Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24–26 ESV)
This is a difficult saying for us to hear in modern America. We don’t like anything that sounds like sacrifice, giving up or dying. We have heard this passage preached and read through it, but somehow have a difficult time filing it so we tend to do our best to forget about it. This passage is in the same vein as what Luke records in 14:26-27: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Why would Jesus say such a thing? Why all this talk about death, dying, and hating. We know that hating is a Semitic term to love less, but what is Jesus getting at? Yes, we must deny, follow, love everything less than Christ and be willing to give it all for Him and His kingdom. The question is, “Why?” Is it just our duty? Is it just what is required? Is it because Jesus does not want us to enjoy anything in this life? No! It is because Jesus is after our greatest joy. He is calling us to exchange that which is fleeting and temporal for that which is ultimate, eternal joy.
This may be a new concept to many of us, but God is not out to stifle our affections and suppress our feelings, but is rather after our greatest joy. The problem is that when Adam & Eve sinned (Genesis 3), everything that was good and perfect in Eden was fractured and now true joy evades us. We now prefer to worship created things more than the Creator (Romans 1:23-24) of all good things. This is the root of sin, we prefer that which is created over the Creator. This idolatry of the soul is so pervasive that it is the controlling influence in all of our lives. We make things, even good things (like family, marriage, children), ultimate things; we make good things, god things. But nothing in creation is designed to hold the weight of our worship except for God himself. That weight will crush those good things because they were not designed to hold it.
So when Jesus tells us that we must lose our life to gain real life and hate everything else in comparison to Him, it is because He is after our joy. You will never have joy when your spouse, children, job, success, image or _________ is that which you look to to provide ultimate meaning, value and significance. These things will fail you, they weren’t designed to hold the weight of your worship; when these things are our idols, we corrupt them and strain them to the point of breaking. The ironic thing is that we cannot fully enjoy the good gifts of God (like marriage, children, success or a good name) until we loosen our death grip that we have on them. Until they are no longer ultimate things, joy will evade us. Therefore, this saying of our Savior is good, not harsh. He came to redeem and restore, He is restoring all things and is making all things new (Revelation 21-22, Isaiah 65:17). We all rejoice in something; these sayings of Jesus are aimed at redeeming our rejoicing. They are aimed at restoring a proper order in things. Jesus “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). “Jesus calls his followers, not to a dour, lifeless, miserable existence that squashes human potential, but to a rich, full, joyful life, one overflowing with meaningful activities under the personal favor and blessing of God and in continual fellowship with his people.” (ESV Study Bible comment on John 10:10). Only the one who walks in this truth is free to enjoy God and His gifts.