What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? This isn’t a test. You’re not going to be graded on your answers. But I want to get your minds thinking in that direction. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at this thing called “Your Spiritual Journey”. And we’ve been trying to answer three basic questions:
#1. Where am I in my spiritual journey?
#2. Where do I want to be?
#3. What steps do I need to take to get there?
We’ve been using Your Spiritual Journey Handout as a guide, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but there are two main headings in this booklet. There is “Searching” on the left and “Following” on the right.
And so that’s what has led me to the question you’ve just been discussing – what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
Because if the point of our spiritual journey is to move us from searching for God to following God, then its important for us to know exactly what it means to follow Him.
Is it simply that we’ve prayed a prayer and asked God to forgive our sins? Is that what this is all about? Does it mean 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 I set out to see what the Bible has to say about following Christ. And actually, I found that it has a lot to say about what it means to follow Christ. But I tell ya, some of the stuff I read was pretty difficult.
That’s not to say that it was difficult to understand – most of it is pretty straight forward. You don’t have to read it in the original greek to get it. It’s pretty clear. The difficult part wasn’t the understanding. The difficult part was accepting it and then being willing to live it out day by day.
Because according to the Bible, there’s a lot more to following Christ than just praying a prayer, attending a church, and trying to be more good than bad.
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 – verses 6 & 7 to begin with. It goes like this:
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7
So right off the bat, we can see that there is more to our spiritual journey than just getting to the point where we can say “Yes, I have accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour”. That’s certainly a vital step, but that’s not the end of the journey. That’s why in our booklet, we have “Faith Commitment” in middle. It’s not the end. This passage tells us that “just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.”
When I was working at Camp Little Red, one thing we always tried to be aware of and we tried to avoid, was kids who would accept Christ at camp, but then go home and do nothing more. They wouldn’t be part of a church and they didn’t read their Bible and they didn’t have Christian friends or family – they didn’t continue to follow Christ. Its so sad to see these kids grown up years later who, while they say “Yes, I became a Christian a camp years ago.” But their lives show no evidence of that at all.
That can’t be God’s plan. God didn’t command us to simply make Christians. He commanded us to make disciples. Matthew 28:19-20
“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.” Matthew 28:19-20
It’s not just about getting people to pray the prayer and accept God’s forgiveness. It’s about making followers of Christ. The word the Bible uses often is “Disciples.” If we were to give it a term today, we might say “Students of God.” or “Apprentices of Christ.” There is this idea of continually learning and becoming like your teacher.
That’s why Paul says “Just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.” It’s part of the package. It’s part of the journey.
Then in verse 7 back in our Colossians passage, to continue that thought, Paul goes on to say:
“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.” Colossians 2:7
Now I had said that these verses were pretty straight forward, but Paul’s word picture here is a little less than clear. I mean, what exactly does it mean to “let our roots grow down into him and let our lives be built on him?” We can’t do that literally, so what’s Paul saying?
Well, if you skip down into the next chapter, Paul gives us some very specific and very clear instructions for what we are to do. Look at Colossians 3:1-10
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
That part takes a little bit of thinking, I admit, (And perhaps your homework for this week should be to go home and do a little studying on that passage), but here’s the clear part in verse 5.
5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
Paul has some very pointed and very specific instructions for us. If you have accepted Christ as your Saviour and some of these sinful things that Paul just talked about are still part of your life, then you know exactly what you have to do. You know exactly what your next steps are in your spiritual journey. You gotta get rid of these things. You gotta strip off the old sinful behaviors and thoughts and put on the new Christ-like behaviors and thoughts. It’s that whole – “becoming like your teacher thing.” The last part of that passage says to “Be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.”
It’s actually kinda cool to think that you are an apprentice of the Creator of the world. 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. But we get to say that we apprenticed under the Creator of life. That’s impressive. But it 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.
Now, is it easy? Not a chance. In fact, in my experience, stripping off my old sinful nature and trying 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 2:21-23
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 the benefits are amazing! Eternal life, heaven, God with you all the time, God’s provision, God’s love. 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 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. Its a difficult choice to make. 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?
Or maybe for you teens: what if God convicts you about the video games you play or the movies you watch or the music you listen to – and you realize that some of the stuff in there is pretty dishonoring to God. Are you willing to throw out maybe hundreds of dollars worth of movies, games, or music – in order to follow Christ? Are you willing to pay that price?
Or maybe you’ve got big plans for your life – you know where you’re going and you know how you’re going to get there – life is good… 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 pastor a little church in some little town. 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. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
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? Absolutely!
It’s the same thing when we follow Christ. 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.
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 your’e 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 hangout to being a place where others are always welcome and where God’s love ios share freely. 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. You know, Jesus completely invested His life on earth for maximum return in heaven, 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 been Mr. Popular 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.
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 pay the price, no matter what it is? Are you willing to invest your entire life in eternity?
That’s what it means to be follower of Christ.