“And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14)
So you want to be a Christian? You have confessed, repented, and trusted in Christ as your Savior — now what? Most would immediately say that you must now “follow” Jesus.
But can we ask the honest question of what that really looks like? It may be agreed upon that different people give different answers to the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?”
What “Following” Jesus Is Not
In our day and culture, some may adopt a “flu-shot” attitude toward Christianity — this is a “already-done-that” mentality. For these, “following” Jesus looks no differently than their lives before the Gospel, only now they have a free ticket out of Hell to keep tucked away safely, a reward of saying that prayer long ago.
Others may choose Jesus as an add-on to life: just enough of him in there to bless them with stuff. They choose the “Jesus, and…” route, dragging him along with them while they chase their other desires. Basically, “following” Jesus is using him as a means to an end — as a magical genie to get stuff.
The “prosperity gospel” falls under the latter, and Lance Rodman just published a great article on its destructive nature — you can read that here.
What It Means to Follow Jesus: Two Parts
More examples could be given and each deserves its own response, but not here. Instead, let’s take a look at what the Lord Jesus himself said about the subject.
“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)
Here, Jesus gives a great crowd “the scoop” on what it takes to be a disciple. He pulls no punches and gives them exactly what they need to hear. Just as it meant for them, this text tells us that following Jesus involves laying down all we have and taking up one thing.
Losing What You Can’t Keep
Whenever Jesus talked about discipleship, he always spoke of losing something. Luke 14 is another example of this—it challenges those who would follow Jesus to be willing to give up some things:
Relationships (Luke 25:25-26): While not referring to literal hatred, Jesus demanded such devotion from his followers that no other relationship would come close to interfering with it (Luke 16:13).
Our Own Life (Luke 25:26b): Even one’s own life was to be held as nothing compared to their devotion to Christ (Acts 20:24). To follow Jesus is to deny self and even expect loss of life, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously put it,
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Comfort (Luke 25:27): Following Jesus does not guarantee any sort of health, wealth, or comfort. In fact, Jesus promised his followers suffering instead. (Matt. 10:38) A cross is heavy, burdensome, and may kill you.
Expectations (Luke 25:28-32): Jesus called for those who would follow to sacrifice their own expectations and seriously count the cost. Many carry their own vision into Christianity, and many are surprised at what they find. Often it is not what we expect.
All You Have (Luke 25:33): To conclude, Jesus throws a blanket statement over it all just to be clear. If one is not willing to give up everything, they cannot be his follower. (Philippians 3:7-8)
Gaining What You Can’t Lose
Are you willing to give everything up? Good — but it doesn’t stop here. Many people have, of their own will, given up everything they have. There is nothing uniquely Christian about that. There is another part, not just a laying down but also a taking up.
Jesus’ invitation does not end with “renounce all you have,” but with “follow me.” And following implies movement. While you lay down all you have, you must also take up a greater passion and possession— the presence and glory of Christ! The reason for laying aside all else is so that your life may be filled with that which will give you most joy and fulfillment! (Psalm 16:11)
So you want to be a Christian? So you want to follow Jesus? Then lay down everything you have and pursue him with your whole heart!