“Follow Jesus”. It’s a phrase that we throw around a lot, but what does it really mean? What does it mean to follow Jesus versus follow the things of this world? How do we know we are following Jesus and what does that mean for our day-to-day life?
Define “Follow Jesus”
Jesus defines what it means to ‘follow him’ through a few different interactions. First, we have the example of a Torah teacher who wanted to follow Jesus.
A Torah-teacher approached and said to him, “Rabbi, I will follow you wherever you go.” Yeshua said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds flying about have nests, but the Son of Man has no home of his own.” Another of the [disciple] said to him, “Sir, first let me go and bury my father.” But Yeshua replied, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)
From this interaction, we learn about the sincerity and urgency one must have when they follow Jesus.
Jesus warns the teacher that there is no place to ‘hide’ when you follow him. The world will likely have issues with the way you live and the beliefs you hold, and when you are truly following Christ you are doing so unapologetically meaning there is no place to run. If we only follow Christ when it’s convenient, than we lack the sincerity Christ teaches. In the most practical sense, you can see why Christ would demand a level of sincerity. How strong of a witness would it be if instead of standing by our faith in troubling times or against persecution, we caved to the things of this world. Doesn’t that mean that this world is more powerful than our God? Through our sincerity, God is glorified which is why it is demanded of all who follow Christ.
After the teacher, another individual approaches Christ and is turned away for what seems like a reasonable excuse: let me bury my father. There are a lot of theories as to the circumstances the disciple was describing, but no one knows for certain. Some think his father had just passed while others think he was expecting his father to pass at some time in the future. Regardless, Jesus’ response communicates a sense of urgency about the call to follow him. We can’t wait for “the right time to follow Christ” because the right time is always “now”. Think of this: do any of us know when the end-times will begin? If you believe in the Bible, the answer is a resounding “no”. Because we never know when our end, or creations end, will occur it is imperative that we waste no time in following Christ. Our salvation and the salvation of those around us depend on it.
In another story, we learn of the exclusive nature of following Christ.
A man approached Yeshua and said, “Rabbi, what good thing should I do in order to have eternal life?” He said to him, “Why are you asking me about good? There is One who is good! But if you want to obtain eternal life, observe the [law].” The man asked him, “Which ones?” and Yeshua said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony honor father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; where do I still fall short?” Yeshua said to him, “If you are serious about reaching the goal, go and sell your possessions, give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me!” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was wealthy. (Matthew 19:16-22)
Probably one of the most misinterpreted excerpts in the Bible, this section is not directly talking about wealth. The problem with the rich man was that he valued his wealth too much to give it up for God. What we learn from this is that God doesn’t want to share affection. Whatever we do, we do through God not parallel to pursuing God. It’s a picture of exclusivity, but I want to be careful about how it is stated. One youth asked the question, “So does that mean that if I want to follow Christ I can’t play basketball?” I’ll admit, the question caused me to stumble over my words a bit. What I [eventually] got across to the student is that God doesn’t “hate” all of our hobbies and occupations that don’t directly involve him. Think about this: if everyone out there did nothing but sit on their knees all day and worship God, who would grow food or build homes? God calls us all to different occupations and casual pursuits and those things are “good” as long as we do them while understanding that those things aren’t #1 in our lives. It’s only when those things start competing with our affection for God that they become an issue.
When you put everything together, you get the image of follow Jesus that involves a sense of sincerity, urgency, and exclusivity.
When you look at this three-worded definition of ‘following Jesus’, you begin to form this picture of a life that doesn’t have a lot of room for compromise. Simply put, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room between Jesus and the way the world wants us to view casual religion. Following Jesus is an all-or-nothing proposition.
The biggest reason why Jesus wants us to pursue him instead of the things of this world is because everything else simply doesn’t matter that much. In the words of Christ, why good does it do us if we gain the whole world through our worldly hobbies and occupation, but we lose our soul due to failing to prioritize God?
Then to everyone he said, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution-stake daily and keep following me. For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life on my account will save it. What will it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but destroys or forfeits his own life? For if someone is ashamed of me and of what I say, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)
So what does it mean to have an all-or-nothing faith? We can boil this faith down into three things.
First, it means we realize there is a single God of our lives. Of course we shouldn’t have literal gods other than Christ, but what about material gods? This goes back to prioritizing God over worldly things. It’s not awful if we want to pursue sports, arts, and academics but we have to acknowledge that those things are not ‘gods’ to us so they always play second to where Jesus is leading us.
Second, it means we recognize that there is a single truth. There aren’t other “halfway” methods to achieve grace that go outside of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. There is a lot of bad religion out there that tries to resolve opinions that people have culturally with the teachings of Christ, but truly following Christ means recognizing that there is no other way to the Father (Heaven) other than the Son (Jesus).
Third, it means realizing that there is value in our faith. This really reinforces the idea that God is #1 in our lives. If we are truly putting value on following Christ, than nothing else can seduce us to less valuable pursuits. What becomes the draw of power, wealth, and popularity if we truly believe that our walk with Christ is something more valuable than gold itself?
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7)
The all-or-nothing faith is not something that seems easy now and not something that may even seem to make rational sense to the world. Why pursue the love and affection of something unseen when you are smart enough or talented enough to gain the benefits of this world? That’s weird to people. It may seem weird to many of you but that is precisely the type of perspective we must wrestle with. Having faith in Christ and truly following him means understanding that God provides something far more glorious than this world and letting that knowledge… letting that faith… drive us through our daily lives.