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Lesson 67: Why You Should Hate Your Life (John 12:24-26)

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September 21, 2014

If I wanted to preach a sermon that appeals to a wide audience, I probably should come up with a different title than, “Why You Should Hate Your Life.” For one thing, it’s a downer. It’s not a happy title. There’s already enough doom and gloom in this world, so why preach a sermon about hating your life? For another thing, not many people wonder about, “How can I hate my life?” It doesn’t help build self-esteem and we all know that building our self-esteem should be one of our main goals in the Christian life, don’t we? (In case you can’t tell, I was being facetious!)

But here’s why I think “Why You Should Hate Your Life” is a good title for a sermon: Because Jesus said that we should do it! And it’s not something that you will fall into naturally without thought or effort. To do it, you’ve got to think carefully about what it means and work at it daily. It’s not a “do it once and you’re done” kind of thing. Also, Jesus said that if I hate my life in this world, I will keep it to life eternal. So this isn’t just some self-help advice about how to have your best life now. It’s about your eternal destiny! So we need to be clear on what Jesus meant and how we should apply it!

We shouldn’t brush aside any of Jesus’ teachings, but when He repeats a message often, we really need to pay attention. He gives us a “heads up” when He begins (12:24) with, “Truly, truly ….” That means, “Wake up! Don’t miss this! Think carefully about this because it’s important!” He proceeds to talk about Himself—He is the grain of wheat that dies so that it will bear much fruit. But in that, Jesus is also our example. We are to die to ourselves so that we bear much fruit. Then He applies it directly to us in verse 25 in the form of a paradox, followed by a motivational promise as to why we should do this (verse 26).

Jesus taught the same truth with slight variations in Matthew 10:37-39; 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; 14:27; & 17:33. To cite Mark 8:34-38:

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus’ words apply to everyone who wants to follow Him. He assumes that we all want to save our lives. But He tells us that the way to save our lives is to lose them for His sake and the gospel’s. And, He’s talking about saving or losing our lives eternally, as the comment about coming “in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” shows. So it’s vitally important to understand and apply Jesus’ words in our text. The message is:

You should hate your life in this world because you want to follow Jesus, serve Him, and be with Him forever.

We see: The servant’s model: Jesus (12:24); the servant’s mandate: to hate our lives in this world (12:25); and, the servant’s motivation: to be with Jesus and to be honored by the Father (12:26).

1. The servant’s model: By laying down His life on the cross, Jesus bore much fruit (12:24).

Jesus said (John 12:24), “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.” Jesus was referring to the cross. He is the grain of wheat that fell into the ground, died, and bore much fruit. By giving His life as a ransom for many, Jesus “brought many sons to glory” (Mark 10:45; Heb. 2:10). He bore much fruit.

We can never imitate Jesus in His substitutionary death for the sins of others. His death was unique because Jesus is unique. He is the only God-man. He is the eternal Word made flesh, who came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:14, 29). Only Jesus could do that.

But in another sense, His death was an example for us all. During His short ministry on earth, Jesus was constantly dying to Himself as He loved others. We see a graphic example of that in John 13, where Jesus took a towel and a basin of water to wash the disciples’ feet. That was the job of a servant. But Jesus did it as an example of how we are to lay aside our lives to serve one another (John 13:15). The culmination of Jesus’ dying to Himself was when He literally laid down His life on the cross for us. That’s how He bore much fruit. When we follow Him by daily dying to ourselves to serve others, we will bear much fruit, and so prove ourselves to be His disciples (John 15:8). Jesus applies His example to us in verse 25:

2. The servant’s mandate: To follow Jesus, you must hate, not love, your life in this world (12:25).

John 12:25: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” In the Greek text, the first two words translated “life” are psyche, which is often translated “soul.” The last “life” comes from zoe, which refers to the eternal life that God gives. Jesus assumes that we all want to keep our souls (or lives) to life eternal. But here’s the paradox: the way to keep your life is to hate it. The way to lose it is to love it. Also, this isn’t just aimed at the dedicated few who want to go to the mission field or become martyrs for the sake of the gospel. This is a mandate for all who follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). All that follow Him are in the daily process of hating their lives in this world. They are the ones who keep their lives eternally.

So, what does it mean to “love your life in this world” and “to hate your life in this world”? Let’s look at both sides of it:

A. To follow Jesus, you must not love your life in this world.

Note three things about loving your life in this world:

1) Loving your life in this world means living with this life only in view.

That’s what Jesus means by “in this world.” It’s to live as if this world is all there is, so get all the gusto you can now. It’s to live for “your best life now.” That’s the stupidest title for a supposedly Christian book that I’ve ever heard of! Did Jesus enjoy His best life now as He endured the hostility of sinners against Him and went to cross in His early thirties? Did Paul enjoy his best life now as he suffered beatings, imprisonments, a stoning, shipwrecks, and frequent dangers for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 11:23-27)? Did any of the martyrs enjoy their best life now as they had their heads cut off or their bodies burned at the stake? If that book is telling you how to have your best life now by laying it down for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, “Amen!” But if it’s telling you how you can have health and wealth and a comfortable lifestyle now, then it’s completely opposed to Jesus’ teaching!

Jesus told about a man who was enjoying his best life now. He said to his soul (Luke 12:19), “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him (Luke 12:20), “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” Jesus concluded (Luke 12:21), “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Those in the world live as if this life is all that there is. Their aim in life is to accumulate as much money and stuff as they think will make them happy. Their motto is, “He who dies with the most toys wins!” But Jesus says, “He loses.”

2) Loving your life in this world means living for the same things people in the world live for.

What do people without Christ in this world live for? John tells us (1 John 2:15-17):

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

If greed and accumulating this world’s stuff is a temptation for you (as it is for me), I urge you to memorize those verses and rehearse them often in your mind! The merchants of this world bombard us daily with the message, “To be happy, you need the stuff that I’m selling. Buy this stuff and you’ll be happy!” I’ll be honest: I like a lot of the stuff they’re selling. And, some of it does make life more comfortable and easy to navigate. I’m thankful for computers and the Internet, which make preparing my sermons and making them available worldwide much easier. They have many other wonderful features. I’m sure that someday I’ll join the rest of the world in getting a smart phone and once I learn how to use it, I’ll like the way it makes life easier. The same can be said for many other things in the world. But, I’ve got to be on guard against loving those things. If I love those things as opposed to doing the will of God, John says, the love of the Father is not in me.

3) Loving your life in this world is the sure way to lose it.

John 12:25a: “He who loves his life loses it….” That’s the same thing as Mark 8:35a, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,” which is the same as, “to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36). Let me put it nicely: People are crazy! A story that I’ve used many times in funeral messages illustrates why:

In 1981, a man was flown into the remote Alaskan wilderness to photograph the natural beauty of the tundra. He had photo equipment, 500 rolls of film, several firearms, and 1,400 pounds of provisions. As the months passed, the entries in his diary, which at first detailed the wonder and fascination with the wildlife around him, turned into a pathetic record of a nightmare. In August he wrote, “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure. I’ll soon find out.”

He waited and waited, but no one came to his rescue. In November he died in a nameless valley, by a nameless lake, 225 miles northeast of Fairbanks. An investigation revealed that he had care-fully provided for his adventure, but he had made no provision to be flown out of the area.

That was a bit shortsighted, wasn’t it? And yet, how many people live their lives without making any plans for their departure to face eternity? The statistics on death are quite impressive! You know for certain that you will be departing. And you know that you won’t be taking any of your stuff with you when you go. I read about a rich guy once who was buried in his Cadillac. But he’s not driving it now! As they say, you never see a hearse towing a U-Haul!

So why don’t more people—including the Lord’s people—think more seriously about Jesus’ words (John 12:25a): “He who loves his life loses it…”? Our goals, our desires, the way we spend our money and our lives, should not be focused on this life only. Loving your life in this world is the sure way to lose it. Let’s look at the flip side:

B. To follow Jesus, you must hate your life in this world.

You ask, “Am I supposed to become a monk, take a vow of poverty, wear hair shirts, have no contact with the outside world, and spend hours singing Gregorian chants?” Is it wrong to enjoy life? What does it mean to hate my life in this world?

To “hate” our lives (John 12:25) is the same thing as denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). It means that we must daily repudiate a self-centered life. It means living for God’s glory and His purpose by submitting every thought, word, and deed to the lordship of Jesus. It means moment by moment seeking to love God and love others for Jesus’ sake by saying no to my inherent selfishness and pride. Here are two things to consider about hating your life in this world:

1) Hating your life in this world is not the way to gain eternal life, but rather a characteristic of all who have eternal life.

When Jesus says (John 12:25b), “he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal,” He is not describing how to obtain eternal life, unless we understand hating our life in this world to mean denying all trust in our own good works and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. But I think rather by “hating his life,” Jesus is referring to the daily, lifelong process of dying to self as we live for Him. That process is characteristic of all who have truly trusted in Christ for salvation. If you’re not engaging in the daily battle of fighting your own selfishness and pride, you may need to ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins and trusted in Christ as my Savior and Lord?”

2) Hating your life in this world means dying to selfishness in order to love others for Jesus’ sake.

“Hating your life in this world” is the same thing as “taking up your cross daily” to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Many Christians think that to bear their cross means putting up with a difficult mate or with a painful malady, like arthritis or back pain. But taking up your cross is not an unavoidable trial that you must endure. Jesus says that it is a daily activity that you choose to embrace. In Jesus’ day, the cross wasn’t an implement of irritation, inconvenience, or even suffering. The cross was an instrument of tortuous, slow execution. Jesus’ hearers knew that a man who took up his cross was, for all practical purposes, a dead man. A man bearing his cross gave up all hope and interest in the things of this world, including self-fulfillment. He knew that in a very short time he would be leaving this world. He was dead to self.

Taking up your cross or hating your life in this world is not something you achieve in an emotional moment of spiritual ecstasy or dedication. You never arrive on a spiritual mountaintop where you can sigh with relief, “I’m finally there! No more death to self!” Nor are there any shortcuts or quick fixes to this painful process. The need to hate my life or die to self is never finished in this life; it is a daily battle. A. T. Pierson said, “Getting rid of the ‘self-life’ is like peeling an onion: layer upon layer—and a tearful process!”

Jesus’ death on the cross was the supreme act of love in human history. While, as I said, we can’t die to pay for others’ sins, to the extent that we follow Jesus’ example by dying to our own selfishness for the sake of others’ ultimate good, we are imitating His example of love. In other words, self-sacrifice for others’ highest good is the essence of biblical love. In Ephesians 5:2, Paul exhorts, “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Later he applies it to husbands (Eph. 5:25), “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her….” Love is a self-sacrificing commitment that seeks the highest good of the one loved. And love is the supreme mark of the Christian, the first fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 13:35; Gal. 5:22).

I’m a husband and I see a lot of Christian husbands who fail to apply this on a daily basis with their wives, so I’m going to talk about that for a moment. If you’re in a different role, it applies to you, so you can adapt the application for your situation. But I see a lot of husbands who think that being the head of their homes means being the king of their homes. And kings don’t serve others. Kings are served by others. So they don’t serve their wives and kids; they expect their wives and kids to serve them. If they want to do something, they do it without a thought about how it may affect their wife and kids. If they want to buy a new toy, they buy it without talking to their wife about her needs. In other words, they’re living selfishly. They’re not hating their lives in order to love others for Jesus’ sake. But hating your life in this world means dying to selfishness in order to love others for Jesus’ sake.

Maybe by this point you’re wondering, “Why would I want to die to myself and live for Christ and others?” That leads to:

3. The servant’s motivation: If we serve Jesus and follow Him, we’ll bear much fruit, we’ll be with Him forever, and the Father will honor us (12:26).

John 12:26: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Two brief comments:

A. To serve Jesus, you must follow Him with the goal of bearing much fruit.

Jesus assumes that all His people will serve Him. And all who serve Him must follow Him. This means obeying His teachings and commandments, of course. But in the context, it especially means following Him by dying to self so that we might, like Jesus, bear much fruit. As He will tell the disciples (John 15:16), He chose them so that they would bear fruit. If the Lord has chosen you, then that’s your purpose. Fruit refers to all character qualities, behavior, and service that He produces in and through us as we abide in Him. Then comes the motivation:

B. If we serve and follow Jesus, we will be with Him forever and the Father will honor us.

Jesus here doesn’t say that He will be with us, although that is true (Matt. 28:20). Rather, He says that we will be with Him. In John 14:3, He promises, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” “Where I am” refers to heaven. To be with Jesus in heaven throughout eternity is more than sufficient reward for all of the trials and persecution that we may go through in this life! And on top of that, Jesus promises that the Father will honor us! I’m sure that we can’t imagine what that entails, but all the honors that this world can give will pale by comparison to the honor that the Father will give to those who have faithfully served His Son.


One writer (Luccock, cited by Ralph Earle, The Gospel According to Mark [Zondervan], p. 108) observes that a mummy is the best preserved thing in human history. If you want to make yourself a spiritual mummy, then try to preserve your life. Jesus says, “You’ll die alone.” But if you die to self for Jesus’ sake, you’ll bear much fruit. So why should you hate your life in this world? Because you want to follow Jesus and be like Him. You want to serve Him and be with Him forever. Remember the famous words of missionary martyr Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Application Questions

  1. Discuss: If you die to self to serve others, won’t you become a doormat who gets used by others? When is it okay to say no?
  2. Does hating your life in this world mean that it’s wrong to have fun and enjoy life? Support your answer from Scripture.
  3. What are some practical ways that you can serve your family (or roommates if you’re not living at home)?
  4. To what extent should Christians be motivated by eternal rewards? Can the rewards motivation taint us? Cite Scripture.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship, Spiritual Life

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