What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus?
If you ever wonder what it means to really follow Jesus, you’re not alone.
If you ever wonder what it means to really follow Jesus, you’re not alone. We tend to make this harder than it is. Let’s learn how Jesus calls us to follow Him, and His heart behind making such a bold request.
Come, Follow Me
No big shocker that following Jesus is costly. The best things in life always are. — Louie Giglio
Jesus called His disciples and used the phrase “follow me” over 20 times in the Bible. In the gospel of Matthew we read that they left their occupations and their families to follow Him. Matthew 4:20 NIV says, “At once they left their nets and followed him.” And later in verse 22 it says, “…and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” There is something profound in how they left. The disciples left to follow Jesus in two ways: instantly and completely.
They didn’t hesitate in their decision. They didn’t take anything with them. They didn’t run back home to bid farewell to those they loved. They simply said yes to His call. And for the next three years, they did everything with Jesus.
Many will say that what the disciples did was radical and over the top. And it was. To follow someone who merely spoke to them, someone who did not live in a palace as a king should, someone who grew up like them, and someone who came to serve is extreme. Yet, they were compelled to follow. There was an unexplainable, unfamiliar force that pulled them to Jesus.
What or who are you following? We all follow something or someone. It may be a person’s teachings, a family legacy, or a spiritual philosophy. Our devotion lies somewhere; we just have to admit where that is.
As Christ followers, the Someone we are to follow is Jesus. But often we get confused about what that really means for us here on earth. If you ask ten people their thoughts about following Jesus, there’s a good chance you’ll get ten different answers! Most answers will have to do with our actions.
Live good lives. Be kind. Show love. Go to church. Read the Bible. Feed the poor. Pray for others.
There are people who will tell you what you shouldn’t do as well — swear, cheat, lie, steal, hurt people, judge anyone. “Just be a good person,” they say. Then, there will be a select few who will tell you the cost of following Jesus is laying down your life so that He can live through you. And what they are suggesting is an all-out surrender to Jesus.
Let’s dive into what it means to surrender our lives to Jesus as we follow Him on this earth — to live our lives so deeply connected to Him that saying goodbye to self becomes a joy and an honor.
More of Him, Less of Me
If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine! — Elisabeth Elliot
It’s a word that many see in a negative light. A surrender occurs when a person or group has been overpowered. While that’s a true definition of it, there is more to it. To surrender also means “to give up completely or agree to forego especially in favor of another.”
When we surrender to Jesus, we have the ability to agree to forego in favor of His purpose. We get to choose to be a part of His eternal game plan. Jeremiah 29:11 says that His plans are not harmful, but are good, bring hope, and a bright future.
But we often hold on to our agenda as we attempt to follow Jesus. We don’t want to surrender because we are convinced that our limited vision and wisdom exceeds God’s boundless and foolproof strategy. Our full surrender to Jesus usually boils down to one question:
How much will be required of me?
And the answer is simple. Everything.
In Mark 8:34–35, we read that if we want to be Jesus’s disciples and follow Him, we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross. The Greek word for deny in Mark, chapter 8 is aparneomai, and it means to “forget one’s self and lose sight of one’s interest.” These two verses are summed up in this way: deny self and die to self.
Surrendering to Jesus means setting aside our selfish appetites and allowing Him to live through us. It’s choosing to trust His faultless plan even when we can’t make sense of it. It’s believing that our eternal joy is more pressing than any momentary pleasure.
But there’s another question that we don’t ask, but should. What is a life surrendered to Jesus filled with? The answer is the same. Everything.
Every spiritual blessing from God is what we get when we stop striving to fulfill our human plans on earth. Yes, trouble will still find its way to our doorstep. Burdens will still leap onto our shoulders. Hardship will still stumble in front of us. But through it all, we get…
His peace that’s impenetrable. His joy that’s indescribable. His freedom that’s unexplainable. His love that’s outrageous. His mercy that’s generous. His grace that’s undeserving. His presence that’s soothing. His wisdom that’s reassuring.
All because we trusted in the plan of the God of the universe instead of our own.
So, if we want to know how to follow Jesus, we just have to ask who is leading us. Either Jesus is leading or we are. Either we choose Jesus or we choose self. It’s not complicated to decipher; it’s just not easy to accomplish. Following Jesus means more of Him, less of us.
He Wants You
Without the grace of Jesus: a hopeless end. With the grace of Jesus: an endless hope. — Rick Warren
What does God really want from us? Does He want our religious activities like attending church or doing a Bible study? Does He want us to refrain from watching or doing bad things? Doing good things and refraining from doing bad things is not the goal of following Jesus. Loving Him is. That’s what He wants. He wants you.
God wants our hearts and entire devotion. And then guess what will happen? We will do things like attend church and study the Bible because we want to know Him more. We will consider what we watch and say because we want to be more like Him. We will be kind and generous because we want to do what He’s called us to do. Our spiritual activities should not come first, nor should they be obligatory. They follow our heart’s devotion.
When we say yes to Jesus and receive His salvation, we die to self. But, the next day we will have to die again. And the next day and the next. The battle with our selfish desires occurs from the moment we wake up until the moment we drift off to sleep. Dying to self is an everyday event. The more we follow Christ, the more we should be dying to self. Why? Because we have sought after God and learned this: His higher, better ways supersede our mediocre, average ways.
So, what happens when we mess up? Is He mad at us? Are we going to get punished? Will we miss out on Heaven? Is there a spiritual button that is pressed that sends us back to the beginning for a do over?
Hardly. One thing we have to realize is that when we fully surrender to Jesus and allow Him to live through us, we are getting full access to His grace. We cannot exhaust His grace for it covers a multitude of sin. Even when our sin quota reaches “a multitude,” we are covered.
We hope that frees your mind just a little. To know that as Christ followers, we get access to His unspeakable power, His never ending love, and yes, His limitless grace. There is no sin we can commit and no distance we can travel away from Him where He will not bridge the gap with the full force of his power, love, and grace. That’s Someone worth surrendering to and living for.
And that Someone is Jesus.