One follows Jesus because if you follow anything else, no telling what foolishness you’ll end up in. One thing Jesus has taught me — and boy, it has taken me awhile to start to get a true grasp on this — is that the most satisfying thing is to help other people, and that if you set out to help other people He will be there to help as well. I have tried to use my skills as a lawyer to help persons charged with crimes. When you say something like that, people often think, why should anyone help criminals in prison, they don’t deserve it, and aren’t they pretty much beyond hope anyway? So let me point out something Jesus said. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, he tells a story about what will happen at the end of this world. He will welcome into his kingdom those who followed him, telling them “when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was sick, you cared for me, when I was in prison, you visited me ....” His followers ask, “When did we give you to drink, or give you food, or care for you when you were sick, or visit you in prison?” Jesus replies, “When you did it to the least, you did it unto me.” Jesus makes it clear that he cares about those who are in prison, even the least (which could include some pretty nasty characters), in fact he identifies with them and says he is there with them in prison. So who are we not to follow Jesus into places like prisons?
Of course Jesus can be with those in prison, and in many other places, because he was raised from the dead after he was crucified. His death on the cross and his resurrection set us free from our sins, the wrongs we have done, all of the ways we live and think and feel that are selfish and unloving and hurtful. If we trust him and follow what he says, he transforms our character and desires so that we love like he does and enter eternal life with him. This is the basic truth of our existence. Contrary to what the world thinks, the only true definition of success is following Jesus. Indeed, the only true definition of life is following Jesus.
Jesus’ command that we die to self is not a harsh demeaning command, it is the offer of life in the only place it can be found, with Jesus.