When Jesus tells us to follow him he doesn’t mean to subscribe to his updates on social media. ‘Follow’ has come to mean a click of a button that indicates a momentary interest in reading other things someone has written. The truth is we can’t really follow thousands of people. All too soon our social media feed becomes clogged with stuff we are simply not interested in. Jesus is calling for us to follow him in a much stronger sense. He commands us to follow only him:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24–25)
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)
“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:22)
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21)
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
A disciple is quite simply a follower of someone else. Following Jesus is about a series of tiny decisions that we make every single day of our lives. We decide a thousand times a day to either follow Jesus’ way, or to slavishly follow the World as it is inspired by the Enemy, while we are deluded into thinking we are going our own way. Every time we make a wrong decision it takes us further away from our Maker, and even a small positive decision will take us a step closer back to Him.
I was once told that in Eastern countries if you ask directions to somewhere you want to go, then instead of giving a list of ‘turn right here…keep going till you see a shop and then turn left’ or perhaps helping you program the SatNav on your phone, people will sometimes respond ‘I am the way’ and take you to your destination themselves. Although the Bible does give us a lot of commands, rather than giving us all the directions we need in written form to get to heaven, Jesus says “I am the way” and bids us follow him. There is no other way to get to the Father. No other route home for our souls. No other direction that will ultimately satisfy our deepest longings.
When Jesus told his disciples to follow him, they typically left everything behind and literally followed him. Following of Jesus may not always be as literal now as it was for the disciples. Indeed in Jesus’ day he even told some people not to literally follow him. One many asked to follow him, and instead he said
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
Whilst Jesus still does call some to forsake their jobs and work for him full-time in the Kingdom, not everyone should give up work. As John Piper put it:
“God’s will is for his people to be scattered like salt and light among the whole range of secular vocations. Enclaves of Christians living only with Christians and working only with Christians would not accomplish God’s whole purpose in the world” John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life.
We are, however, all called to serve a new Master. So, we may be encouraged by our new Lord to remain in place, doing what we did before we started to follow him, But he calls for us to have a higher loyalty towards him than we do to anyone on Earth. In fact he calls us to no longer think only of how to please our human employers, friends, and family, but to do whatever we do FOR HIM.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Jesus prayed for his followers in John 17:15–16, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” So we can quite rightly consider ourselves as God’s special agents in a fallen World.
If Jesus is now our Master, and we follow Him, then we are called to renounce our hold on everything. If we no longer earn any money or possessions, we are instead to be stewards entrusted with what we previously thought of as our possessions, money, and all our talents by Another. We must count the cost of a decision to follow Jesus. It is no small thing.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)
When Jesus talks about taking up a cross, he is referring to crucifixion. To us dying to ourselves. Dying to all our desires. All our sense of self-justification and entitlement. The truth is we deserve nothing except death. A dead man doesn’t complain or argue. A dead man doesn’t fight for his rights. A dead man is not trying to improve himself. A dead man has no capacity to express their own desires. A dead man has no ability to stop whatever someone else wants to do to them. Christ calls us to die to our own desires and live for him. The Apostle Paul explains this concept as follows:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
The paradox is that it is only as we give up our striving and freely chose to die in this way, and follow Jesus, that we know true freedom! We were designed to live for another, not to try and not to get to the end of our lives and sing ‘I did it my way!‘ to quote Frank Sinatra. Actually trying to do it our own way is a recipe for slavery to the Enemy of our souls. Doing it Jesus way is liberating and fulfilling.
Those who walk most closely with Jesus, and who seem to others to have given up the most, by the end of their lives all seem to say with one voice ‘I gave up nothing!’ As one example, read the words of one of the most famous missionaries of all time, who invested his life in Africa, following the call of Jesus on his life:
“…People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger nowand then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. “ (David Livingstone’s Private Journal: 1851-53, ed. I. Schapera) (London: Chatto & Windus, 19600, pp. 108, 132, cited online)
At times, following Jesus can feel like a sacrifice. But his promise is that he has come not to destroy our lives, not to cause us to be depressed, and disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the temporary pleasures of this World. Jesus tells us boldly:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)
Don’t listen to the lies of the thief. What starts as pleasure ends in pain. The illicit momentary joy that sin offers, can lead to a lifetime of regret. The Thief wants us to believe that he is giving us a better life than those ‘sad repressed Christians’. But the truth is, like a drug dealer offering young people free samples, his desire is not to make us happy, but to cause us to be addicted to what he can offer.
In God’s economy the way up is down. The way to riches passes sometimes through poverty. The way to an eternal joy passes often through sickness and suffering in this world.
Jesus promises that he will be with us, and he will make even suffering sweet with his presence. But no matter how much we may feel like we have sacrificed to follow him, no matter how hard things get, he promises us that if we choose to follow him, he will bring us with him to the Father for ever:
“You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
“Your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:12).
When Jesus calls his followers, he says that he will make them fishers of men. His call to us too today is to be a follower of Jesus, who calls others to follow Jesus too.
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” ( 1 Corinthians 11:1,KJV )
Modern translations of that verse will often use the word ‘imitate‘ or ‘follow my example‘ which is really the whole point. When people look at our lives, they should see us as ‘mini Christs’ which is exactly what the word Christian means. If Jesus died, then we should expect to die both figuratively now, and literally at a time not of our own choosing. If he was rejected, we should expect that too. If he was gentle, meek, and lowly so should we be. If he was actually the strongest man alive, then so should we be. If he loved others, so should we. If he gave up the privilege of heaven to serve us, then we should also make sacrifices to serve others too.
Jesus says ‘follow me’ and calls us to a lifetime of sacrifice. But he promises us, alongside hardships, great rewards both now, and in the age to come.
Will you follow Him?
I will close this article with a quote from John Piper’s chapter on this command:
“If you follow Jesus only because he makes life easy now, it will look to the world as though you really love what they love, and Jesus just happens to provide it for you. But if you suffer with Jesus in the pathway of love because he is your supreme treasure, then it will be apparent to the world that your heart is set on a different fortune than theirs . . . Let the call to follow Jesus be clear and honest. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is costly, and it is worth it.” John Piper
This series was inspired by the book What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper. Why not join me in reading through this book in 2018?
Don’t miss the rest of this series on The Commands of Jesus,
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