From the start of Jesus’ ministry, His message was "follow me." He made the first invitation to a set of fishermen brothers named Simon and Andrew on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18-19). He followed with a similar invitation to another set of fishermen brothers named James and John (Matthew 4:21-22). These men responded and became some of His closest followers. The same invitation was made to individuals as well as crowds all through His ministry. This same invitation is being offered to people today, including you.
It’s important that we understand what Jesus means when He invites us to follow Him. In our culture, following can be as passive as clicking "like" on a social media platform. From a Biblical perspective, following is radically different. Consider Jesus statement and the original Greek word:
- Matthew 16:24 "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" The Greek work for "follow' is akoloutheō. It means to accompany, to be on the same path or to be a disciple of someone.
Following Jesus Requires an Active Response - Jesus' invitation was not passive then, nor is it today. It demands a radical response that impacts every aspect of our lives. The concept of following (being a Follower) Jesus is used interchangeably in scripture with that of believing (being a Believer). Here too, it is important to recognize that believing in our current cultural context can be as passive as acknowledging a historical fact. Too often this cultural use of the word replaces the Biblical references of believing. Believing in the Bible, like following, implies action. Consider:
- John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The Greek word for "believes" is pisteuō. It means to have faith in, upon, or with respect to a person or thing, and to entrust someone with one’s spiritual wellbeing.
Believing in the Bible is more than an agreement of a truth or acknowledging that something is correct. Consider James' emphasis of this fact:
- James 2:14-18 "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder."
Clearly from this text, believing in Jesus changes nothing. That knowledge hasn’t changed the Devil’s course of action nor his eternal destination. Unfortunately, our culture is riddled with the misunderstanding that simply believing in God, or Jesus, or anything for that matter, is the qualifier for spiritual enlightenment or eternal safety.
Following Is More Than Prayerful Affirmation - Further misinformation within our culture, and often even the local church, would lead people to believe that a simple "repeat after me" prayer that acknowledges Jesus as Lord is the only requirement which leads to Christianity and eternal life. Sadly, these gloss over the prerequisites suggested by Jesus including:
- Luke 9:23 "Then he said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'''
The decision to follow Jesus must also be understood in the context of priority. Not only does it require a decision, but the decision must be understood to be come before everything else in life. A person can not follow Jesus while attempting to follow other things. In order to follow Jesus, everything else in life must be submitted to Him and His Word. Following Jesus is not like adding a key book to one’s bookcase to round out the library. We can not add Jesus to our lives to improve it or complete it. We must abandon our lives to follow Him where we will find new life in Him:
- Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and anything/anyone."
- Matthew 10:37-38 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."