Jesus was not suggesting that we should daily seek to get ourselves killed. Dying isn’t something that can be done on a daily basis. He is referring to the attitude of mind with which we live our daily lives.
Jesus understood there to be an inverse relationship between importance in this world and importance in his Father’s world. As he put it, “The one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Think of the way that fractions work in maths: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8. The bigger the number in the bottom half of the fraction, the smaller the resulting number. This is how Jesus understood human life. This life is like the bottom half of a fraction. The greater we become in the ways of this world, the lesser we become in ways of God.
To look at it the other way round: the only way to become significant in God’s kingdom is by daily resolving to be unimportant in this world. The simplest application of this principle is to consider other people’s needs as more important than our own. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
In Jesus' day, a man or woman seen carrying a cross was on a one-way journey towards being nothing. Their reputation was in tatters, their assets had almost certainly been seized, and they themselves were about to suffer an agonising and humiliating death. This is the path that Jesus had chosen for himself, because he knew it would benefit us. He was about to become nothing in the eyes of this world in order to achieve an unimaginable gain for the work of God.
If we wish to learn from Jesus, we must learn to put others before ourselves, especially those others who are not valued or cared for by the society around us.
the life and loves of a disciple of Jesus
by Robert Harrison