What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Gaining the whole world – sounds good doesn’t it. Those words paint a picture where we get everything. Possessions, power, pleasures, places, pursuits, purposes. It’s when you have everything you can think of and more, right at your fingertips.
What would your “gaining the whole world” look like? Here’s what my version looks like.
· Always have strong mobile phone and Wi-Fi signals.
· Always more than enough money in the bank accounts.
· Credit cards are always accepted.
· Car always starts.
· Tires are always filled with air.
· Always have green lights while driving.
· Flights are always on-time.
· Always get the latest computer or phone.
· Stocks always go up in value.
Not hard to guess what’s the key idea in my personal, twisted version of “gaining the whole world” looks like. What about you?
When you gain, you are always trading up. You buy low and sell high. The baseball trading card you found in your parent’s house is now very, very valuable. The value of the house you bought has gone through the roof.
And this kind of gaining, this trading up, spreads all over everything in our world. It’s like when you put peanut butter and jelly on bread. You don’t just put it on one corner. No, as carefully as possible, you use every talent and ability known to mankind, the skill and dexterity of a surgeon, to cover every bit of the bread, up to and including the crust.
And what do we get in exchange of this great acquisition, this increase in our house value, the growth of our stocks?
We lose our soul. We forfeit who we are. We trade in one thing for another. We cannot have both at the same time. We cannot have it all.
When I bought a new car, I had a decision: what to do with my current one. While I might have multiple cars in the driveway, I can only drive one at a time. I can only sit behind the wheel of one car. I might look at a lot of cars, but I can only be committed to one at a time, drive one at a time.
When we choose to gain the whole world, we get up and out of where our soul is and replace it, lock, stock, and barrel. There’s no doing both at the same time. We’re at one place or the other.
But it’s actually worse than that. You might think that you can easily move back and forth, enjoying the whole world one minute, then pushing it out and regaining your soul. It doesn’t work like that.
It’s more like an addiction. Once you start, you need more and more. You get pulled in and can’t easily get out. And the reason you can’t get out is because you don’t want to get out. Once you make that decision, once you start going down that path, once you launch into that lifestyle, it’s one or the other. Period.
But it’s not a “one-and-done” for the rest of your life. There is hope, repentance, recovery, renewal, and restoration are possible. And that’s the hope Jesus offers.
Sometimes it’s called “the great exchange.” This is where we give God what we have and he gives us what he has. We give up our filthy self-righteousness, the junk in our trunk. God takes it and gives us complete and total forgiveness and righteousness. Here’s how one writer put it:
That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.
Now, that’s a great and wonderful exchange. Isn’t a deal that you’d like to make? Right here? Right now?
 Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.