direct strike at God, since man is made in the image of God.
Of course, few people actually deliver the final blow that ends the life of another human being but we are often guilty of inflicting the kind of damage that leads in that direction.
- The secret harm of gossip
- The silent harm of resentment, indifference
- The debilitating harm of abuse to another or oneself through mental torment or substance abuse
- Violence against the weak, unborn, old, etc.
God puts a high premium on human life because it shares His own nature, and when we damage or endanger our lives or the lives of others, our own souls are at risk. The ancient law of life still stands today as it was written in Genesis 9:6:
Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.
#5 - Dishonoring Parents
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
- Exodus 20:12
Isn't it interesting that study after modern day study concludes that the majority of our social ills can be traced back to the breakdown of the family unit? But what does the breakdown of the family unit actually mean? It means that fathers and mothers refuse to take on their parental responsibilities, and children rebel against their parents. This manifests itself in a sinful and chaotic social situation and further destruction of modern families who are caught in this vicious cycle. The Bible says that honoring parents is the surest way to be blessed by God because it preserves the family and helps avoid the corroding influences of the world that kills a person's soul.
#4 to #1 - Dishonoring God
The last four ways actually are one and the same -- they constitute the #1 way to lose one's soul. Each one can cause a person/disciple to lose their souls but in different ways. For example, we can dishonor God by:
A. Ignoring Spiritual Exercise
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
- Exodus 20:8-11
A person's soul needs to be fed in the same way that a physical body needs care and feeding. Souls often die of starvation and the signs of spiritual starvation are clear:
- Weakness towards temptation
- Lack of interest in spiritual things
- No desire to be with God in prayer
- Little or no service in the name of Jesus Christ
Coming to church, reading your Bible, serving others, prayer, praise, evangelism - all these things are necessary to keep one's soul alive. To ignore the things of God is to dishonor God Himself.
The second way to dishonor Him is:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
- Exodus 20:7
Ignoring spiritual exercise is a passive way of losing your soul -- blasphemy is the pro-active way of losing your soul. Using God's name without respect; ridiculing Him, His people, His things, or His word -- these are "in your face" ways of losing your soul.
Today it is considered improper for a child to hear a vulgar 4-letter word for procreation. Movies that have the "F" word are Rated "R." However, if you use the name of Christ or God in a derogatory way then the movie is PG or PG13. In our society, it is acceptable to blaspheme but not so to use the "F" word in a movie. The Bible explicitly says that God will punish those who do this, but some people actually believe because God doesn't strike them dead now they are getting away with their insults. God takes care of business in His time, not in our time.
The third way to dishonor God:
C. Idol Worship
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.
- Exodus 20:4-5
This has taken many forms throughout history but basically it is the remaking of God into a form created by man. The ancients used the form of the sun, stars, animals, or mythic personalities and heroes. We do it by transforming God into a philosophy, family, feelings, nature, or material wealth (The U.S.A.'s idol is money).
God is supposed to reside at the center of our being. If He isn't there then whatever is in His place (what makes us tick, what drives us, what we serve) is our idol. For some it is money, fame, sex, power, sports, a car, etc. That idol may be something that moves us through life but will not save our souls in the end. Only God at the center can do this.
Finally, we dishonor God through:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.
- Exodus 20:2-3
There is only one God and He has clearly revealed Himself:
- Through creation
- Through our consciences
- Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
God says that there is no excuse for disbelief (Romans 1:18-21). In the end the #1 reason why people lose their souls is because they refuse to believe in God, refuse to believe in Jesus Christ whom God sent with signs and wonders. The #1 reason why disciples lose their souls is because they stop believing what they once held as true.
All of these other ways to lose your soul, lying, stealing, etc., usually stem from a lack of faith in God and obedience to His Son Jesus Christ.
In asking His disciples "What will you give in exchange for your soul" Jesus reminded them that the power of free will works both ways.
- We can choose to believe and follow Christ into eternal life
- We can choose to throw it all away by falling victim to the soul killers that I've just mentioned
The choice, however, belongs to each of us, and we exercise that choice each and every day.
- We can choose Christ today and demonstrate that we believe by being baptized for the forgiveness of sins
- We can choose to believe again if we've fallen by asking Christ for forgiveness and renewing our walk of faith with Him