"Because whoever wants to save their life will lose it – but whoever will lose their life for my sake and the Teachings will be saving themselves. For what shall one benefit if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul? Or what should a person give in exchange for his own soul?" (Mark 8:35-37)The words "life" and "soul" from Jesus' statement come from the same Greek word, ψυχή (psychē), which means, according to the lexicon:
"the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing" and "a living being, a living soul" and "the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions."Jesus was using the word in two senses as a homonym - something he did often. He also did this when he said:
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead" (Matt. 8:22)The word ψυχή (psychē) thus can be used to describe one's physical life in one sense. But in the spiritual sense it is describing the source of life, the soul - which never dies.
The soul is the self
This indicates that Jesus is not speaking of the soul as being separate from oneself. The soul is the individual. The soul is who each of us is - each of us is the life force occupying this temporary physical body.
This is why a dead body is lifeless. Because the soul, the self - the spirit-person - left that body. This is why we often refer to as dying as "passing away." Because the self - the spirit-person - has left the physical body.
With this, we can know that we aren't these physical bodies. They are like a shell wrapped around us. They are like a spaceship an astronaut uses to go into space with. Without the spaceship, the astronaut cannot go into space. In the same way, these physical bodies allow us access to the physical world - which is a world foreign to the pure soul.
The spirit-person is eternal. Each of us is an eternal being. As such, the spirit-person can take on a body, but the body dies when the spirit-person leaves it.
In other words, our core being - whether we call it life or soul or living being - is each of us. So how can we lose ourselves according to Jesus' statement?
Losing our life
The word "loses" here is translated from the word ἀπόλλυμι (apollymi), which means, according to the lexicon, "to destroy - to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin - render useless - to kill - to declare that one must be put to death - (metaphor) to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell - to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed."
So "losing" would be something akin to ruining or giving up something, depending upon its use. These words relate to choice. One might be able to lose something like a cat or a dog if they run off. These are passive contexts. The cat or dog runs off against our will, and we have lost it.
But Jesus is speaking of something a person actively decides to do. And because we understand that Jesus is utilizing this word in a figurative or metaphorical sense, we can utilize words such as "gives up" or "ruins."
Jesus is speaking figuratively in the respect of giving up or ruining ones soul depending upon its context here. We always are the spirit-person, the soul that occupies the body, regardless of whether we go to hell or heaven. We can never really lose this.
But we - the spirit-person - can become covered up by self-centeredness, lust, anger and misidentification. This is what occurs when a person falls to the physical world. We are born into these temporary physical bodies. As we begin to identify with them, our true selves become covered up.
Our spiritual nature thus becomes covered up due to our choices. This is confirmed by Jesus' phrase, "to gain the whole world." The word κόσμος (kosmos) here can mean "world" or more specifically, "material world."
So in this respect, one can lose oneself, but willingly. If one compares this to how a person might lose their dog or cat, then this would be akin to the person abandoning their dog or cat. The dog or cat will still be alive. But the pet is now far away from the pet-owner, by the pet-owner's own choice.
In the same way, when we abandon or reject the Supreme Being, we become covered by misidentification with the physical body, and the desires for the temporary forms and things of the physical world. The self is still there within the body, but the person has become blind to it.
This can thus be called lost but it is better described as ruined, because this resulted from our choice to abandon our relationship with the Supreme Being - furthered by our focus on our self-centered lives within materialism.
Losing one's life for Jesus
Then Jesus speaks of "losing" one's life for him in order to save it. What does this mean?
Just as a person can lose or ruin oneself - the spirit-person - within materialism, one can also figuratively lose ourselves in dedication to the Supreme Being and to Jesus - God's representative.
This is giving up (or losing) our materialistic lives. When a person devotes themselves to the Supreme Being we can effectively lose ourselves because we forget about our self-concerns. We can be lost within our love of the Supreme Being.
This kind of devotion to the Supreme Being actually saves us because this is our spiritual nature. By nature, we are loving servants of the Supreme Being. This was our reason for being created. This is our actual identity. This is why each of us seeks to 'fall in love.' We want to 'fall in love' with the perfect person - our soul mate. This is the Supreme Being we are ultimately seeking.
So when we give up our self-centeredness and devote ourselves to the Supreme Being, we effectively find our pure soul - our real self - by devoting ourselves within our love for God.
The translation of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) to "Teachings" relates to what Jesus was teaching them about God. It is often translated to Gospels - which would also be correct. The Greek word literally means, according to the lexicon, "good tidings." This is what Jesus is doing - he is teaching his students - giving them tidings. He is giving his students the knowledge by which they can return home to the spiritual realm to be with God and His associates.
And what, according to Jesus, is the most important instruction of his Gospel or Teachings?
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’" (Mark 12:30)