For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mark 8:35).
This paradox, perhaps, is one of the more obvious and quoted ones found in scripture. These are the Savior’s very own words, which means that we can accept them as truth without the least degree of doubt.
However, this declaration, as well as some of the others that Christ made in this same incident may seem to us quite extreme and/or unfair. It implies that in order for us to gain eternal life one must die for Jesus’ sake, or the gospel’s sake. How can this be if not all of us are called upon at some point to be a martyr? Fortunately, more clarification on this came by way of divine revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith during his time spent compiling a translation of the Bible, which God commanded him to make, due to minor discrepancies found in the translation made by those who compiled the King James Version. This particular verse was one of those that needed revision, and was revealed to the prophet as follows:
For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosoever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it.
But whosoever shall be willing to lose his life for my sake, and the gospel, the same shall save it.
The Lord does not expect all of us to be martyrs, but He does expect us to be willing to give all that we possess if called upon; our time, talents, and all that God has blessed us with, even our lives if necessary for His sake, and also that we seek to the build His kingdom, not our own.
In essence, we show that we are willing to give our life for the Lord or the gospel’s sake when we seek first to build the kingdom of God in and through how we live our lives (we’ll get to how we do this a bit later on…keep reading…).
I am one who believes that one can gain anything they want in this life. I also believe that not all the best things this world has to offer are the BEST thing. And that’s just it. We do not live in a world of choice between just right and wrong, but also that of good, better, and best. Everything comes with a cost or a sacrifice. So what are we willing to give in exchange for those things? Said Christ Himself regarding those who pridefully seek the honor and glory of men, or worldly things: “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matthew 6:2). He also warns us:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-22).
Let us, instead, listen to the truth and reality the Savior taught next so powerfully and beautifully:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:25-33).
Furthermore, the prophet Mormon, from the Book of Mormon explains how we can lay hold upon the best things:
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens (Moroni 7:15-16, 19-25, 28).
So, how do we learn what the best things for us are? Generally speaking, it is to receive the word of God, and then to do according to His word; to live by it. So, how do we receive the word of God, both generally and personally? It is in reading the scriptures and pondering them. It is in heeding the words of modern-day prophets. It is in the time that we reflect upon how we are currently living our lives, questioning our motives behind our habits and behavior, and then listening to the promptings of the Spirit through our conscience as to what we can individually and personally change, or do better.
We begin to more fully comprehend this paradox, and how we seek God’s kingdom first, as we contemplate the questions posed by Christ in that same chapter in Mark:
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37)
What powerful and direct questions are these, that bring us back to reality! Here we learn or are reminded that life is not solely confined to our mortal probation on earth alone. There truly is more life after this one. Mortality is indeed a temporary state of our eternal nature and existence.
So, what do our lives or behavior reflect about us? What are our priorities? What are our intentions? The honest answers to these questions will portray our perception and beliefs about the purpose of life, and these are revealed by the choices and attitude that we have in everyday life.
Recall, for a moment, the story about the young rich man that approached Christ as to what he yet lacked in order to obtain eternal life:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions (Matthew 19:16-22).
Are we truly in a state of humility, and do we have the sincere desire to ask that same question to the Lord: What lack I yet?
Another prime example is found in the Acts, where the Christian saints were living according to a united order, or law of consecration, where they all submitted all of their possessions to the Church, and then each person and each family received all things in common in return. And there were no poor among them. However, some saints got caught up with some of their possesions, and held them back, or hid them so that they might retain them:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things (Acts 4:1-5).
In contrast, consider the attitude of a Lamanite king from the Book of Mormon, as he heard the gospel for the first time:
And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day (Alma 22:15-18).
These examples illustrate very clearly that by giving up our natural man, or in other words, our carnal/worldly desires and appetites is in one way giving up our worldly life in order to gain eternal life.
This is the symbolism and covenant of baptism, in conjunction with the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ (which is the ultimate example of giving up life in order to save it), according to Paul:
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6: 4-7, 20-23).
Now, up to this point we have learned that to gain life means to rid or deprive ourselves of worldly things, appetites, and passions, to “bear up our cross” so to speak, and to follow the Savior and seek to build His Kingdom, that by faith we can lay hold upon every good thing. But we really haven’t discussed how we actually build His kingdom first; or what that means and entails. The general answer to this also sheds light on the paradox of gaining life by losing it — and that general answer is simply losing ourselves in the service of others.
Consider the joy that comes through selfless service. Think about how much more of all that is good we would each have in life if all of us sought to impart something of ourselves freely to serve or help another, instead of having to stress about trying to provide or gain every needful thing both for and by ourselves. Imagine how much more joyous it would be as a recipient of others good deeds in a time of crisis, knowing that you have spent effort and resources in their behalf in their time of need or trial, rather than feeling undeserving by having done nothing for them, but yet they still impart of their substance to you. Is this not how we fulfill the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourself? Which is also how we, to a large degree fulfill the first and great commandment, to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Is it not written “that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17)? I know of a surety that these things are true. We seek and build the kingdom of God when we give to the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or imprisoned, comfort the widow or those who stand in need of comfort, teach a child, preach the gospel, etc. Basically doing that which Christ has shown us; emulating His life through our own, and receiving His image in our countenance (Alma 5:14).
In conclusion, and to summarize I would say this: It is nice to obtain the good things of this earth, even the best things (and by that I mean truly the best things). But there is so much more to life than this. Perhaps, initially it is exciting and exhilarating. But in the end, they are just things; garbage really, or at least at some point will be. We should, therefore, sculpt our desires and attitude to fit the “better part,” and to spend our efforts as much as we possibly can in that which will truly satisfy and outlast any material possession: Building the kingdom of Heaven, in the infinite ways that we can achieve that. As we do so, we will come to recognize the much greater value of our lives, and how much more of life that we have gained. We will also see how the lives of those whom we have served, or of our posterity, have been added upon. Not to mention that a mansion in heaven awaits us.