Dealing with our misguided need for significance

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The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Mark 1:22

Jesus Christ is the most significant human to have ever lived. He was the Word made flesh, living among those he created and redeemed by his own blood.

The Lamb that was slain at the foundation of the world came down from Heaven to fulfill a mission of which he alone was capable. He knew who he was and exactly why he was on earth. He humbled himself by laying aside his deity as if it were a coat and submitted himself to undeserved suffering at the very hands of those for whom he came to save.

Everything Jesus said and did was in perfect obedience to the Father’s will. That was the sole driving force in his life. He was totally intentional, totally committed to the mission put before him.

It is no wonder that he spoke with such authority. Those words came straight from the Father’s heart and out of the Lord’s mouth. There were no ego issues to overcome. Jesus wasn’t worried about what people might think of him. In fact, his only concern was that they might declare him king before his mission was accomplished.

The crown of thorns had to precede the crown of glory. He understood the evil ignorance of mankind and never entrusted himself to anybody’s manipulation, nor to their praise. To not be recognized, received, affirmed, nor appreciated was a part of the necessary suffering he would have to endure.

That must have been a serious challenge to his humanity. Yet, he fully submitted himself to the personal pain of all of that. Sometimes, we forget that not all of his suffering took place on the cross.

It is so difficult for us humans to grasp the concept of humility. We fail to experience the incredible power available to us when our personal significance ceases to be our primary focus.

Most of us live with some degree of nagging fear that we will not be loved, appreciated, understood, recognized, or received. We wrestle with that fear and the sneaking suspicion that somehow, we may be a “nobody,” rather than the hero we wish we were.

Our culture encourages us to be all we can be and to make a difference in our family and community. Self-esteem easily becomes our foremost concern and from the quest to achieve it we can find ourselves lost in painful disappointment. Sin is sneaky like that.

Sometimes we say and do things with the subtle motivation of drawing attention to our own goodness, intelligence, or other possessed quality (virtue signaling). We all long to be somebody important, yet always seem to come up short. True righteousness, however, needs no recognition. God is our ultimate judge at the end of it all.

The teachers of the Law probably meant well. They sincerely believed that they knew the Word of God and were qualified, as well as authorized, to teach it. Some of them were most likely good at it. But they all got in their own way of articulating the clear and clean message that God was sending through them. Their human need to be important detracted from the authority of the words they spoke and the good works they did.

Jesus speaks to our misguided need for significance. He is brutally direct when he says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Denying oneself can be difficult. No… in fact, it is impossible apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Denying ourselves is not a matter of keeping some godly rules and exercising good spiritual habits.

Not that there is anything wrong with such practices… it’s simply that they have no power in themselves to make us righteous.

We feel good about ourselves when we faithfully do them and depressed about ourselves when we don’t. The “self” thing keeps being our main issue. How can we truly lose our life while remaining alive? How do we preserve our redeemed self while dumping our unrighteous one?

I think the Apostle Paul found the secret. He was a man with plenty of “self” issues. I’m sure his great zeal must have been annoying to many. He often boasted. He often manipulated people. He even got into a bitter dispute with the “Son of Encouragement” (Barnabus) over forgiveness, of all things! It’s not like he was a perfect reflection of Jesus Christ.

But he always knew that his main struggle was with his own sin. He realized that he was saved solely by his faith in God’s grace, and not in his ability to always do the right thing. His salvation, like ours, was only secured by the blood of Jesus. That’s all we really have. Everything else is pretty much nothing in comparison.

So, what was Paul’s secret to self-denial? It is found in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In other words, I (self) am dead. I was crucified with Christ. I am no longer an issue. Christ is now my life by faith. He already validated me by his love and his atoning death on a cross over two thousand years ago. That love is new every morning.

It makes it possible to pick up my cross daily and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to pay whatever price necessary to follow the lover of my soul and my only hope for eternal life.

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]