We can better understand that context as we read the verse directly preceding this one:
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." (Luke 9:24)And the word translated to "life" here is the Greek word ψυχή (psychē) - which means, according to the lexicon, "the breath of life - 1) the vital force which animates the body;" and "a living being, a living soul;" and "the soul."
Thus we have some understanding of the context by which Jesus is discussing "their very self."
This indicates that the "self" Jesus is discussing is the "vital force which animates the body," the "living being" and the "soul."
The soul is not an organ
Most of us think of the "soul" as being some sort of organ - like a heart or something. They think of it as something that can be given away or lost, as in "he gave his soul to the devil" or "I lost my soul." But when we understand that we are the living being within the physical body - we are the soul - then we can know that we cannot be separated from it.
And Jesus indicates this here as he equates ψυχή (psychē) - the soul or living being - with the self.
Yet Jesus does indicate here that we can lose our self. Does this mean that we lose it like we might lose our keys? No. Jesus is using this term metaphorically. To lose our self means that we become lost. We become lost within materialism.
The fundamental understanding we must have here is that we are not these physical bodies. The physical body is a possession. We are driving this body just as we might drive a car or fly a plane. The body is a vehicle of the living being.
This is why the body becomes lifeless at death. At the time of death the living being - the spirit-person within - leaves the physical body. When this spirit-person leaves - the body becomes lifeless.
This means we must understand our actual identity. Here we are confusing our temporary physical body with our identity. If our body happens to be 16 years old, we identify ourselves as a teenager. But when the body ages, we can no longer call ourselves a teenager. We will have an old body on, and then will have to identify ourselves as an elderly person.
But did we really become different people during that time between our body's teens and elderly years? Are we really different? Our body has changed, but we still feel we are the same person. This is because we are the same person within. Only the body has aged.
In the same way, we might drive a Ford truck but we don't think we are a Ford truck. Our Ford truck might get old and someday we will sell it.
In the same way, our physical body will get old and die some day. Then we will leave it behind.
So understanding we are not these bodies also means we must face the fact that we are not material. We are spirit in essence - we are from the spiritual realm.
But if we get wrapped up in our body's temporary identity we can easily get lost in it. We can easily forget about ourselves being spiritual beings, as we focus on materialism. This is precisely what Jesus meant when he said:
"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?"
To "gain the whole world" is a metaphorical statement.
Gaining the "whole world" doesn't literally mean that we will possess the entire world - that would be preposterous.
What it means is becoming mesmerized by our reputation, our money, our possessions, our family and our accomplishments. It means the physical world and its trappings become our "whole world." We see nothing else because we are so focused upon them that we do not see anything else:
- We do not see that there is a Supreme Being who is always there for us.
- We do not see that God is our Best Friend.
- We do not see that we are lonely and empty without our relationship with God.
- We do not see that we are lost without our loving relationship with the Supreme Being - the Perfect Person we are perpetually seeking.
We might compare this to going to a movie. When we first walk into the theater the lights are on and we can see that there are a lot of people sitting in the many seats in the theater.
But once the lights are turned off and the movie starts to play, we begin to focus upon the screen. As we do this - and get involved with the drama playing out on the screen - we begin to forget all the people who are sitting around us. Eventually, as the movie continues, we will get lost within the movie and almost completely forget everything else for awhile, as we empathize with the actors and their parts in the movie.
This is practically the same as our current situation, as we have become so focused upon the trappings of the physical world. We focus upon the various events of our lives and the lives of our body's family and so-called friends - that we forget our spiritual identities.
And we forget our Best Friend God.
This ability to forget our actual identity within the physical world is God's arrangement. He has set up this programming. We might compare this to the arrangement of the theater. The seats are arranged so that the movie screen appears gigantic and bright, with a great sound system. And the lights are turned off and the seats are very comfortable. These are all done to enhance the movie experience - helping us get lost within the movie.
In the same way, God has programmed the physical world in such a way that allows us to easily forget ourselves and become lost within this world. Why?
Because we wanted to get away from God. We wanted to escape from Him. We wanted to be independent of Him. This is because we wanted to enjoy ourselves separately from Him.
Yes - we rejected God in the spiritual realm. We became rebellious, and like a rebellious teen, we wanted to get away from home and go out on our own. We saw God as enjoying everything and we wanted to enjoy some stuff on our own. So this is what God gave us. He gave us these temporary bodies and this temporary world so that we could pretend for a while.
The only problem is that we are not these physical bodies and this is not our home. It is like some actors thinking they can live forever on their movie set. Because it is all pretend - it is a facade - they cannot stay on the movie set. The set will be dismantled after they make the movie.
In the same way, this physical world is a facade in that it isn't our permanent home. Everything here is dissolving, changing, disintegrating and decomposing. And we are just passing through - just as we might be passing through an airport or train station.
Yet we know deep inside that we are permanent, and that we have a home - somewhere. This is why we each look for that right home throughout our lives. We want to go to our permanent home.
Deep inside we each want to return to the spiritual realm. This is where our permanent home is. This is where real love is found.
So when will we be able to return to our real home? When we are ready. You see, it is not as if we can go back to the spiritual realm the way we are now. We can't go back there thinking that we're going to be some kind of hero - king of the world or president or big business tycoon. Those false identities won't work there. There is only one Supreme Being in the spiritual realm. And none of us are Him.
Our real identities in the spiritual realm relate to love and service. You see, we are each a servant and playmate of God - each having a unique loving service relationship with Him. We are God's subjects. We may want to be in God's role, but that is not our real role. We were created by God to give Him pleasure.
And that is what actually gives us real pleasure. When we are loving God and serving God we feel pleasure. When we are acting selfishly, we feel empty, and lost.
And this is precisely why Jesus' most important teaching was:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)