by Bob Wilkin
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Matt 16:24–27
When I was in an extreme Lordship Salvation boy’s club, I viewed these verses as meaning that in order to get into heaven I had to 1) deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ, and 2) I had to continue doing that perfectly until I died. I thought that if I committed one sin after being saved then I would lose my salvation and then I could never get it back.
I came to faith through a young man named Warren Wilke, with Campus Crusade for Christ. I met with him for an hour or more a week for five consecutive weeks. He kept quoting Eph 2:8-9, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” I would say, “Yes, but what about this other passage (e.g., James 2:14-26)?” And Warren would give an explanation and then say, but whatever that means it can’t contradict Eph 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
I asked about one difficult and confusing passage week after week. Warren would explain then quote Eph 2:8-9 again. I bet he quoted Eph 2:8-9 fifty times in five meetings. By the end of our fifth session, I believed. I knew I was saved once and for all and that I could never lose it because it was by faith in Christ, not of works. I did not understand many texts like Matt 16:24-25. But I knew there must be an explanation.
Here is a very brief explanation I later learned. Peter had a few minutes before made his great confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (Matt 16:16). But then, after Jesus told Peter and the rest of the disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to be killed (Matt 16:21), Peter blundered by rebuking Jesus (Matt 16:22). Then Jesus rebuked Peter (Matt 16:23) and that led to Him saying, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
The issue here is coming after Jesus, discipleship, not coming to Jesus, new birth (e.g., John 6:35).
The condition is works, not faith.
While the consequence is indeed saving one’s life (Matt 16:25-26), that refers primarily to eternal rewards in the life to come as Matt 16:27 makes clear: “He will reward each according to his works.” Remember, “not of works” in Eph 2:9 and “according to his works” in Matt 16:27. Unless Scripture contradicts Scripture—which it does not, then the salvation, or deliverance, is different in those two passages.
The only way to have fullness of life forever (and now, though that is not the primary sense of this passage) is by living for Christ, not self. That is how Peter blundered that day. The death of Jesus did not fit his plans.