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Does Jesus Require Us to Give Up Our Lives in Order to Gain Eternal Life?


Did Jesus warn His followers that they must be willing to give up their physical lives in order to live forever?  According to Matthew 10:38, Jesus warns His true followers that total commitment is expected of them, including laying down their lives if necessary.


In order to explain verse 38 better, it’s helpful to quote the verses just before it and after it as well in order to put it in context:  “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall follow it” (Matthew 10:37-39).


Notice that Jesus expects us to love Him more than any other person on earth, including our closest family members.  We are to put God first, and in this context, it’s worth remembering that Jesus is God (John 1:1-3, 14; Hebrews 2:8).  Likewise, when we compare the two “Great Commandments,” we have to love God more than our neighbors.  The first one says in part, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” but the second one “merely” commands by contrast, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (See Mark 12:30-31). 


Can our commitment to God conflict with our duties to our families?  It’s indeed possible, if obeying or following what family members tell us to do conflicts with God’s law.  Although John and Peter said this specifically in the context of being told by government leaders (here, the Jewish leadership as found on the Sanhedrin, their ruling council under ruling Rome’s greater power), the principle applies generally to all our human relationships compared to our relationship with God (Acts 5:29):  “We must obey God rather than men.”  For example, if an unconverted husband orders his Christian wife to not go to church, she shouldn’t follow that command even though Scripture does generally tell wives to obey their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24).  It’s necessary to show our greater love for God by obeying Him even when it costs us a lot materially, psychologically, mentally, or emotionally in this life with other people.  It’s also important to realize that the term “cross” here would mean not just the ordinary nuisances, tests, and trials of life, but among the worst possible that could cost us our lives.  The “cross” was an instrument of excruciating death for rebels, murderers, and other criminals in the hands of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Likewise, Christians one day may once again face being put into jail cells or face execution if they affirm their faith before intolerant government officials.  This has happened extensively in many Communist and Muslim countries, and it still does today.  People who profess the name of Christ publicly are at a risk of being killed in northern Nigeria and North Korea.


Now Matthew Henry, the bible commentator, has a useful analysis of the meaning and application of this section of Scripture.  (See p. 1664 of the one-volume edition).  We shouldn’t be drawn away from Christ by our love for our family members (or other people, including friends).  We also have to be willing to give our comfort and safety in order to serve God if He requires it of us.  We have to expect that just as Christ endured many trials and tests, which finally climaxed in His death by crucifixion, we may have a similar life before dying as well.  We should be willing to endure those trials, temptations, and tests with a similarly good, God-focused attitude just as Jesus did.  It should also encourage us, as we endure suffering in this life, to remember that Jesus Himself endured the same kinds of troubles before we would ultimately be given glorious eternal life.


The key summary point is that we need to be willing to give up happiness in this life in order to have eternal life if God requires it of us.  Of course, He may choose to not do so, depending on His plans for each person who chooses to serve Him.  Notice that Christianity demands total sacrifice from all of its human disciples (John 12:25; Luke 9:23-25) even as it correspondingly demanded a total sacrifice from God also, when Jesus laid down His life in order to redeem humanity through a dreadfully costly and painful personal self-sacrifice.


Notice that the point of Matthew 10:37-39 is similar to what Jesus said in John 12:23-25, which deserves in this context some careful analysis:  “And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.’”


Notice that self-sacrifice in Christianity has a transformative, ultimate goal.  Self-destruction isn’t for the sake of self-destruction alone.  God wants something positive accomplished by our self-sacrifice as an outcome.  Here, Jesus’ own sacrifice makes our salvation possible, the “fruit” in question.


Let’s cite cases of Christians who died instead of denying Christ when they were martyred.  For example, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was condemned to death by being eaten by lions around c. 110 A.D. by the Roman emperor Trajan.  Ignatius responded by saying:  “I am God’s wheat, ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”


Similarly, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was told by the Roman governor:  “Swear, and I will set you free:  execrate Christ.”  Polycarp replied by saying: “For eighty-six years, I have been His servant, and He has never done me wrong:  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”


During the Roman persecution campaign in Gaul (modern France) during the time of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.), some Christians who had denied Jesus later affirmed him when questioned again, thus ensuring their own deaths.  Those who were Roman citizens were beheaded while the rest were handed over to the beasts.  The Catholic Church historian Eusebius described how they had determined their fates:  “These were individually examined with the intention that they should be released, but they confessed Him and so joined the ranks of martyrs.”


This problem could return in our lifetimes when the European Beast power arises again once again (Revelation 13), which would be some form of the European Union when it turns dictatorial and warlike.  This kind of discussion is not just theoretical stuff in the end times for believers today.  True, tests are not necessarily spectacular like this.  Some would do well in such cases, but would fail at long, slow, nagging issues that deny pleasure in this life as we obey God’s law.  They may get worn down by trials, tests, temptations, and troubles in life, and fall away like the third class of believers described in Christ’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13:7, 22).


It’s important to realize what I can call the hedonistic calculus argument for obeying God’s law isn’t always right.  That is, we can maximum pleasure and minimize pain in life by obeying God.  For example, often we will tell young people that doing drugs, getting drunk, having sex outside of marriage may give some pleasure in the short term, but results in more pain in the long run.  If you get dreadfully drunk at night, you will have a painful hangover the next day, thus it wasn’t worth it.  So we’ll conclude that we’ll get happiness from obeying God’s law now than if don’t.


However, suppose this isn’t the case?  For example, a single or divorced person who can’t marry or get remarried lawfully (according to God’s law) may well end up with less pleasure in life than if he or she did (re)marry unlawfully.  So then, are we willing to still obey then, despite it doesn’t help us in this life, but hurts us?  Do we have the faith to believe the next life really exists then?  Those considering baptism should keep in the mind the deadly serious issues of the faith required for obeying God’s law out of self-sacrifice.


Let’s remember in this context the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  His greatest earthly desire was to have an heir by Sarah, and he had one miraculously.  But then God tested him on this crucial potential weak point.  Abraham passed the test since he proved that he was willing to give Isaac up.  (See Genesis 22:2, 12, 16; James 2:21-23).


So in conclusion, we as Christians have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves as Jesus did.  We must be willing give up pleasure in this life while obeying God’s law when God requires this of us.  It could be in a spectacular test in the years to come:  God may require us to die at the hands of the government if it demands that we deny Jesus as our Savior.  Or the trial could be a long, nagging, life-long test in which some earthly goal that would give us happiness can’t be had by us lawfully if we wish to obey God.  True, He might not require such a sacrifice of us.  But we had better be ready if He does!


Eric V. Snow



Click here to access essays that defend Christianity:  /apologetics.html

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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm

Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html

Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm

Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm



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