To follow Jesus is one of the major goals for every Christian. Many times in the New Testament we are admonished to follow Jesus.
Jesus said to a man who wanted first to bury his father, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). And to the fishermen from Galilee, Jesus said, Follow me, and “I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). To the tax collector, Levi, Jesus said, “Follow me.” And he arose and followed him (Matthew 9:9). At another time Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The word “follow” means “to take as a guide”—and so when Jesus said, “Follow me,” He was saying, “Accept me as your guide! Those things that I count important, you should find important.”
Following Jesus means thinking His thoughts, loving what He loves, hating what He hates, and having the same desires and goals that He expressed. Those seeking to follow Jesus will eagerly try to follow in His footsteps. To follow Jesus means that we will seek to follow His example in our daily living, and let Him be our guide in all that we do. That means that we will accept the authority of Scripture, the way of salvation through Jesus alone, the concept of separation from the world, the necessity of forgiveness, and the nature of the hereafter.
1. The Authority of the Scriptures
Following Jesus means that we will accept His views about the Scriptures. One of the most convincing aspects of the Bible’s trustworthiness is found in the testimony of Jesus. The Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-32) tried to trap Jesus and referred to Deuteronomy 25:5. They did not believe in the resurrection, and they made up a hypothetical story about a widow who had seven husbands. All seven of the men died, and so they said, “Therefore, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?” (Matthew 22:28). Jesus quoted Exodus 3:6, where Scripture says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and said that those words were “spoken unto you by God” (Matthew 22:31b).
Furthermore, Jesus spoke about the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4), the Flood that destroyed the world in Noah’s time (Luke 17:27), and the miracles performed by Elijah (Luke 4:25)—and gave no hint that these events might not be true happenings. Jesus referred to the fish that swallowed Jonah (Matthew 12:40), the life of David (Matthew 12:3), the glory of Solomon (Matthew 6:29), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-30), and the provision of manna from heaven in the wilderness (John 6:31)—and in all this record of Jesus’ words there is not even the slightest hint (at any time) that the Scriptures may be inaccurate at any point.
Also, Jesus pre-authenticated the New Testament. In John 16:12, Jesus expressly declared that He was letting many things unrevealed, but in the next verse He promised that this revelation would be completed after the Spirit came.
It is true that the apostles might forget what Jesus had said, but Jesus assured them that they would not be left to their own fallible memories, but that the Holy Spirit would bring to mind all that He had said to them (John 14:26).
The attitude of Jesus toward the Scriptures was that they were indeed without error. And when we discover what Jesus thought about the Scriptures—that is what we are to think about them. There are many convincing lines of proof for the absolute accuracy of the Bible, but the crowning proof of all evidences, is the testimony of Jesus Himself.
To Jesus Christ, the Scriptures were the infallible Word of God, of which not one word could be broken (John 10:35)—and thus the Bible is the final court beyond which there is no appeal. To follow Jesus is to believe in the absolute accuracy of the Bible and to use the Scriptures as a weapon when meeting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).
2. The Way of Salvation through Jesus Alone
The second aspect of following Jesus is related to the concept of salvation. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and so when Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “This day is salvation come to this house” (Luke 19:9), He implied that Zacchaeus was a sinner in deep need of salvation. The word “salvation” refers to the entire work by which God rescues us from our sinful state, and transforms us into new creatures with new goals in life.
One of the most widely rejected teachings of the Bible is that of the total depravity of every human being. Jesus said (Mark 7:21-23), “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
There are loathsome things within the unregenerate human heart, all deeply ingrained on the inside, ever since the Fall in Genesis 3.
In spite of all the 21st-Century statements about the goodness of man—the fact is, that we have all been born with a bias toward sin, which was transmitted from our parents at conception (Psalm 51:5).
And because sin is universal (Romans 3:23), salvation is the supreme need of every human soul—and nothing but genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is the solution.
Many people react negatively to the words of Acts 4:12 where the apostles said that there is no other name than that of Jesus to call upon for salvation. Yet that is the specific teaching of Jesus himself, when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). There are some ethical values in the great world religions. We admire the Muslim’s faithfulness in prayer, the Hindu’s dedication to meditation, and the Jew’s strictness in keeping the Sabbath, but none of these ethical standards has any saving value, because all promote salvation through human self-effort.
No other religious teacher could atone for the sins of the whole human race, for no other teacher lived a perfect life, and died and arose from the dead, and then returned to God to prepare a heavenly home for his followers. God offered Jesus as the only channel by which we can have an eternal relationship with him. To follow Jesus is to believe that receiving Him into the human heart is the only way of salvation.
3. The Concept of Separation from the World
The New Testament speaks of Jesus as an eternal high priest who is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
Jesus walked a path of separation from the world. He passed through the world, and lived in the world, but He did not partake of its illicit affairs. Jesus associated with sinful people for the purpose of reaching them and winning them for the kingdom of God, but He did not partake of their evil ways. And Jesus prayed for us, when He prayed, “The world hath hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
The doctrine of separation from the world is scoffed at in most churches today, but the Bible from beginning to end stresses the importance of “coming out from” the world system.
In Romans 12:2, we read, “Be not conformed to this world.” In 2 Corinthians 6:17 we are instructed to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” In James 4:4, we are told that he who is “a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
From beginning to end there is a similar emphasis. Every writer seems to strike the same note. Jesus and the apostles all say essentially the same thing. We are to be separate, and not to conform to, the greed and pride and vanity and immodesty and self-centeredness of those who follow the world’s human-centered way of life.
The “world” from which we are to separate—is the whole value-system which dominates society and is contrary to the ways of God. The Scripture breaks “worldliness” into three component parts (1 John 2:16-17):
- Sensualism—the lust of the flesh
- Materialism—the lust of the eyes
- Egotism—the pride of life.
The world, which we are not to love, basically ignores God and operates by ungodly standards. As the hymn writer implies — “This vile world” is not a “friend to grace, to help us on to God.” It seeks to dominate our personalities, and to mold our thoughts, and to get us to try and find happiness apart from God.
Many of us have to admit that the lives of most church members really are not very much different from the world about us. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But we simply are not that different! One of the reasons we are ineffective in winning others to Christ is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them! The fact is, most churches would have to admit that what we have isn’t that much different from what outsiders already have.
We must refuse to be guided by the world’s standards of right and wrong. We must determine not to swim with the tide. We must resist the urge to follow the crowd. Our model is Jesus—Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and (the Bible says) separate from sinners.
4. The Necessity of Forgiveness
Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not (others), neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And in Luke 6:37, He says, “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”
The word “forgive” means to dismiss, to acquit, and to loose another from a debt or an injustice. Forgiveness also implies giving up a feeling of resentment and anger—and restoring a feeling of favor and affection.
Jesus insists that the human being who will not forgive his fellowman will not be forgiven of God! In essence, Jesus says, “How dare you ask God to forgive your sins, when you refuse forgiveness to a brother who may have offended you?” We owe God a debt of gratitude for the forgiveness of our sins, and thus we must show great mercy to those who sin against us.
Jesus laid great stress on the importance of forgiveness. In Matthew 18, Jesus gives instructions about the steps to be taken in securing reconciliation when personal injuries occur. It begins with a private session to talk things over. It is to be followed by taking one or two others along if reconciliation could not be accomplished in the private session. If the matter still cannot be settled, then it is to be shared with the church (with the local body).
In the prayer which Jesus taught His disciples, we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We ask God to forgive us only to the extent that we are willing to forgive others. A man once said to John Wesley, “You know, Mr. Wesley, I never forgive.” To which Mr. Wesley said, “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.”
Some will say, “But no one knows how much I have been wronged and how deeply I have been hurt.” But has anyone wronged us more than we have wronged God? Just as there is no limit to God’s forgiveness of our sins, so there should be no limit to our willingness to forgive those who have wronged us.
And just as God blots out our sins like a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22), so, when we have accepted the apology of another, and have said, “I forgive you”—then the matter should be laid aside, and must not be brought up again. Forgiveness should be extended to those who hurt us even if they don’t ask forgiveness. Jesus set the example in Luke 23:34.
Christians who seek to follow Jesus will be quick to forgive, and slow to get offended, toward those who trespass against them.
5. The Nature of the Hereafter
Jesus believed in an existence beyond this life, both for saints and for sinners.
Jesus spoke often of the joy and blessedness of the redeemed, and of the unhappy fate of those who die in a lost condition.
Some believe that death will “end it all.” They don’t care to investigate options about life hereafter. But Jesus says that an hour is coming when all in their graves will “hear his voice and shall come forth”—some to “the resurrection of life,” and others to “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
Some people have wondered whether Heaven and Hell should be thought of as literal places. The various descriptions of Hell (a lake of fire, outer darkness, a garbage dump) suggest to some minds that these are figures of something unpleasant, but are not necessarily descriptions of a real place. There are several descriptions of Heaven, which lead some to believe that Heaven is not a literal place. Yet Jesus spoke of Heaven as a “place.” He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3). He also spoke of Hell as a “place.” He told about the man in Hell who wanted his brothers warned, “lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:28).
Jesus had a lot to say about Heaven. To those who suffer on earth for righteousness sake, He said, “Your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
Whatever else is true about Heaven, it is a place where God’s people will be immensely rewarded. When Jesus said that He is going to prepare a place for us, He promised to come back and take us with Him “that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
Jesus also taught much about the grim reality of Hell. He described it as a place of fire. At the end of the age, the angels will separate “the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50).
Jesus described Hell also as a place of darkness. There will be those who will be bound hand and foot and cast into the “outer darkness, (where) there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).
Jesus also spoke of Hell as a loathsome place. Jesus said it would be better for us to enter life crippled (without a hand or an eye), than to be thrown into Hell where the “worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44). These sayings of Jesus do not require any comment. Those are fearful words.
Even if Jesus was using figurative language in these passages—still the description of Hell as a place where the fire never goes out needs a great deal of serious reflection. To believe in Jesus as our sin-bearing Substitute—is the only way to be saved for eternity. But Jesus is not only our Redeemer and Savior. He is also our Model in life and our Pattern for daily living. The instruction in 1 John 2:6 is very clear: “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”
The girl who operated the telephone switchboard in an office building occasionally got a call from a man who asked her what time it was. She answered and he quickly hung up. This went on for a number of months, and finally the girl asked the man who he was, and why he called so often to ask for the correct time. He said that he was the man responsible for blowing the whistle at the nearby factory, and he wanted to sound the whistle at the correct time. “It’s a funny thing,” the girl said, “I always set my clock by your whistle.”
That is what happens many times among Christians. We set our standards by what we see in the lives of other people, or by what seems reasonable to the human mind—and it gradually leads us farther away from God’s perfect standard. We need to “set our lives” by the example which Jesus set—and make Him our model for daily conduct. We must accept His truth, and walk in His way. The theme, “Following Jesus,” should challenge all of us to demonstrate the same attitudes that Jesus manifested when He walked among human beings here on earth.
We should pray like the brother in one of our African churches. He said, “Dear Lord, you be the needle and I’ll be the thread. You go first and I’ll follow wherever you lead!” That’s the kind of commitment the Lord Jesus is looking for.
One unknown writer compiled the following statements:
“You call me Master and obey me not;
You call me noble and serve me not;
You call me wise and follow me not;
If I condemn you—blame me not!”