What does it mean to follow Jesus?

This week’s scripture reading, Matthew 9:9,

And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

Followers are Believers

As Jesus began to call his disciples, some of them would later be selected as the twelve apostles, such as Matthew. In his approach to them, Jesus often used this short imperative phrase, follow me. For seekers of faith who are just learning about Christianity, this may raise the question of what does it mean to follow Jesus?

How can we follow Jesus and what happens when we follow Jesus? Well, let us perhaps digress a little and first consider this illustration from the apostle John. Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, a religious leader of the Jews, approached Jesus one night. The dialogue starts in John 3:2, The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. While this was complimentary to Jesus, the continuing dialogue was the more noteworthy part. Jesus then leads Nicodemus in the direction of saving faith and for this he emphasized the absolute necessity of the new birth in John 3:3, Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus is referring to being born from above, or born spiritually and this takes place when people come to believe in him as Lord and Saviour (Luke 2:11).

 Now you might be thinking, how does this relate to the question of what does it mean to follow Jesus but it actually has everything to do with it, since to follow him is not merely a case of doing certain things of religiosity in life. It must really start with the question of who Jesus is and this is what Jesus was getting at in his conversation with Nicodemus. As the dialogue continues, it brings us to a verse well known by many people. Jesus continued the conversation in John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is an invitation from God to everyone because it expresses his love for us by sending his only begotten Son, as further noted in Luke 19:10, For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Whether people realize it or not, without this new birth in Christ, they are condemned in their sins as Jesus spoke in John 8:24, I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he,] ye shall die in your sins. 

Believe and Follow

The answer to what does it mean to follow Jesus as a disciple is to first know Jesus and to believe in what he did for you in his atoning sacrifice for your sins as Paul summarized in 1 Cor.15:3-4, For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. This is further described by Luke who also emphasizes the exclusivity of Jesus’ role as Saviour in Acts 4:12, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Why is it important to follow Jesus and what does the Bible say about following Jesus? For seekers of faith, this is where it all starts on what does it mean to follow Jesus, with saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as expressed by Paul in Rom. 10:9-10, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. The same apostle who wrote the account earlier of Jesus and Nicodemus, also wrote this eloquent and memorable verse in one of his letters from 1 John 4:10, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. With this belief in Jesus, one is now ready to follow Jesus!

A New Creation Follows

Now as believers in Christ, Paul further shared from another letter to demonstrate our place and position in Christ from 2 Cor. 5:17, Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. From there, springs a new life, a new direction and new will to follow the Lord.  Jesus was once asked the following question in Matt. 22:36-40, Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Jesus was actually quoting from the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-6) and this statement summarized the theme of following the Lord’s commandments as expressed in the Law of Moses.

The importance of these verses help to underscore the key aspect of our reciprocal love back to God as followers, …with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Clearly, our love could never measure up to God’s unmerited love, mercy and grace upon us as Paul expressed in Eph. 2:5, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;). For believers in Christ though, loving him with all of your heart, soul and mind is the first step in following him after coming to saving faith in him.  * ( quickened – to bring alive spiritually)

How to Follow Jesus

This then brings us to several passages in scripture specifically related to the benefits of following Jesus with the first one by Paul in the New Testament in Gal. 5:25, If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Paul further elaborates in another letter on how good works should be produced in followers of Jesus in Eph. 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The apostle John also shared this message to believers reaffirming the commandments noted above by Jesus in 1 John 5:3-5, For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? Hopefully by now, readers are starting to see the congruent theme throughout scripture that repeats over and over again in belief, follow in faith, etc.

Unwavering Followers of Jesus

Interestingly, Jesus used some very unique and thought provoking phrases to describe the unwavering commitment from his followers such as in Matt. 10:38-39, And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. A similar passage is found in Matt. 16:24, Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

During a discussion with a person of great wealth Jesus made this statement to him in Matt. 19:21, Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me. Adding one further passage from Jesus it was noted in John 12:26, If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will [my] Father honour. In short, Jesus is distilling the notion of following him down to simple illustrations to show that nothing should hinder one’s walk to follow him.

Jesus also made this statement from another gospel account and again it tends to portray the need for absolute devotion, commitment and desire to follow him from Luke 9:61-62, And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

As Jesus often spoke in parables, he coined this phrase to describe his followers with him as the shepherd in John 10:4, And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. Jesus also frequently spoke in figurative terms to describe not only who he was but also in reference to his followers in John 8:12, Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Cost of Following

His disciples also echoed the same traits and characteristics for believers in following the Lord such as Paul’s comment in Rom. 14:19, Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. In another letter, Paul shared this message from 1 Cor. 14:1, Follow after charity, and desire spiritual [gifts,]. To believers in another region Paul expressed this passage from 1 Thess.5:15, See that none render evil for evil unto any [man;] but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all [men. In yet another one of Paul’s letters it was shared in this way from 1 Tim. 6:11, But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

To close off this study on what does it mean to follow Jesus, let us finally look at some passages from other writers of the New Testament, with these recorded in Heb. 12:14, Follow peace with all [men,] and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Take careful note of this in comparison to Jesus’ saying on the need to be born again, before being able to see the kingdom of God. Two other passages on following Jesus are worth noting.

The apostle Peter also wrote in this regard as followers of Christ from 1 Pet. 2:21, For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. The apostle John additionally scripted similar passages in his letters such as 3 John 1:1, Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. Clearly, all of these passages are reflective of the first and greatest commandment shared by Jesus earlier in this commentary to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind. Even Solomon from the Old Testament echoed a similar message in Prov. 21:21, He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour. 

Sons of God

In conclusion, following Jesus is more than just doing certain things that may come across as having the appearance of Christianity. Followers of Jesus, are believers in Jesus, as Lord and Saviour. As the new birth indwells believers with the Holy Spirit within their hearts, they have a relationship with him and desire to follow him. As the apostle wrote in his gospel account in John 1:12-13, But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Notice how this verse brings us full circle back to the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus on the new birth, whereby this birth is not of a physical nature, but is of a spiritual one as noted with the phrase, …but of God. As believers therefore in the Lord Jesus Christ, …to them gave he power to become the sons of God. This indeed is what makes disciples destined to follow Jesus into eternity! 

Bible Study Questions

  1. Why do you think Jesus used this commanding-like phrase follow me when calling his disciples?
  2. Why is it so important to become a Christian by being born again in Christ as part of what does it mean to follow Jesus?
  3. How would you describe being born again to an inquiring friend or family member?
  4. For your faith, memorize Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
  5. Fill in the blanks from 1 Tim. 6:11. “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after _________________, ______________, ________________, love, patience, meekness.”
  6. As Christians, what is the primary reason why we should follow Jesus? Hint John 8:12
  7. What is one small thing you can do in your life today to start following Jesus?

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