Thus it is in the nature of a worldly person to seek refuge in the idea that he has worth in some worldly manner. And it is these forms of self-esteem and self-evaluation that are fraught with danger – as one knows, deep down, that there is almost certainly someone else – probably many – who would be better than one's self in any worldly respect. Of course, such slurs have no effect if they do not ‘hit the mark’ – i.e if they do not attack the man where he is vulnerable. For example, someone who stakes his pride on being a good footballer is unlikely to be offended if another suggests he is a terrible race-car driver – as that is not the arena where he is staking his claim (planting his pride). But for the worldly there needs to be some area in which a man (or woman) can think himself great, otherwise he will despair - for in the world’s eyes a person has only worth if he is great in some area: talented, or beautiful or famous. But the tenuous nature of such claims leaves the worldly person perpetually insecure. Fortunately there is another way. There is the way of Christ.
The way of Christ is entirely the opposite. Christ says that ‘the least is the greatest’ – that the man (or woman) who thinks he or she is the least talented, the least generous, is the one who is in fact ‘worth the most’. This strange paradoxical set of values is one of the beauties of God. It allows our otherwise insecure souls to take great comfort in our relative nothingness, to find solace in humility. It allows a soul to bask in the surety that it is better than no-one, and need not be good – let alone great – in any worldly way. Thus you can be accused of incompetence at work, and not be offended – for such competence is not important in a spiritual sense – and any worldly skills that might be so valued, have in fact only a temporal significance. Such humility also allows one to even take slurs on the attributes that one values without offence. For example, even if told that you lack love, are selfish, are proud etc. The follower of Christ will say – of course, I am – for by the standard I hold myself to I will always fall far short of – as that standard is the standard of perfection which can only be achieved by God. In fact, a true Christian will be thankful for such a reminder of his own inadequacies as it increases his humility, which is something he truly values, even as he struggles to maintain it.
So what then motivates such a person to be good, to try and perfect himself, if he knows the standard is impossible to achieve – that he can never be good enough, that he will always fail, that by his own efforts he cannot succeed. There are two aspects to this. The first is that he knows that although he cannot perfect himself, God can perfect him, so the standard can be achieved – although without much credit to him. But this is only one aspect. There is another, more important, and deeper motivation. It is the same motivation that makes a boy seek to please a girl he likes – that makes him seek to show her his best nature, his most appealing skills. It is the motive of love. The boy knows that he may not be the best tree climber, the best athlete, or have the kindest or most generous nature, but in his desire to please her, he will try his hardest, and hope it is enough to win her heart, at least she may love him for trying, for the effort, if not for the outcome. And such is the relationship of the Christian with Christ.