Discipleship 4

How to follow Jesus? (Vol. 1 – 4)

As Jesus traveled throughout Israel urging people to repent and believe the gospel, “Follow me” was a constant refrain in His message. At the beginning of His ministry, He called his first disciples with the terse command, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As His ministry progressed, He told the crowds, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). At the end of His earthly ministry, He recommissioned the repentant Peter with the words, “Follow me” (John 21:19).

Have you ever probed the meaning of this phrase? If not, you should, because it can lead to a profound, transforming change in how you think about and live the Christian life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? Following Jesus begins when we respond to His call to repent and believe the gospel. The Good News that God loves us and has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Himself by giving His Son to atone for our sins awakens us to God’s grace and moves us to want to live for Christ and follow Him.

Following Jesus, entails both obeying His teachings and imitating His example. But this is not the sum of the matter. For obeying and imitating are not ends in themselves but are means to a greater end. That end or goal of discipleship is to become like Jesus Himself: to think as He thought, to feel as He felt, to act as He acted, desire what He desired. As John puts it, “Whoever says He abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:6). Because Jesus is the image of God in human form (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1: 3), as we become more and more like Him, the image of God is increasingly restored in our lives.

A key part of this process is gaining a clearer knowledge of Jesus as He is presented to us in Scripture. And a time-honored way of doing this is to consistently and prayerfully read the Gospels and reflect on the life and teaching of Jesus. As we immerse our minds and hearts in the gospels, two major defining characteristics of His life stand out with striking clarity: faith and love. Secure in the love of God and His own Sonship, Jesus lived with an unshakable trust in His heavenly Father and wholehearted love for God and others. If we want to become like Jesus, faith and love must become defining characteristics of our lives, too.

Of course, such faith does not suddenly appear in our lives. It is something that grows over time as we read, study, and inwardly digest God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit and prayerfully act on it in the obedience of faith. When we do this, God uses the needs, opportunities, and circumstances of our lives as a training ground to help us grow in faith, fulfill His purposes, and bring Him glory. At the heart of following Jesus, then, is walking by faith in God, just as He did, and not living by reliance on our own limited wisdom, and resources.

The other major defining characteristic of Jesus’ life was love. Jesus lived a life of love. He loved his Father with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. And He loved others and sought their good.

The cornerstone of Jesus’ teaching on love is found in the Great Commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:34–40).

You may wonder how you could possibly love God this way. To be sure, it is not a natural human ability. Paul tells us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). And this love grows as we continue to live a gospel-centered life, meditating on and reminding ourselves daily of God’s love for us and Christ’s sacrifice for us. Assurance that God loves you deeply evokes an answering love for Him that increases over time and is essential to living the Christian life.

Finally, when we look carefully at the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, the call to “follow me” takes on much greater clarity and specificity. It is indeed a call to “walk as Jesus walked,” to live a life of radical faith and love. Once we truly grasp this, our first reaction is likely to be one of dismay. If we are at all aware of the depth of indwelling sin and the dysfunctions that plague our lives, we know it is impossible for us to fulfill such a call. Yet this reaction is actually healthy, because it is based in reality. It is indeed impossible for us to live this way. And that is precisely the point. Jesus knows we cannot follow Him without a power beyond ourselves. And that is why He sent the Holy Spirit to empower us.

It is only through the indwelling Holy Spirit that we can obey the teaching of Jesus and follow His example. He assures us of the Father’s love, He makes the things of Christ real to us; He makes the gospel precious to us; He convicts us of sin and assures of forgiveness when we repent; He gloriously transforms us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:16–18). That is why we are taught to earnestly seek to be filled with the Spirit each day (Eph. 5:18) and to be led by Him in all our ways (Gal. 5:16–25). When we do, we will find that we can live in newness of life. Not perfectly and not immediately. But day by day, as we walk in faith and obedience, the Spirit will produce in us the character of Jesus: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23).