I want to start off today with a question: And this is the question: What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
And you would think that it would be unnecessary or even redundant to ask such a question in church of all places. Surely we all know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. But do we really? Do we really grasp the implications for our lives we say we are a follower of Jesus Christ?
Is it simply that we’ve prayed a prayer and asked God to forgive our sins? Is that what it means to follow Christ? Does it mean we’ve been baptized and we regularly attend church? Is that following Christ? Does it mean we’re trying to be more good and less bad? Is that following Christ? Or does following Christ mean something totally different?
Well, this week we want to take a brief look at what Bible has to say about following Christ. And we’re sure not going to be able to touch on everything – because the Bible actually has a lot to say about what it means to follow Christ. But I want to at least pull out a few key points today and perhaps that will motivate you to do some further study on your own!
Because according to the Bible, there’s a lot more to following Christ than just praying a prayer, being baptized, attending a church, and trying to be more good than bad. So let’s open our Bibles and have a look.
Let’s get started with a passage from Colossians. If you have your Bibles with you, you can turn with me to Colossians chapter 2 – verse 6 to begin with. It goes like this:
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.” Colossians 2:6
And I’ll just pause here for a minute. If you were here last week, you’ll recall that we talked about the spiritual journey that each of us is on and how we always need to keep moving forward in our journey with God. There’s no standing still. If we think we are standing still, we’re actually most likely drifting away. We need to keep moving forward – always taking those next steps of obedience to Christ. And that’s really what this verse is telling us. “Just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.”
That means that getting to that point where you accept Christ as your Saviour is not the end of your journey. That’s why in our little “spiritual journey” handout that we gave you last week, we find “Faith Commitment” in middle. It’s not the end. Salvation alone is not our goal. Our goal is to follow Jesus.
And so many people miss that somehow. Lots of people see becoming a Christian like getting that “get out of jail free” card in monopoly. It’s amazing and wonderful that Jesus took our punishment when he died and rose again for us, but he didn’t save us simply so that we could escape hell.
As you read through the New Testament, we certainly do get a clear picture of the disaster that we are saved from – but by far, the emphasis is placed on what we are saved for. We’re not just saved from destruction, we are saved for abundant life with God. We are not just saved from sin, we are saved for righteousness – for living out and living in the goodness of God.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10
That doesn’t sound to me like God merely wants me to pray a prayer, accept Jesus into my heart, and then live the same the same way that I always have. NO! God has something much better in mind for me. He has created me anew in Christ Jesus so that I can do the good things that he planned for me long ago. And we do that by following Him.
Remember that verse we read last Sunday about how Jesus is the champion who initiates and perfects our faith? Here’s let me read that again for you to refresh your memory.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
In other words… “Just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.” It’s the very same idea… He is the champion who has gone before us. Our job is simply to follow Him.
Another term the Bible uses for this idea of following Jesus is “being a disciple.”
Jesus hand-picked and invited 12 men to be his disciples – his followers. To Matthew the tax collector he said, “Follow me, and be my disciple.” He said to Peter, Andrew, James & John, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And then after his resurrection, he commissioned all of them to go and make even more disciples – more people who would follow him. That’s the great commission. We read in Matthew 28, verse 18…
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
And you’ll notice that He didn’t just commission them to go make believers. Or to make converts. No… He commissioned them to go and make disciples – people who would accept Christ Jesus as their Lord – and then to continue to follow Him.
If we were to give it a term today, instead of calling them disciples (since we don’t really use that word these days very much) we might call someone like that a “student of Jesus” or an “apprentice of Jesus.” The idea of being a disciple or a follower of someone means that you are continually learning from and becoming like that person – very much like what an apprentice in the trades would do today.
And when you put it that way, it’s a pretty incredible privilege to be a follower or disciple or an apprentice of Jesus Christ.
Think about it this way: There are probably millions of computer techies who would love to say that they apprenticed under Steve Jobs – the creator of the Apple company. That would look great on their resume. Steve Jobs completely shaped and reshaped the computer industry – the music industry – the cell phone industry… I dare say his work has made an impact on us all. And in doing so, he became one of the world’s richest men and built one of the most profitable companys in the world. Apprenticing under Steve Jobs would have been an awesome privilege!
But here’s the deal. We get to apprentice under the Creator of the universe. Forget the apple company, our God created the apple. He created the universe. He is the source of life and joy and peace and everything good! And Jesus invites us – “Come, follow me. Come be my disciple. Come be my apprentice.” What a privilege!
But I have to tell ya, the invitation to apprentice under God Himself – sure comes loaded with responsibility. If you go around telling people that you’ve apprenticed under God, they’re going to have some pretty high expectations of you – and rightly so. The longer that we’ve followed God – the more people should see God in us. That’s the purpose of being an apprentice – learning to become like your teacher. If you don’t find yourself becoming more like Jesus – I would question if you’re really following him.
Now that’s certainly not to say that it’s easy. Not a chance. In fact, in my experience, learning to become like Christ has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But no one said that following Christ would be easy. At least the Bible never said that. Look at 1 Peter 2:21
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:21
Following Christ is not easy. It’s going to cost you. I think there are a lot of people who don’t realize that. In our churches and in our Bible studies we teach a lot about the benefits of being a Christian – because, let’s face it – the benefits are amazing! Eternal, abundant life with God, God’s provision and care, God’s presence with you always, God’s love, joy and peace, victory over death. That’s amazing stuff. But it doesn’t come without a cost. Look at Matthew chapter 16, verse 24.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”
That phrase “take up your cross” literally means being willing to die. In Jesus’ time, the cross was the most torturous, shameful means of execution. The Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place where they would be crucified. That meant they had to carry their own means of execution through the crowded streets of the city, being mocked and ridiculed by all the people as they made their way to their death.
So for Jesus to say “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me”, that takes some serious commitment. He’s saying, if you want to follow Him, you must be willing to endure suffering, ridicule, pain, and even death. In other words, there can be no price so high that you’re not willing to pay.
Jesus says something very similar in a passage in Matthew 10:37-39.
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
These are difficult words to accept. But that’s really what it comes down to. What price are you willing to pay to follow Christ? To be His apprentice? And these aren’t just hypothetical scenarios. There are places in the world right now where if you decide to become a Christian – a follower of Christ, your family will disown you. They will have no contact with you ever again. In some cases, they may even kill you. Your own family! Now if you were in that position, what choice would you make?
Now I hope that none of us are ever in that position (though one day we may be forced to make those kind of decisions), but for now, how about something a little more common:
What if your boss asks you to do something that you know is wrong – are you willing to lose your job – your financial security – in order to follow Christ?
What if God convicts you about some of those habits you have – and maybe they are habits that you know simply don’t honour him or maybe their not even bad habits, but if you’re going to follow Christ, they’ve got to go. Are you willing to give those up – in order to follow Christ? Are you willing to pay that price?
Or maybe you’ve got plans for your life – you know where you’re going and you know how you’re going to get there – you’ve got your road map all laid out… And then God asks you to give it all up and follow His plan. To go be a missionary in the Congo or something. Or to go back to school at this stage of the game and take on a new career? Or to adopt a couple kids?Are you willing to give up your dreams and plans – in order to follow Christ?
Jesus said, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.”
But you know, even though the price we have to pay may seem great, the rewards for following Christ are way greater:
Peter had the very same concerns that you have I’m sure. And so he asked Jesus in Matthew chapter 19, verse 27.
Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
28 Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.
In other words – it’s worth. The Bible guarantees us, it is worth it. It’s worth giving up everything for Christ. It’s like making an investment.
If I asked you to loan me some money – and in one year, I’ll pay you back 100 times as much as you loaned me, would that be a good investment? I’d say so. If you gave me $50 today – you won’t have that $50 to spend for a whole year – but if, at the end of that year, I’d give you back $5000, wouldn’t that be worth the loss of your $50 for that year? Absolutely!
It’s the same thing when we follow Christ. Sure, we might have to suffer a little bit now. We might have to give up some things. In fact, we might have to give up everything. But when our 80 or 100 years of life on this planet is over, we will have an eternity of rewards waiting for us. It’s worth the investment.
And of course that doesn’t mean we have to live a life of misery here on earth – and wait for all the good stuff in heaven. No way. Following Christ, while it does have a cost, is the richest, most rewarding thing you will every do. There is a joy and a peace and a satisfaction that comes with following Christ that you will never experience in any other way. And for me, that’s worth giving up everything!
So getting back to our original question of “What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?” Well, I guess one way to put it is that you’re willing to invest everything in eternity.
You’re willing to invest your time. You might lose the time you had for tv or golfing or sleeping or just doing things for yourself. But instead you invest that time in getting to know God through his Word or prayer. You invest that time worshipping God and learning together with other Christians like you’re doing this morning. You invest that time in building relationships with others – sharing God’s love with them. You invest that time serving your community.
And not just your time, you invest your resources. Your house goes from being your personal hangout to being a place where others are always welcome and it feels like a second home to them. Your stuff goes from being just your stuff, to being tools that you can use to bless others. Your money isn’t just there to make you more comfortable and have more fun, but you invest it in people, and the church, and missions – because you know that’s where your greatest return is.
And not just your time and your resources, you invest your entire life. Everything you do becomes an investment in eternity. You don’t waste your life living for the moment – for these few years on earth. You live your life so that you have maximum impact on eternity. Just like Jesus did.
That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus completely invested His life on earth for maximum return in eternity, didn’t He?
Think of all the ways Jesus could have spent his life on earth. He could have become rich and powerful. He could have gained rock-star status and had everything he wanted. He could have been comfortable and lived a life of luxury.
But instead, He invested his life in eternity. In your eternity. He gave up the pleasures of this life – enduring hardship, enduring the cross, enduring death – so that you and I could have eternal life with Him.
So I ask you today, are willing to be follower of Jesus Christ? To follow in His footsteps? To live your life for the same purpose as He lives His? Are you willing to follow him, no matter what the cost? Are you willing to invest your entire life in eternity?
That’s what it means to be follower of Christ. Doing what He did. Following wherever he leads – no matter the cost, because you know it’s worth it.
I hope you’re willing to make that investment!