What It Means to Follow Christ
No one could ever accuse Jesus of being a great public-relations guy. Who else but Jesus would make it His practice to disperse crowds with difficult and controversial teachings when it would have been so easy to rally an army? Who else but Jesus would choose to continually insult the power structure of His time rather than try to make influential friends in high places? Who else but Jesus would align Himself with the lowest and the least of His society, those with no political clout or social standing?
But that's what Jesus did. That's what He's still doing. Perhaps with all of our educational advancements, the multiplicity of Bible studies and books available to us, and the abundance of churches in many parts of the world, we've forgotten that following Jesus isn't like choosing which flavor of syrup you want in your coffee.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to forsake everyone and everything other than Him. It's a call to a radical abandonment.
Leave ItPicture the scene with me. It's a clear day out on the lake. Two brothers are fishing, and the catch is good. They already know this is going to be a good day, and they're excited about totaling up the final catch at day's end.
They hear someone talking to them from the shore a short way off. They shield their eyes from the sun and cock their heads to listen. They're able to distinctly make out the two words that would change the rest of their lives: "Follow Me."
"Follow Me." These two words contained radical implications for the lives of the disciples. In a time when the sons of fishers were also fishers, these men would have grown up around the sea. Fishing was the source of their livelihood and all they'd ever known. It represented everything familiar and natural to them.
That's what Jesus was calling them away from.
By calling these men to leave their boats, Jesus was calling them to abandon their careers. When He called them to leave their nets, He was calling them to abandon their possessions. When He called them to leave their father in the boat by himself, He was calling them to abandon their family and friends. Ultimately, Jesus was calling them to abandon themselves.
The men were leaving certainty for uncertainty, safety for danger, and self-preservation for self-denunciation. Let's put ourselves in the positions of these eager followers of Jesus in the first century. What if you were the one stepping out of the boat? What if you were the potential disciple being told to drop your nets? What if it were your father asking where you were going?
The Idea of Following JesusThis is where we need to pause to consider whether we're starting to redefine Christianity. We have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. But slowly, subtly, we have reduced following Jesus to the idea of following Jesus.
We do this in all sorts of ways. We rationalize Jesus' demanding teachings: "Of course, Jesus wasn't actually telling you to abandon your family. And of course, He wasn't really saying to leave everything behind to follow Him."
While it's true that Jesus didn't-and doesn't-require everyone to leave their father and their occupation to follow Him, He does require absolute obedience and commitment. Rather than joyfully embracing His call, we have the self-serving tendency to water it down to be theoretical sacrifice and hypothetical abandonment. We want to follow a Jesus that doesn't require anything of us.
In essence, we've redefined Christianity. We've given in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist Him into a version of Jesus we're more comfortable with. It's a Jesus who's OK with our materialism, fine with nominal devotion that doesn't require any sacrifice, and pleased with a brand of faith that requires attendance on Sunday but no real commitment in day-to-day life.
But I wonder if I could help you push through the haze of self-justification and ask a simple question as we study the words of Christ together: What if He was actually serious?
David Platt is pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and author of The New York Times best seller Radical and its companion small group Bible study. Widely regarded as an exceptional expositor, he teaches around the world and at Secret Church events, urging Christians to authentic, transforming discipleship.