One of the striking things about the teachings of Jesus is the way He gets to the heart of every issue. There is no better illustration than the following: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). According to the context, Jesus is talking about the value of the soul of a person, not his physical body. In reality, man is a soul. In the beginning, God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness…And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (a living soul, KJV)” (Gen.1:26; 2:7). The questions Jesus raised in Matthew 16:26 have some sobering implications:
1. Humans possess an eternal, immortal nature. Mankind has a physical body and a soul or spirit. When a man dies, the spirit leaves the body (Jas. 2:26). Observe that James said “the body without the spirit is dead,” not the spirit without the body is dead. The word of God teaches us that “the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). Jesus speaks of “both soul and body” in Matthew 10:28. Such false philosophies as atheism, humanism, and evolution deny this truth—-that man has a soul or spirit. This makes man merely a physical creature with no more soul or spirit than a rock.
2. The soul is our most priceless possession. It is worth more than all material things combined. It is of divine origin (Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:9), eternal in duration (Matt. 25:46; Mk. 9:43-46), and can transcend earthly relationships (Jn. 4:24). Concerning the soul, the Apostle Peter stated: “…you were not redeemed with corruptible things…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot…Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit…having been born again not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:18-23).
3. The soul can be sold or exchanged. Some people exchange their souls for pleasure (2 Tim. 3:4). Others sell out for popularity, loving the approval of men more than the praise of God (Jn.12:43). Many exchange their souls for the love of the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Then there are those who trade their souls for error and the false philosophies of men (Col. 2:8). Others trade their souls for material prosperity (Lk. 12:16-21).
4. Whatever the exchange, it is foolish and costly. The world and all that is in it can never satisfy the deep, vital need of the soul in order to be at peace with God. This world and all its material contents will ultimately be destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). At death we must leave everything behind. The Apostle Paul stated: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7).
5. There is no loss as tragic as that of the soul. The loss of health, of a child, of one’s family, of one’s life in attempting to gain the “whole world” would be tragic enough, but they are not comparable to the losing of one’s soul. The damnation of the soul is a multiple loss: the beauties of heaven are forfeited and the agonies of hell must be endured forever. A lost soul in hell is everlastingly abandoned “from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thes. 1:9); there is no help or hope for such a horrible condition. A soul in hell is lost for all eternity!
What could possibly be more important to us than to obey “the gospel of Christ…the power of God to salvation” (Rom. 1:16) and do whatever the Lord commands and teaches in the New Testament for our soul’s eternal salvation. Jesus, while on earth, stated: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10).