John 12:25 is a key text in the Bible when Jesus says: The one who loves life will loose it, but the one who hates life will win it for eternity. The same text with similar wordings is also found in Luke 9:25 and Matthew 10:39. It was deemed important enough by the Gospel writers to put these words of Jesus in their Gospels.
The words Sound quite harsh and even more so, also controversial. At face value, when Jesus wants us to hate our lives in order to win it for eternity we all better stop doing anything we like, and seek martyrdom at the earliest opportunity. Because that’s what is says in Matthew and Luke; those who loose their life for Christ’s sake will save it.
But, if we believe life is really only to be hated, why then made God life? When we believe that God made us as crown of His creation, as it says in Genesis, why then should He asks us to hate it. Our God is not a God of hate. God even sent His Beloved into the world because He loves us as He made us to His likeness. Out of love Jesus Christ gave His life for us and not because He hates us. It’s against the whole of God’s character and of Jesus’s ministry to focus on hate, or hating our lives the core message of the whole Gospel.
The text from John 12:25 is in need of some nuance and this nuance begins with a closer look into what Jesus means with ‘Life’.
In the original Greek text of John 12:25, the word used for life is the so called psuche or soul. But, we have to be careful here, because the psuche as soul has a Greek philosophical meaning and not a Hebrew one. Jesus was not a Greek, but a Jew and the Jewish philosophy was not the same as the Greek.
We can be quite sure that Jesus spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic which is a Hebrew dialect, so He used words expedient to His hearers. But, John, Matthew and Luke, writing their Gospel, used this Greek word psuche to explain what Jesus meant when He spoke about life.
The word psuche is not alien to the Hebrew or Jewish people. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the word psuche is not uncommon.
When used for people the word psuche denotes a kind of life principle driving action of every type. We often call it the soul, but the soul in Jewish thinking means the whole human being in its entirety including all responsibilities. Someone's soul is therefore someone’s self, and it denotes the living person in thought, decision and action.
Later rabbinic teaching declares the body from earth and the soul from heaven and the soul dwells in the body like a guest, leaving the body at death. Then at the resurrection, body and soul are reunited and forms a unity again standing in responsibility to God.
A Rabbi's parable about 150AD puts it this way: When a blind man puts a lame man on his shoulder and both steal the fruits in an orchard, both are judged simultaneously; in the same way body and soul will be judged together.
The importance of the psuche, or soul, as the main instrument of making choices is for example seen in John 10:24. In this part, the Pharisees ask Jesus how much longer He will keep them in suspense whether He is the Christ or not. In the Greek, the same word psuche is used again, when the pharisees ask their question. So it shows how the psuche is the place where a decision is made for or against Jesus Christ.
Before finishing the question about how psuche denotes life, one question has to be answered first. And this is about what it means to hate life, in order not to loose it in eternity.
Returning back to John 12:25, there is a kind of wordplay in the original text. It says: The one who loves - philoon - his life will lose it, but the one who hates - misoon - his life in this cosmos/creation will keep it in eternal life. Although misoon is translated as hate, its original meaning is less harsh. Miso(on) denotes the opposite of liking something, rather than hating it. In Greek miso before another word means the dislike of it, but not so much to hate it. Whereas the philo-love in the Bible is not an overwhelming love, in the same sense, miso-hate is not an absolute hate. It is rather about what is important or not important in someone's life.
Conclusively, we might say that understanding the word psuche and its relation to love and to hate is essentially not doing what you want to do yourself first, but looking to what God expects us to do in how we live our lives responsible in the light of His word and commandments.
This then relates very closely to psuche as the force that drives us in our innermost being. The decision to walk with God is a free choice made by our psuche or soul.
It is to each of us to choose whether we put our trust in God, through Christ Jesus, or not. What drives us is the first question in whatever we do. Is it out of love for God or out of love for ourselves.