Those are the words that keep coming back to me as I try to express what Jesus meant when he said, "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" (John 12:14-15).
First, there is the call to die. If we are to bear fruit for God we must die. Now, when I am dead I will not care what they do with my body. It will make no difference to me. I will be home with Jesus. That’s the way it is now, too, if I have already died with Christ. Which all Christians have: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Crucified means dead. So in a profound sense I am dead on the earth. “My life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). So it just doesn’t matter what happens to me here on earth.
Then there is this strange thing called “hating your life in this world.” “He who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” What does that mean? It means, at least, that you don’t take much thought for your life in this world. In other words, it just doesn’t matter much what happens to your life in this world.
If men speak well of you, it doesn’t matter much. If they hate you, it doesn’t matter much. If you have a lot of things, I doesn’t matter much. If you have little, it doesn’t matter much. If you are persecuted or lied about, it doesn’t matter much. If you are famous or unheard of, it doesn’t matter much. If you are dead, these things just don’t matter much.
But it’s even more radical. There are some choices to be made here, not just passive experiences. Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me.” Where to? He is moving into Gethsemane and toward the cross. Jesus is not just saying: If things go bad, don’t fret, since you are dead anyway. He is saying: choose to die with me. Choose to hate your life in this world the way I have chosen the cross.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). He calls us to choose the cross. People only did one thing on a cross. They died on it. “Take up your cross,” means, “Like a grain of wheat, fall into the ground and die.” Choose it. “Hate your life in this world.”
What’s the point of all this? Is it just aimless masochism? No. It is the path of true love, true life, and true worship. Our aim in dying is fruit: “But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Our aim in dying is life: “He who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Our aim in dying is to exalt the worth of Christ: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things” (Philippians 3:8).
Paul is the great example of what it means to die. He said, “We carry about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7). “Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
But why? For the sake of radical commitment to ministry: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). I think I hear Paul saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me—if I can just live to the glory of his grace.”
Longing to be like that,