“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” (Jesus in John 12:24-26).
This was the message of Jesus. There is no wiggle room or fudge factor to it. Jesus unequivocally said what people really need to do: die to self. To make his message clear and understandable, Jesus used the illustration of a seed that must die before it bears fruit. Seeds wait to germinate until three needs are met: water; correct temperature (warmth); and a good location (such as in soil). During its early stages of growth, the seedling relies upon the food supplies stored with it in the seed until it is large enough for its own leaves to begin making food through photosynthesis. The seedling's roots push down into the soil to anchor the new plant and to absorb water and minerals from the soil. And its stem with new leaves pushes up toward the light.
This is exactly the kind of process that Jesus said needs to happen with people in the kingdom of God. People must never settle for being seedy because that is not what we are designed for. Jesus wants us to be transformed, to experience new life, and to bear righteous fruit. To follow Jesus means to die to being a seed and growing into a fruit bearing plant with more seeds to have the whole process occur again (reproduction). We are to push down and anchor ourselves firmly into the soil of God’s Word and pull vital nutrients from it. At the same time, we are to push upward toward the light of Jesus Christ so that his warmth and grace can cause us to be spiritually formed into the disciples that he intends us to become. The process is only complete when we reproduce ourselves in others as followers of Jesus.
Jesus said that the person who “hates” his/her life will gain eternal life. That is, the person who is willing to give up everything to follow Jesus will find true life in Christ. The one who serves Jesus will follow him. Hate is simply a biblical term that means we make the choice to avoid one path in favor of another. My girls were all born in West Michigan. When we lived there, my wife and I would take our three girls to the beautiful sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. We loved being there on hot summer days. The beaches are actual sand, not with any gravel or dirt, so it was difficult to walk on them. I would tell Sarah, Charissa, and Mikaela to follow me and walk in my footprints. I told them to follow me not only because it would be easier for them to walk, but so they would not stray from me.
We are to forsake all other paths that stray from Jesus, and are to follow him by walking in his footprints. We are not to turn to the right or to the left. We are to hate all other avenues that are not behind our Lord Jesus. We are to love his path and his ways.
Church ministry that focuses on anything else other than true Christian discipleship must be, without compromise, jettisoned. We are to be about the business of spiritual growth, helping others to take root in God’s Word and bring them the light of Christ. Evaluation of programs, procedures, and ministries are to center in the path of Jesus and nothing else. Determining the effectiveness of ministry based on how many butts are in the pews, how much money gets put in the offering plates, and how pleased people are with the pastor are not biblical criteria for church ministry.
Lent is a season that is designed for us to remember Jesus, to recognize that we belong to him, and to repent of anything that keeps us away from him. This is to happen on the corporate church level, as well as the personal individual plane. There cannot be the new life of Easter without the crucifixion of self. There will not be spiritual growth without dying to ourselves. Ministry can only be truly Christian when it follows in the way of Jesus.