A Call to Die
Jesus tells the crowd (Greeks and Jews and us), “Do you want to follow me? Then you must come and die.” A call to follow Christ is a call to die. In the same way that it was necessary for Jesus to die if He was to bear much fruit, so it is necessary that His followers die in order to bear fruit unto eternal life. Jesus says, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (12:25). There are two linguistic points that will help us to understand what Jesus is saying in verse 25:
- The first is that the two words translated “life” are different in the original language. The first two, the “life” that we either love or hate, is the Greek word psuche, from which we derive the word “psyche,” which means our “self” or our “soul,” that non-physical part of us that makes us who we are. The second “life” is the Greek word zoe, which refers to a state of living that is opposed to death.
- The second is that in ancient Hebrew culture, the contrast of love and hate has more to do with fundamental preference rather than love or hatred on an absolute scale. For instance, when Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “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,” he is obviously not saying that a prerequisite for discipleship is that I detest my own family and abhor my own self. He is speaking in terms of preference. Jesus says the same thing in another way in Matthew 10:37 – “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.”
So, Jesus is not saying in John 12:25 that I must regard my life, my family, my job, my circumstances as abhorrent and wish that I were dead. He is not calling for some kind of suicidal psychology. What He is saying is that a genuine follower of Christ does not regard himself as his supreme treasure anymore. We are self-lovers by nature. We love most that which we believe is most glorious, and that is us. We were born into this world believing that we are the center of our own little worlds, the most glorious creature in our own realities. And our selfish lives reflect this. But not so with those who have been born again, the true believers who have been awakened to behold the glory of the only-begotten Son of God. Once we have beheld His glory we can do nothing else but regard ourselves as far less glorious. Beginning with the new birth and increasingly throughout our lives, Jesus becomes the supreme treasure and supreme delight instead of our self. We have died to self-glory, and we are alive to the glory of Christ.
And if we have died to self-glory and are alive to the supreme glory of Christ, then we will be willing to do that which will bring Jesus the most glory rather than bringing glory to us:
- I will stay married even when times get tough, because marriage is a living portrait of the gospel of Christ, the love which Christ has for His bride, the church. I would rather go through the hard word of restoring a broken marriage than take the easy way out in divorce, because I truly believe that my marriage is not about me, but about the glory of Christ.
- I will reject comfort, when it comes in conflict with the will of Christ. I would rather be poor, then to dishonor Christ through dishonest gain or withholding what He asks.
- I will obey the commands of Christ regarding my speech, my relationships, my sexuality, my finances, and every other arena of life because I have seen His glory, and I want others to see His glory reflected in my holiness.
The call to follow Christ is a call to die with Him, to die to self, to deny myself, and to regard Him as the supreme and glorious treasure of my life. And herein lies the difference between the follower and the fan. The follower says, “Yes, and amen! Hallelujah! All I have is Christ. Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.” The fan simply tacks Jesus on to his own plans and his own life because, you know, who wants to go to hell? But when the claims of Christ come into conflict with the fan’s own plans for his life and happiness – no, you cannot sleep with your girlfriend; no, you cannot leave your husband; no, you cannot spread that delicious piece of gossip; no, you cannot refuse to forgive that person who hurt you – the fan shows his or her true colors and leaves, becoming just another “inactive (read: unsaved) church member.”
A Call to Suffer
Jesus then tells the crowd (and us), “Do you want to follow Me? Then you must follow Me to suffering.” A call to Christ is a call to suffer for His glory. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” (12:26). Where is Jesus going, that we must follow? He is going to Calvary; He is going to suffering. That is why His soul has become troubled (12:27). He is going to suffer for His glory, and He calls His followers to do the same. Mark this down – the Christian life is a life of suffering for the glory of Christ. Just settle this in your mind so that you may be ready when suffering comes. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). Paul elsewhere speaks of believers being “destined” for affliction (1 Thess. 3:3). Peter says that we have been called for the purpose of suffering (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus calls us to deny ourselves (die), take up our cross, and follow Him (to suffering).
This means that you must not be disturbed when suffering comes, as if some strange thing were happening to you, as if because you are a Christian it is not supposed to be this way. When cancer, or Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, or some other disease racks your body with pain, remember that Christ called you to suffer for His glory. When tragedy or affliction or persecution comes, do not bail out on Jesus as if He had broken some promise to you. This is exactly what He promised you, and it is for His glory… and yours. Paul writes that if we are the children of God, then we are “heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). Suffer in faith; endure hardships in faith; work through tragedy in faith. In the midst of persecution, remain faithful to unto death, and Jesus will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). That is what followers of Christ do – they believe, they suffer, they keep believing, and they enter into glory.
A Promise of Glory
If we die to self, we’ll live forever in Christ. If we follow Jesus to suffering, we will also follower Him to glory. “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” (12:26). It is not easy, this way of faith and death and suffering, but it is the only way to glory. There is no other path to heaven. There is no other way but the one that is straight and narrow, and few there are who find it. Most of the people who surrounded Jesus in His day were fans, not true followers. And so it remains today. Most people who name the name of Christ are fans – fake, superficial, temporary, fraudulent. Few are true and genuine followers of Christ who are dying to self, are following Him to suffering, and will be with Him in glory.
What about you? Are you a fan or a follower? Jesus calls out to us today, through His word, saying, “Come, embrace My death, My suffering, and My glory for your pardon; and then embrace My death, My suffering, and My glory for your pattern. Come and believe. Come and die. Come and suffer. Come and live.” Will you come?
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 941.
 Carson, 439.