Behind the Bucking Chutes
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Instead of what was said by someone running their mouth about you, imagine it eventually getting back to you that someone was out there saying what a great person you were or what a great thing they saw you do.
When we have a saving faith in Jesus, he changes us and we begin to do good works. Works are the words and actions we put out there based on what we know the Bible teaches us is right and good and that we know will glorify God.
Instead of talking at Waffle House with your buddies about why ‘that gunsel’ keeps getting on bulls or entering the sorting when he can’t even sit right in his saddle, what a life-changing moment it could literally be
for someone to have it get back to them how you never see them without a smile or laughing, even when competing in the mud.
Find the good, share the good.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
When Jesus is truly in us, good starts to come out of us as evidence our salvation is real. We start to do “good deeds.”
Jesus tells us that if we’re in Christ, we’ll produce good fruit. In Matthew 7, he’s specifically talking about how to tell if someone is a false prophet or not but we learn from him that those who are real followers o Christ will be producing good fruit, which again, would be the good works we do. The words and actions that show our faith is in Jesus because they follow his teaching.
Matthew 7:17-18 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
He also teaches us that all of it comes from God.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
None of the good we do can be accomplished without God doing the work in us and through us. It’s done together.
No one that competes in rodeo succeeds without some help. It can be the spotter behind the chutes, it can be borrowed equipment,the loan of a horse or it can be advice. Even the biggest loner determined to accomplish something on his ‘own’ power, has help somewhere along the line.
We need God to accomplish what He has planned for us. We may do the ‘good works’ but they are given to us by Him and it’s by His power we succeed and He gets glorified.
On one hand, when our faith is real we can’t help but do good as God works through us, but on the other, the author of Hebrews is telling also us to look for ways to help others do good. It’s still God through us, but the encouragement or help we provide helps someone else to do good. Find the good, share the good.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Ever misunderstood something and felt pretty dumb about it afterward?
Sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand something in the Bible and I think that keeps many of us from reading it. Seminaries teach pastors Greek and Hebrew to help them understand what you’re sitting there scratching your head to understand. Try anyway.
There are more parts that ARE easier to understand than others and just like the awkwardness of learning to handle yourself in the bucking chutes, the first time you try to load a horse on the trailer or the first time you try to turn a rope over your head, it gets easier.
Having a church helps where there are pastors and leaders that can help you understand it. I sometimes need that before I try to deliver a cowboy church sermon behind the chutes and am fortunate enough to have more than a dozen people I know that understand it better than me. When I’m not certain my interpretation or application is right, I can run a section of scripture by to be sure I understand it right. There are also great study bibles out there with notes that help explain it and an internet full of resources though you have to be careful what you follow.
Don’t get hung up on feeling dumb for not understanding something. Be encouraged by the work God and the Holy Spirit will do inside you through the parts you do understand and step by step, more and more of it will make sense.
And step by step, you will see even more, just how big God really is. A passage in the Old Testament suddenly makes sense in how it points to Jesus in the New Testament. A passage in the New Testament’s Ephesians that used to be confusing begins to make more sense because you see how it builds on something Jesus taught in the book of Mark. The more you learn, the more you change and grow.
See what you can learn about the importance of reading your Bible from the two verses below.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture is God’s living word in how it’s described as being ‘breathed out’ by God. And we see clearly how important it is for so many parts of our lives, teaching us how to be more like Jesus as it describes training in righteousness. It shows us that it will help us with any good effort we take for God as it tells us it will prepare us for “every good work.”
I didn’t understand what a ‘good work’ was at first. I didn’t understand what righteousness was at first. But as I understood those terms and ideas, 2 Timothy is now a favorite verse to teach to others because it helps us understand the many different reasons the Bible is important for us.
The more time you give it, the more it will make sense and benefit you.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
There’s that guy that’s banned from four different rodeo associations ranging from not paying fines from his behavior in the arena to punching a contestant. He’s finished a weekend in jail for that but is remanded in custody for skipping a court appearance over unpaid child support. He changes his social media profile pictures to one a girlfriend took of him praying during the opening and always reshares the posts about God needing to be back in school or asks you to pray for him because he knows his life is a mess.
From the Christian perspective he’s one of two things: a Christian in need of grace or a soul destined for hell in need of a grace and Jesus.The fruit in his life, the words and actions that demonstrate that our life has been changed by a real relationship with Jesus, are missing.
Despite people who will misinterpret scripture and scold, “judge not lest ye be judged,” it’s not unreasonable to question which of the two he is. In fact, it’s important, because he may not understand the gospel and need to hear that more than words of encouragement or criticism.
He may need grace to save him or he may need grace to move forward.
Grace is here through our saving faith in Jesus. We know God to be God of love, but His wrath is still there for our sins if we don’t receive the forgiveness found through Jesus. That comes from believing Jesus was the Son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins and that he rose again to ascend to Heaven where he still is today. Then we recognize our sins separate us from God and deserve to be punished but that by confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, we receive God’s mercy and grace and are given eternal life in Heaven. Grace is there when we’re saved from God’s wrath and it continues to be there when we mess up.
When we’re saved, we’re changed and we start to become more like Jesus. But we’re not Jesus and we’re going to screw it up sometimes.
Grace is not there so we can live how we want.
Romans 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Grace NEVER runs out no matter how many mistakes we make, but if our life continually reflects sin to others and never a genuine faith in Jesus then we probably need Jesus first so we can be saved and begin turning away from our sin.
Are you in need of a saving faith in Jesus in the first place or are you in need of grace so you can pick yourself up, fix what needs to be fixed and move forward regardless of what anyone thinks of you and the mistakes you just made? It’s one or the other.
By Will Brunke / Special to Cowboys of the Cross
One of my most consistently used metaphors is that “bull riding emulates life and life emulates bull riding”. Likening the unique struggles and confrontations of life that are so often imitated on a minute scale in a sporting event is nothing new. So, it came as a shock and with some disappointment in myself when I was hit in the teeth with an epiphany that seemed so obviously clear, considering my love and probable over-use of metaphors.
Teaching a bull riding clinic of young men and young boys on a cool weekend this fall, I settled into a gamut of trick questions in order to open up the riders ‘ thought processes and to give them examples of easy pitfalls that inexperienced riders can get bogged down in. The premise was simple; be careful of the words that are tossed around the bucking chutes and how you apply them.
For example; a person may have the best of intentions when they are supporting you as you ride, all the while screaming at you, “REACH!!! REACH for the front!!” In reality, this is probably some of the worst advice you can get and can dramatically increase your chances of an early buck-off as well as your chances for an injury. There is almost nothing about “reaching” in bull riding that is mechanically sound. Riders who learn a bad habit such as this tend to hit a brick wall in their riding that they can never seem to get around. The point I was trying to express to the group was that it is imperative that you understand what words mean for better or worse. How many of us take words and advice at face value without using our critical thinking to analyze and evaluate possible outcomes? At this point, in jest, I banned the word “reach” from the rest of the clinic. But what was more important is that I inserted a new vocabulary in place of the flawed one — this time with meaning.
In short, after some constructive conversation, open dialog, and some examples and drills on the barrels, an overwhelming look of exuberance began to appear from most of the group. They got it. They were now hungry for more and fully engaged after having a proverbial blindfold removed. The spoon-fed were now feeling like hunters after the realizations had past that not only did this new way make sense, but its truths cleared the thorny underbrush away and created a template that the riders could gauge their technique and future advices against. The words in the Bible are like this for many.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus was telling those who began following him, and those who were trying to discredit them that his true followers would follow his teaching and not that of the religious elite that were using their position to hold power over people. John 5: 31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The words of scripture can be an emancipator, setting you free. Used incorrectly the words can become an enslaver. One person can lead or mislead many out of the truest intentions depending on the level of understanding the teacher possesses and the level of spoon-fedness to which the audience may be inclined. Unfortunately, some are even led by false teachers with impure intentions. How is this possible? I believe an old bull riding adage can apply; The top 20% of riders haul in 80% of the prize money. Which means 80% of bull riders are struggling with the sport and, more often than not, donators to the purse. I believe the same is true on a more Christian front; 20% of Christians are hunters of the truth and can easily disseminate false teachings from Gospel truth. However, that means that 80% of Christians are struggling with scripture, have a loose grasp of the Gospel and are easily swayed toward the fringes where words and phrases like, “prosperity”, “morally good”, or “you’re perfect just the way you are”, run rampant and the generalized vagueness of salvation are currently leading many to despair.
I feel blessed to take a moment and think about some of my closest friends in my life and realize that they are also hunters of the truth who hold me accountable, ask tough questions, and point indiscriminately to scripture. These people are my trusted traveling partners in my walk with Christ. But just like at the bull riding clinic, I believe my friends and I have a great template to measure ourselves and our technique against. It’s the teachings from Jesus himself. Everything in the Bible from beginning to end points toward Him. During Jesus’ time on earth, he spoke only truths and eschewed many religious habits, fringe beliefs, and false teachers. And just like then, today his truth is infallible. It stands up against any test and strips the sheep’s clothing from the wolves.
John 8:32 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
In the end, the only way my students take the next leap in their bull riding career is if they take an infallible bull riding truth and continually apply that in practice until the correct reaction is near automatic. Likewise, there is only so much a “come-to-Jesus” moment can give us unless we affirm that newfound understanding with practice in reading Jesus’ words of truth. Therein lies the ultimate template to gauge yourself by.
Yes, your hometown church may be fine. Your mega-church may be setting attendance records. That unsubstantiated “preacher” with no church affiliation might be a likeable guy. But just ask yourself, who or what is your template based upon? It’s a fair question to spend some time on….. unless you are too busy being spoon-fed by a wolf.
Will is a retired Pennsylvania bull rider who occasionally gets back in the arena to teach bull riding schools or clinics.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
In the sports of rodeo and bull riding, there is so much weight and value put on having the right mindset.
Cowboys who would never pick up a text book in school will read through books that help them harness the power of their minds. They’ll watch video after video of their rides and runs to see what they can improve. They’ll focus on positive thinking. They’ll surround themselves with like-minded people to influence them toward success in their rodeo careers.
Do we put that same value on our Christian faith?
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is encouraging the church to focus on what is good and to put to practice what he has tried to teach them as the early church was first beginning to spread. There were so many influences pulling at these new believers and Paul often intervened through letters to them. Paul wants them to be successful and for their faith to grow beyond any influences that could damage it. And he wants the good news of Jesus Christ to spread. We can see this in many of his letters that make up so much of the New Testament.
Just like we study the sport, we have to study God’s word…and put it to action. And we have to work on a Christ-like mindset.
All that comes from putting the effort into not just reading the Bible but putting the work into understanding it.
A lot of people start the new year off with a goal of reading through the entire Bible, some following a reading plan to complete it in a year. But it’s not a race and there’s no prize for completing it on time or early. It’s better to not just read the Bible but to take the time to understand it. Study Bibles are out there with plenty of notes to help you understand the verses. There are books called commentaries and there are Bible studies that lead you through a book of the Bible with questions and helpful thoughts. It can feel hard to understand at first but the more you work through it, the more the pieces come together and the easier it all becomes to understand.
Then comes the harder part. Once you’ve learned it, we need to put it into action. The Cowboys of the Cross website is starting a monthly video series that focuses on that part—what it means for a Christian cowboy to live out his faith. We encourage you to watch the series and use this site to help you grow in your faith while plugging into a church with even deeper teaching into God’s word.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
We all want to be treated fairly. In rodeo and bull riding, we want a judge that doesn’t give a thumbs-up to a 7.8 second ride to the number two cowboy while the guy just breaking in gets a zero for a 7.9 on the stop watch. We want to believe that a draw never gets rigged in favor of someone or against someone a stock contractor hates.
As much as people in our society are against Christianity because all they hear us say is that our beliefs are right above others, there is no one more fair than God.
All sin is punished equally. God won’t allow any of it in His presence in Heaven and the judgment against sin is eternity separated from God in Hell. Any and all sin is punished equally.
But God wants us with Him in Heaven so He made a way that we all could be redeemed of our sin through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
That is one of the most well-known Bible verses but how to be made right before God only starts there.
Jesus was and is the Son of God sent here to die and take the punishment meant for our sins. What he endured for us is horrific but when you take the time to think and understand it, that’s how much he loves us that 2,000 years before any of us were born, he took on all of God’s judgment and wrath against our sin.
Romans 5:10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
All that is required of us is to believe who Jesus was and is, to recognize that however big or small, we all sin and to confess and repent of that sin, asking to be forgiven. That’s what it means to have a saving faith in Jesus and that’s what gives us the assurance we have a permanent home in Heaven.
When we hear the saying in rodeo that he paid your fees, THAT’S the seriousness of what that nice-sounding statement meant. He didn’t just do us a favor, he suffered horribly on our behalf so the we could have eternal life with him next to our Father, God, in Heaven.
That’s a pretty even pen of bulls, everyone has the same chance and none of us can do more than another to earn our place there. Believe in Jesus, confess your sin, repent of it and ask to be forgiven. That’s it. No more, no less.
None of us can do more than another to improve that score. No matter how much good or bad we think we’ve done, it all comes down to what we believe and our willingness to ask for and receive forgiveness from God, through Jesus.
Part 6 on FORGIVENESS
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
Sometimes we’re the one who needs to be forgiven. Through repentance and a saving faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven of all our sins, past, present and future and allowed in God’s presence for eternity in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean we still don’t need to seek the forgiveness of others when we’ve messed up.
You borrowed entry fees from three friends this year that knew you were struggling. You won the team roping twice but never paid anyone back.
You got a message from your traveling partner’s girlfriend on Snapchat. She was ticked with him and wanted a sympathetic ear. That sympathetic ear went a lot further and he found out she was cheating on him with you. No one has spoken in months.
Matthew 5:23-24 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
These are detailed verses with a lot that can be taught and understood, especially if we were to back up all the way toward verses 21 and 22 where Jesus talks about murder and anger against our brothers.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time that pushed rules and laws as the way to be right with God, often using those rules to hold power over people. Jesus, who came to give us all a way to be reconciled with God and forgiven of our sins, was challenging their power. He was putting loving others ahead of everything else.
When it came to offerings, the Pharisees valued the rules most in making sure the offerings were made and all the rules of presenting them were followed.
Jesus made some shocking statements here suggesting the condition of a person’s heart mattered more than the offering, saying a person should leave that offering if he knew of any sin he had committed against someone that had gone unaddressed or not forgiven. Jesus cares much more about the condition of our hearts than the rules we follow and wants us to make right by those we’ve wronged.
In the entry fee and cheating examples, very real situations most of us have seen or encountered, Jesus is saying the person who owes the money or who has messed up his buddy’s relationship, needs to do what he can to be reconciled with his brother.
With the money owed, possibly the best thing he could do is pay it back, with interest if that’s what it takes to make it right. It might be as simple as apologizing and the guys he owes the money to simply letting it go.
With the cheating situation, it could be an apology, it could be an attempt to show you could be trusted again and are truly repentant of your part in what had happened.
Bottom line, Jesus is telling us if we know there is someone who we have wronged, we need to make that right before presenting ourselves to God.
We absolutely understand that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, that we have believed Jesus was the son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins, repented to God and asked to be forgiven, that God will in fact forgive us for past and any future mistakes. Our place in Heaven is not at stake because, even after we were saved, we messed up like these examples.
But Jesus is telling us how important it is that we make situations right with people who we have given a reason to be angry with us.
We can’t control their responses but Jesus wants us to be certain we have done whatever we can to be forgiven.
It then falls on that other person to offer the forgiveness that Jesus tells us we have to give to others, especially considering as followers of Christ, we have been forgiven for all of our sins—all of them, no matter what we have done or others have done to us.
Part 5 on FORGIVENESS
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
You get pulled over for speeding on the way to the rodeo but the cop is a fan and planning to take his family there the next night, so he decides to let you off with a warning. You cheat your mark out because you know the judge on the right side never pays attention to it and draw a check for second. The secretary messed up the payout and you knowingly leave with an extra $60 and since you got out of one speeding ticket, you keep a heavy foot on the accelerator on the way back out of town, texting your girlfriend that you’re going to be late because a buddy got hurt, but really, you’re heading for a bar where a girl you thought was hot, invited you during intermission.
The opportunity to do wrong, or sin, is constantly present. So is the opportunity to do right. It comes down to the choices we make.
The most important choice we can ever make is Jesus.
Through Jesus, we can find forgiveness in the form of grace that changes everything for us. God will punish unrepentant, unforgiven sin but through Jesus, God offers us grace. As much as it can be hard to understand, we deserve punishment for our sin because God is just and fair. All sin must be punished but He offered us a way to receive grace instead through asking to be forgiven for our sins as we confess we know we’ve sinned and by believing that Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins and was resurrected to live forever in Heaven with God.
By the forgiveness found through Jesus, we receive unending grace. It means no matter what we’ve done on the past or how much more we screw up going forward, God will still see us as righteous—meaning he sees us as perfect despite our sin. It’s what people mean when they say we’ve been washed in the blood of Christ. Through his shed blood, we’re made pure.
So if forgiveness means we’re seen as perfect, why do I need to stop sinning?
Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Paul is reminding us that we’re made new. When our salvation is real, when we’ve truly been forgiven, our sinful selves died with Christ on the cross and we’ve been reborn into a life that when it ends here, takes us to an eternity with God in Heaven.
That forgiveness is not to be abused as an open invitation to keep living a sinful life. Grace may be endless but it’s there because God knows we will mess up, but it isn’t there so we can willingly choose to sin.
God knows we’re going to mess up When our salvation is real, we begin a process known as sanctification—becoming more like Jesus. We all progress at different paces as we learn what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, from the Bible, through church and our own time reading it. That means we’re not immediately perfect and that’s why we need unending grace to cover us when, even as someone made new through Jesus, we still make sinful choices. Sometimes, we don’t even know something is a sin in our lives until it’s revealed to us by reading and understanding something in the Bible for the first time. We’re being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
If we are knowingly living a sinful life, we may need to question if we’ve truly experienced a life-changing saving faith in Jesus. Have we truly been forgiven? We can rely on grace for when we get it wrong, but we’re potentially fooling ourselves if we’re telling ourselves we’ve been forgiven but never really repented.
Part 4 on FORGIVENESS
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a verse many non-believers can quote in an argument that you have no right to judge someone else’s actions. They quote it without knowing the whole section of scripture or where it comes from in the Bible. Or what it really means.
John 8:3-11 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The law at the time would have require the woman to be stoned to death for her sin. The Pharisees, who were powerful religious leaders misusing their power, were being undermined by Jesus’ messages of forgiveness and they were trying to put him in an impossible situation in order to bring him down. Here, they thought Jesus would have no choice but to break the law.
Instead, he exposed the need for forgiveness in all of us by turning the tables on them and allowing her to be stoned if there was anyone that hadn’t sinned that could throw the first rock. Every single one of them walked away.
Jesus was left alone with the woman who wasn’t denying her sin. Instead of condemning her to death, she was forgiven by Jesus and sent away. That’s the key point that those who misuse or misunderstand the verses all miss—Jesus sent her away but told her to leave her life of sin. He wasn’t punishing her for her sin, but he was still identifying it as sin and telling her to stop it. He judged her actions as wrong and commanded her to stop living that way. He didn’t tell her everything was okay the way it was.
Forgiveness is meant to change us. When we fully grasp Jesus did for us on the cross and how is death was in the place of the punishment for our sins, we want to change and we can’t help but be changed by our salvation. That comes through a faith in who Jesus was, and is, and by understanding our sin separates us from God, our sin must be punished, Jesus took the punishment meant for that sin and that be confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, God will no longer condemn us for our sin.
By believing, confessing, repenting and asking for it, we’re forgiven and changed.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Once saved, we’re dead to our sin, no longer condemned to be punished for it, but instead, God sees us as a new and perfect creature, no longer separated from Him by our sin.
Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness puts out sin behind us. Forgiveness gives us a perfect life in Heaven.
Part 3 on FORGIVENESS
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
If you’ve been a bull rider for very long at all, you’ll have at least one story about how a bull fighter saved your butt.
Most of us North Carolina riders know that Nathaniel Southern has one arm that’s inches longer than the other because many of us dogpiled a bull for him on a few different occasions so we could untie him. I was bad for hang-ups, but not quite that bad. One night I was on a Clint Haas bull he called 8-Ball. Around six seconds, he was spinning away from my hand; he got a little empty and I got a little stiff and wound up sliding off in the well before the eight seconds. I was able to wrap my free arm around his neck and dance with him until my riding hand was free, but he knocked me down as I tried to step out of the spin. Once I was on the ground, he put his head down on me and went to his knees to increase the amount of weight he could push me with. He pushed against the side of my head so hard my vision went dark. Justin Branch was a bull fighter that night. He leaned on 8-Ball’s head but ended up having to wrap himself around the bull’s neck to get him off me. I was thankful for Justin that night. He saved me from a bull who truly intended to harm me!
In the “Christian-ese” language, we use words that outsiders might not understand. What does it mean for a Christian to be saved? For most, it means we’ve got fire insurance – we are saved from eternity in hell and from God’s just wrath against our sin. To be “saved” we must be forgiven of our sin. But what does that require? How do we receive it? What is the value of forgiveness? To understand that, we must first understand the value of a soul.
In the Gospel of Jesus according to Mark (the book of Mark in your Bible), immediately after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending rejection by Jewish leaders, death at their hands, and his victorious resurrection. Peter responds by calling out Jesus for what he perceived as foolishness. Peter couldn’t imagine that the mission of the Messiah of Israel was to die. Then comes this passage:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)
In verses 36-37, Jesus makes it clear that our immaterial souls are valuable. The reason our souls are valuable is because that is the part that God himself breathed into us which gives us life (Genesis 2:7). It is that immaterial part of us that is God’s image – the imprint of his Spirit on us. We are valuable to God because we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6).
Not only are our souls valuable to God, but we are supremely more valuable than anything else we could ever possess. From an accounting perspective, Jesus goes straight for the bottom line in these verses. Take your assets, subtract your liabilities, and that’s the net value. Jesus says if the entire world and all it can offer are your assets and your soul is a liability (or the payment), your value is negative. He tells us there is nothing we offer in exchange for our eternal, supremely valuable souls.
Imagine if everyone in the U.S. decided collectively to sell our country. What would the price tag be? Well, in the first quarter of 2014, the net value of the U.S. was $128 trillion. No one person could ever possibly pay that price, and even if someone could do that, they couldn’t keep it. Someone with bigger guns or more nukes would rise up to take it away. In fact, we don’t really own anything the way we do our eternal souls. That beautiful home you recently built…someone else will be living there sooner or later. That brand new dually you bought…eventually you’ll trade it for a newer model, and someone else will drive it. Not to mention the fact that we all die eventually, and I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul in tow.
I want you to notice that first verse (Mark 8:34) tells us that this is directed at both the crowd and the disciples; this is not teaching for only the most dedicated followers of Jesus – it’s for all of us who desire to follow Him. In fact, that might be a better translation of Jesus’ first words, “If anyone desires to come after Me…” Coming after Jesus represents following Him in a physical sense; as far as location goes, you’re following Jesus. But then He says, “…let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Follow me here indicates following in a behavioral sense, or obedience. Paraphrasing, “If you want to walk with Me, the life you live will be one where I am the leader and you obey Me.”
Jesus is demanding a great deal from us here. He isn’t saying we should die for Him; that might be easier – at least it would be over and done! He’s saying we should live as though we were dead to our own desires and be as obedient to Him as He was to the Roman soldier who likely told Him after his scourging, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Yes! The cost of forgiveness – of being saved – is high. But what else would you expect for something as valuable as your soul is to God? It cost God the life and blood of His eternal Son! Now, at this point I want to make something abundantly clear: though salvation and forgiveness is not cheap, it also cannot be earned! “What will anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The answer is nothing! Jesus is the one who paid the price for your forgiveness! “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).
The forgiveness of our sin is not cheap, as acknowledged by the price Jesus paid to accomplish it. The price was high because of the value of our souls to God. The result of God’s forgiveness is also supremely valuable – our complete submission and obedience to Jesus; a life lived for ourself to gain worldly treasure while giving lip service to Jesus is not what the Son of God died for, and it is not valuable enough to eclipse the value of our soul.
Here’s a great application for you concerning the value of the souls of men: When you see others as Jesus sees them, you will love others as Jesus loves them and serve others as Jesus serves them.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). Jesus’ mission was to die to save souls; ours is to die to self and live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for the same purpose.