From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 8:27-35
Jesus’ call to radical self-denial is not mere fatalism, a grim resignation to harsh fate. Nor is he saying that suffering and death should be accepted as good in themselves. Rather, the Christian paradox is that death is the way to the fullness of life. The Greek word for life, psychē, can also be translated “soul” or “self.”
On one level Jesus is warning of the temptation to deny him under threat of persecution (see 8:38), a very real temptation for the early Christians in Mark’s audience. But to wish to save one’s life means more than merely avoiding physical death. It means being so ruled by the human instinct for self-protection and self-promotion that all other values have lesser priority. Such attachment to self will lead only to corruption of the self, and ultimately to eternal death.
The positive side of the equation is that whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will save it. The only way to preserve oneself—to attain the ultimate fulfillment for which we are created—is to be willing to give oneself away. With the phrase for my sake, the absoluteness of Jesus’ claim appears for the first time.
Jesus is asking more than any general ever asked of his soldiers or any religious leader ever asked of his adherents. He is not merely demanding a willingness to die for a great cause; he is calling for an unconditional, personal allegiance to himself. Whoever loses his life is to do so for the sake of Jesus and his good news. No greater motive is necessary or possible. But this is the very thing that Jesus will do for us: he will give his life (psychē) as a ransom for many (10:45).