S.I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
Are you a follower? How about as a Christian, how do you label yourself? Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? The Bible gives us many names: saints, children of God, disciples, followers of Jesus. What’s on your Facebook page profile? Read Matthew 4:18-22
Do you notice that follower of Jesus is more and more popular lately? Articles have been written and polls done to explain this trend. How come?
- We are action oriented and “follower” is more of an action word that describes a doer.
- Many people see the label “Christian” or “Evangelical” with a lot of baggage (especially political) and so want to be identified with Christ and not this baggage.
- The label “follower of Christ” seems to be a broad term. On the one hand a lot of faithful believers self-identify as followers of Christ, but there are also a lot of people who want more ecumenical cooperation who call themselves followers of Jesus too. Doctrinal division is taboo today while uniting over action is attractive.
Let’s start here: following Jesus is a great Biblical term, rich with spiritual meaning and theological drive. The Apostle Paul described himself in Acts 24:14 as “a follower of the Way”.
But, believers need to define terms because in many ways “follower of Jesus” is a Biblical term that like many others has been hijacked. People are quick to self-identify as followers of Jesus who want to sanctify a political or social justice cause. We need to be careful that “being a follower of Jesus” doesn’t create a snide attitude towards studying and standing on sound doctrine. And we need to understand that many Gospel-denying groups and people use this phrase to bolster a greater ecumenical cooperation in the world.
Christians, followers of Jesus, need to discern the message of the Jesus they are following. Otherwise, following Jesus runs the risk of following “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4). If you want to follow the real Jesus, here are 5.5 Biblical components of what it means to be following the crucified and risen Son of God.
#1: Following Jesus is a Response to His Call on Your Life
First, Following Jesus is a response to His call on your life. Jesus called His disciples, “Come, follow Me”. You aren’t following Jesus if you aren’t saved by Jesus. Living like a Christian can’t make you a Christian. Only believing in Jesus Christ can make you a Christian. So, the first step in following Jesus is to believe the Gospel. It has nothing to do with right living it has to do with right believing. If you want to be a true follower of the Way, an authentic follower of Jesus Christ, step 1 is to obey the command of God to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Discipleship – following Jesus – begins there. There are two mistakes that are made in this area. The first is to believe the Gospel and get saved but then not grow. The second is to never get saved but try to live a life of good Christian works.
The response to Christ’s call on your life is to let Him give you new life (salvation) but then let Him live His life through you (Galatians 2:20; discipleship, Christian living). That’s where learning His commands and teachings come in. Studying His words and His life and conforming to Him is a progressive and life-long enterprise. His ministry began with “follow me” and ended with the Great Commission: “Go, and teach them to obey all my commands”.
#2: Following Jesus Requires Submission to Him
Second, following Jesus means Submission to Him. Notice it’s Jesus saying to them, “Follow Me”, not, “Hey, I’ll follow you.” In a lot of ways today it seems like people want Jesus to follow them. They’re all about Jesus as long as Jesus is all about their agenda, their worldview, their opinions. What they’re doing is not following Jesus or submitting to Him, what they’re doing is making up Jesus as they go along. God isn’t defined by me. That’s why we have the revelation of His Word. God doesn’t follow anyone. We follow God.
And that means we submit to Him. We no longer “do what is right in our own eyes” or “turn aside to our own way”. We give up our rights to ourselves and give them to Him. He is our authority. We no longer hold the scepter of our lives and call our own shots. We have abdicated our own throne. He is now behind the wheel. Society doesn’t prize submission but listen: Christ does.
Turn over to Luke 9 with me and let’s see 3 people Jesus meets who had to learn that following Christ meant putting Him first.
Application: These guys wanted to follow Jesus but put Him second behind other things they wanted to do. Are you putting Jesus Christ 2nd to something in your life?
Application: It means doing what is right in His eyes no matter what it looks like in ours, or anyone else’s.
#3: Following Jesus will mean Sacrifice
Following Jesus will mean personal sacrifice. It says that immediately they left their nets and followed Him. They left their occupation, their father, their families. We also read in all 3 Synoptic Gospels that Matthew the tax collector did the same thing: when Jesus came by and told him to follow Him Matthew got up instantly from his tax booth, his lucrative career, and fell in line behind the Lord.
Jesus is very upfront about the sacrifices He expects His followers to make in order to follow Him. Jesus put the bar very high, and certainly didn’t seem to be applying good church growth models. For instance, He said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” He said in Matthew 10, “Anyone who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” To the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 he said, “Go sell all you have and then come follow me.” He said to the crowds, “Anyone who would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and then follow me.” Why do you call me Lord but do not obey my commands?
Our tendency is to think that because we want comfort and convenience for our kids that God wants that for us. He is not overly concerned about our having it easy. He is very interested in testing you to see if you really do put Him first. In other words will you sacrifice the things most important to you to keep Him first in your life? Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac. Job was ruined by God after Satan’s proposition. Peter was “sifted” by Satan. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh.
Sacrifice will have many faces:
–comfort & ease,
–promotion – today you are far more likely to suffer professionally for your faith than 10 years ago. Are you willing to stand for Christ and lose out economically? First Peter 2:19 says it is commendable when a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering.
-reputation – Followers of Christ will sacrifice their reputation with others if it means maintaining their reputation with Christ. First Peter 3:17 and 4:4.
–personal opinion – what is meant here is that Christ formulates my view on things now: doctrine, morals, values, etc. It used to be my opinions that mattered to me, but now that I follow Christ I learn from Him and conform to Him. Bottom line: when my thoughts on something conflict with the clear revelation of God’s Word in the Bible then I change my thoughts to line up with God’s.
This kind of sacrifice cannot be done out of a motivation to be religious. This comes from a heart that loves God more than anything else. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind.” Love God with everything you’ve got and you will love Him most. And whatever you love most you will put it before everything else.
What in your life are you not sacrificing that keeps coming before God? Is it a sin? Is it the opinions of others? Is it pride in yourself? Is it career advancement? Is it recreation? Sports? Or as Jesus said, Is it your kids? Your family? Your To Do list? Following Jesus means personal sacrifice to put Him first.
#4: Following Jesus so Others Follow Jesus
Following Jesus is so Others will Follow Him too. “Follow Me”, He said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus catches us and intends to catch others using us. We start out as the fish, but, once caught, He uses us as bait. Here you have a preview to the Great Commission. At the beginning of His ministry He commanded them to, “Come with Him to learn how to fish for men” and then at the end of His ministry He said, “Go and fish for men”. Jesus was calling them to follow Him because they would see things and learn things that the OT prophets longed to see but didn’t. They were chosen to be trained and sent out to into the world to be His witnesses. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are in Christ Jesus were opened up and given to them. And that treasure, all that is found in who Jesus is, was to be brought to the world.
We are to be like fungi. Last week I was reading the blog of Dr. Jay L. Wile, a former evolutionary atheist who says he converted to faith in Christ through a careful study of science. He has a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry and is a very able and ardent Christian apologist. Last week he had an interesting blog post describing the way nutrients in one tree can be transferred to another tree through fungi beneath the ground. The fungi around the tree’s roots give the tree nitrogen and the tree gives the fungi certain nutrients it needs. Now the ecosystem beneath the ground around trees is complex, and roots from one tree intermingle with the roots of others, and the fungi are mixed in to the whole thing as well. But the fungi are found to be the link between one tree and the next, transferring the nutrients from one tree to another, so that the goods in one tree are brought to surrounding trees.
Here’s what I’m saying: we’re like fungi. We are to be so close to the roots of our Lord Jesus Christ’s teachings, letting them dig deep down into the soil of our hearts. And the riches of the treasures of our Lord that we are receiving are not to stop with us. Instead, as we are all mixed in with the world, living life, we are to be those conduits of His Gospel and all His goodness to the surrounding world.
That’s why we’ve been called to follow Him – to call others to Him. Like Andrew went and got Peter. Like he went to go get Phillip. Like the demoniac who was healed by Christ went back to tell his hometown what Jesus did for Him. Like the woman at the well went back to her village to tell about Jesus. We follow Him so that others will follow Him. What God is doing in this world is bigger than us but it is being done through us. It’s not who you are – it’s who He is!
Who will follow Jesus because you are following Him?
#4.5: Following Jesus will lead to your Reward
Turn with me to Matthew 19. Following Jesus will be Rewarded. Everyone was still watching the rich young ruler walk away and go back home to his wealth and insecurity. He wouldn’t leave his money to follow Jesus. So, Peter asks the question in verse 27.
The heart of this question is: Does following Jesus pay? Does it have a return for the investment I’m making? All the sacrifice, all the cost, all the hardship, all the self-denial? IS IT WORTH IT? Jesus answers him in verses 28-30.
There is nothing sacrificed now on earth that can begin to compare with the reward that will come.