As a translation team, we have been going through the book of Matthew. Recently, we looked at Matthew 6:25, which says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” We paused on this verse to consider the word “life”, which had been translated “your existence in the world”. It is a translation of the Greek word “psyche”, which you might have heard before. It’s where we get in English words like “psychology” and “psychiatry”.
In our English Bibles, this word is usually translated one of two ways, either “life”, as in this passage, or “soul”. It surprised me to see these two words translating the same Greek word. In my mind, “life” and “soul” mean two different things. “Life” is external and physical, while “soul” is something internal and spiritual. So what is the connection? We began looking up other passages where the word “psyche” is used, and a new idea began to formulate in my mind. The connection between your “life” and your “soul” is the deepest part of yourself – your inner essence. It doesn’t mean “life” as is in what you do in your daily life, or even the fact that you are alive and breathing. Instead, it is what really defines you, at the core when everything else, even your body, is stripped away.
With this in mind, then, we came to Matthew 10:39 and 16:25. Matthew 10:39 says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”, and Matthew 16:25 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Before, I would have read these verses thinking that “finding your life” was something like the search for the good life – making money, getting a nice house, and buying whatever you want. “Saving your life” was something like avoiding difficulty or life-threatening situations so that you could literally not die.
But now I began to see something different. These verses are not talking about our physical external life; they are talking about our inner essence. I feel like in our American culture, we spend a lot of time trying to discover our inner essence – who are you really? A lot of my mom friends spend time trying to find a passion besides their children. Who am I really apart from being a mother? Even in the realm of gender and sexuality, many people are saying, who I really am is not defined by my body or by cultural norms. Instead, the deep inner part of myself says I am something different. We even tell it to children in school. The heroes of children’s literature and media step outside of traditional definitions to find who they truly are. You do you.
As I read this verse, I also realized that, more than just a search for definition, the search to define ourselves is a search for redemption. If we could know who we ARE, we could redeem ourselves. We wouldn’t need a savior, because we would be so strong and self-actuated that death and pain could never touch us. But, these verses are telling us that this just isn’t true. Those who try to redeem themselves by discovering their deep inner essence will ultimately lose. You can’t save yourself by determining your true identity. Instead, we must give up the search for our inner essence and follow Christ. And we will find in giving up our search for that inner essence that it will be revealed in Christ. He knows us truly, and He will truly, accurately, and fully reveal who we are at the core.
Giving up our own definition of ourselves is hard to do. It’s antithetical to everything our culture tells us. But it’s ultimately the sweetest act of surrender we can do, and it will lead to the deepest sense of self we can have.