Mark 8:34 says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This verse used to really bother me. It sounded to me as though we were to meant to make ourselves nothing, as if we are all insignificant specks. I’ve never been able to swallow that.
Some Christians talk about this verse in just these terms. I’ve even heard Christians use this verse to justify letting people walk all over them or not following their dreams. “I’m nothing,” they were essentially saying, “so I will suffer because it’s what Jesus wants me to do.”
I can’t imagine that God made me with my abilities and interests only to say that I should not use what he gave me and be the man he made me to be. God didn’t give birds wings and then tell them not to fly. But for years I thought that this is what it meant to be a Christian, and it kept me away.
I have since learned the great paradox of our lives: Each of us is of infinite worth, yet each of us is as common and ordinary as a grain of sand on the beach.
If you question your infinite worth, consider that God said that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), sent Jesus to die so you could forever be close to God, and can and will have a deep and fulfilling relationship with you if you seek it.
But if we behave as though we have infinite worth, we come to think the world revolves around us, which naturally creates conflict. If we’re together and I want lunch but you would rather sit on the couch and chat, we must choose. If the world revolves around me then we’re off to a restaurant, but if the world revolves around you we stay home. Both can’t happen at the same time. One of us has to submit to the other.
Mark 8:34 is really about realizing your infinite worth but not claiming the rights and privileges that go with it. That does not mean we turn down those rights and privileges when we do get them; we just count them as gifts. And it does not mean we deny our needs. If we’re hungry, we do eventually need to go have lunch. If need be, we can delay it for a while, maybe a long while, for the sake of somebody else. Eventually we just have to eat! But meanwhile we can choose to submit to others for their sake.
Another way to look at this is that in submission, we let go of things having to be our way. We don’t retaliate when we’re wronged. We don’t go around necessarily lying down like doormats or putting ourselves in positions where we lose. We may even defend ourselves when necessary. But when things don’t go as we’d like, when we’re walked on or taken advantage of, when we’re flat out wronged, we don’t get even.
What this does for us is it frees us at last to value other people – to recognize each person’s infinite worth. And that’s the paradox. In order for us to recognize another’s infinite worth, we must relinquish the rights and privileges of having infinite worth ourselves!
This is what Jesus did for us on the cross, by the way. As the son of God, he had every right and privilege. Yet he submitted, for your sake, because he recognized your infinite worth.