BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“And he said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23-24 King James Version).
A dictionary defines stroll as a slow relaxed walk. It however defines follow as (1) To come or go after or behind somebody or something (2) Copy, to accept somebody or something as a guide, a leader or an example.
When somebody wants to lead you somewhere you have never been to before, do you stroll (walk leisurely) after him or you follow him closely? Do you enjoy the luxury of greeting people on your way as the person leads you or disregard their greetings just to make sure you don’t miss the direction of the place the person is leading you to? If you are driving, do you stop over to exchange pleasantries with people or you drive after the person so that no vehicle comes between you and the person? The scenario I have just painted depicts the difference between strolling and following.
The Amplified Bible explains “follow me” that Jesus said in the scripture above as “cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also.”That is if such a death would bring glory to God. For instance, in John 21:18-19, Jesus made reference to such death when He was talking about Peter’s death. Hear Him: “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (New King James Version).
Following Jesus requires denial of self. The Amplified Bible explains “deny himself” as “disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself.” Being His disciple means allowing Jesus to be your guide. It means you allow Him to be your leader and you give up yourself to follow Him. It means you don’t have your own agenda but His.
If you’ve given your life to Jesus and you claim you are following Him, but what I have just shown you in the Word of God does not describe your situation, you must be taking a stroll; you have not yet started following Him. You need to know what it means to follow Jesus so that you can start following Him. Followers of Jesus have not been called to take a stroll; they have been called to follow Him.
What following Jesus entails
1. Accepting His invitation to give your life to Him and be saved. This means being born again. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28 New Living Translation). And in John 6:37, Jesus said that whosoever comes unto me He shall in no wise cast out. Therefore, accepting the invitation of Christ is the beginning of following Him.
2. Making yourself available for Him to teach you. Discipleship and discipline are related words. You can’t be a disciple, a follower of someone, without receiving his discipline. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls” (New Living Translation).
Jesus spent much time teaching His disciples. His teachings, which they received, helped them to stand strong and continue in His ministry after the baptism of the Holy Spirit. For example, Mark 9: 30-31 says Jesus wanted to spend time alone in order to teach His disciples. If you’re following Jesus, you’ll receive His teachings.
3. Giving up what you’re doing for what He wants you to do. This is another thing that following Jesus involves. In Matthew 4:18-20, Peter and Andrew left their fishing business to follow Jesus. They were not idle; they were already engaged doing something, but they left it to follow Jesus, who made them fishers of men. The same thing is true of Levi son of Alphaeus; he left his tax collection business to follow Jesus. “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him” (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27).
That doesn’t always mean that you must resign from your employment or close down your business to preach the gospel before you can be said to be following Jesus, unless you are convinced that God wants you to do so. However, that was the demand Jesus made on His twelve disciples. There are instances where Jesus still makes this demand today.
4. Continuing in His word or obeying His word. You cannot be disobeying the Word of God and claim that you are following Him. True followers obey and continue in His Word. “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings’” (John 8:31New Living Translation). Following Jesus equals walking in the light that leads to life, not in darkness (John 8:12). If you will follow Jesus, it is not going to be by the words of your mouth alone; you must hold fast to His teachings and live in accordance with them.
5. Quitting tradition and culture that would not help you to follow Him. You cannot follow negative tradition and culture and follow Jesus at the same time. You must leave one for the other. You either follow Jesus or tradition and culture that are against the Word of God. Jesus had to tell two people this. They wanted to follow Him but they still wanted to follow their tradition and culture that hinder their immediate obedience to follow Him. “He said to another person, ‘Come, be my disciple.’ The man agreed, but he said, ‘Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.’ Jesus replied, ‘Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead. Your duty is to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59-62 New Living Translation). Matthew 8:21-22 also tells the same story of the man who asked Jesus to allow him to go and bury his father before coming to follow Jesus. Some traditional and cultural practices could hinder people from following the LORD. So you have to make up your mind whether you want to follow Jesus or follow your traditional and cultural practices that are contrary to the Word of God.
6. Giving up emotional ties to follow Him. This is similar to the hindrance that tradition and culture constitute. Emotional ties can be so strong that they will not let go of a person to serve the will of God. Emotional ties to family and other relationships can hold a person back from following the Master. Until a man allows such emotional ties to die, he won’t be able to go forward with God. “Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:59-60 New King James Version). It wasn’t that Jesus was against this man fulfilling his responsibility to his father. The Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, shows that the man’s father had not even died. Instead of considering as urgent matters of the Kingdom of God, this man was taking his time.
According to the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition, the man replied, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury (await the death of) my Father.” That was the real problem. Did the man know how long his father would still live as the time Jesus gave him that invitation? Suppose the father didn’t die six years after, would he continue to await his death? Jesus’ ministry only lasted three and a half years. That meant the man would never come back till Jesus finished his earthly ministry. Following Jesus is urgent; it is not something anyone should do when it is convenient for him. And the truth is that there will always be other things that would call for our attention. Every man must sacrifice other things to follow Jesus. No room for procrastination.
“And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:61-62 New King James Version). This man was also postponing following Jesus. Following Jesus is not something to be postponed. It should not be subordinated to family relationships or any other consideration. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1).
Jesus is not against the family, but He taught that we should not give priority to family ties above the Kingdom of God. We must first seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). He said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37 New King James Version).
James and John left their father to follow Jesus, right there where they were fishing. They didn’t defer following Jesus. “Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him” (Matthew 4:21-22 New King James Version).
7. Giving up your comfort and earthly security to follow Him. Any man who values comfort and earthly security above obedience to God will not follow God. But as somebody has rightly said, the truth is that there is no security here on earth; there are only opportunities.
What is it that gives you a sense of security that you feel you can’t exchange it for anything? Is it your work, your career, your business, your accomplishment, etc.? That is your idol and it will keep you away from following Jesus. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 New King James Version).
8. Giving up your possession and position, if necessary or requested of you, to follow Him. Sometimes in order to follow Jesus, it will demand that you give up your possession or position to follow Him. This is not the case for everybody; He may not ask you to give up your possession or position, but you should never give Him any condition to follow Him. In the event that He demands that you give anything up for Him, it can only be the best decision you have ever made if you do so. It will lead to your promotion and advancement; you will get something better in exchange. The case of Abraham who answered God’s call is apt here (Genesis 12).
But the rich young ruler could not give up what Jesus asked of him; he found what Jesus asked him to do too much a sacrifice. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21-22 New King James Version).This also recorded in Mark 10:21-22 and Luke 18:22-23.
The man must have concluded that what Jesus asked him to do was a way of stupidly plunging himself into poverty! Is there any possession you have considered too precious to give away should God ask you to do so? That is your idol. You can’t follow Jesus if you create a no-go area for Him in your life. You can’t follow Him, if you are going to be choosing which of His instructions you will obey and the ones you will not obey. None of God’s instructions are to be debated; all are to be obeyed.
9. Recognizing His voice and following it. Those who follow Jesus know His voice. Following Jesus entails recognizing His voice and following it. Jesus said it all in John 10:4-5: “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (New King James Version). Jesus said a similar thing in John 10:27: “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (New King James Version).
From these two scriptures, we could see two categories of people – those who hear His Word and follow him, and those who do not know His voice and, therefore, cannot follow Him.
10. Not being ashamed of Him and His Word. There could be different reasons why somebody could be ashamed of Jesus. He could feel that associating himself with Jesus could make others look down on him. He could think that he was in the midst of people whose validation and approval he needed, which he could be denied if he called himself a disciple of Jesus. He might think being a disciple of Christ might make him appear unsophisticated. But all this is vanity. Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26 New King James Version).
Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:12: “If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us” (New Living Translation). A true disciple is never ashamed of his Master; he never denies him. You can now understand why Peter wept bitterly after he denied his Master (Luke 22:62). You can see why Judas Iscariot committed suicide after he betrayed the Master (Matthew 27:5). A true disciple is never ashamed of Jesus and His Word in the private and in the public.
11. Carrying your cross daily and following Him in spite of your problem. Matthew 10:38 says, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine” (New Living Translation). Carrying one’s cross daily and following Jesus refers to self-denial.
Some people are looking for a perfect condition, a life devoid of personal problems or challenges, before they’ll follow Jesus. This will remain an illusion. Problems or challenges are a reality of human existence; you can only carry your cross daily and follow Him. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ll not give Him any condition to follow Him. You’ll also not wait for your condition to change before you follow him.“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 New Living Translation).
12. Not looking back. Following Jesus entails not looking back. “But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God’” ( Luke 9:62 New Living Translation). Looking back is not in the character of true followers of Christ. Once they decide to follow Jesus, they continue with Him through thick and thin; they don’t backslide, It is not that a Christian cannot backslide, but backsliding is a proof that such a Christian stopped following Christ at a point. He’ll need to repent, return to Jesus, ask for forgiveness and continue following him.
Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Make an irrevocable, irreversible decision to follow Him no matter what you face, no matter the challenges.
13. Serving him. Following Jesus is beyond just talking about it. You must walk the talk. You must demonstrate it practically. If you are following Jesus, you’ll serve him. You can’t claim to be His follower and be idle; you can’t be idle and say you’ve following Him.
If you’re following Him, you’ll do His work. He’ll engage your services, but you will determine if you want to serve Him. If you accept to be His servant and you serve Him, God will honour you and reward you. “All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And if they follow me, the Father will honor them” (John 12:26 New Living Translation). The Father does not honour someone who does not serve the Son. Do you want honour from God? The answer is: begin to serve Jesus today.
14. Being focused and not comparing yourself with another person. Each person must do his individual following. Nobody can follow Jesus on behalf of another person. It is individualistic; it’s not a community affair. Therefore, you ought to focus on yourself and not be comparing yourself to other people. The fact that others are not following Him does not mean you should not follow Him. In this matter of following Jesus, there is no room for comparison; there is no room for following Him by proxy. Jesus warned Peter about this. Put in modern parlance, He simply told Peter, “Face your business.” John 21:20-22 tells us the story: “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me’” (New King James Version).
Face your business; you should not be bothered that others are not following or about the way they are following Him. Just make sure you obey the Word and the Spirit of God in following Him. Let nobody’s life cause you to hold back on what you should do.
15. Bearing much fruit. Fruit bearing is an essential component of following Jesus. If you’re merely strolling after Jesus, it is not an issue. Jesus expects His disciples, those who are following Him, to bear fruits. A life of spiritual barrenness is not consistent and compatible with following Jesus, and it does not glorify God. “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8 New King James Version).
The fruit being referred to is the quality of your behavior, the quality of your deeds. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (New Living Translation). One’s behavior will show whether one is a disciple of Jesus or not. For instance, walking in love or not walking in love is a behavior; they are both fruits, but the former is good while the latter is bad. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 New Living Translation).
Paul also stressed this truth about fruit bearing and righteous character expected of a disciple of Christ: “I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God” (Philippians 1:8-11 New Living Translation).
Christianity is about fruitfulness. And if you are following Jesus, it will show in the quality of the fruits you are bearing, the quality of your character, the quality of your behavior. The Bible says by their fruits you shall know them. That is by their behavior, by their actions, they shall be known (Matthew 7:20). According to Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of those following Christ includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is significant that nine virtues are listed, yet they are described in the singular as fruit, and not in the plural as fruits. I like to refer to the fruit of the Spirit as a nine-fold fruit; none of the nine is optional. They all must be in our lives. You cannot desire some and forsake the others.
These virtues are the character of God that the Holy Spirit works out in our lives as we co-operate with the Holy Spirit. How many of these virtues are in your life now? How much of each has been produced in your life in cooperation with the Holy Spirit? If you’re just taking a stroll, you don’t have to bother about the fruit. But if you’re following Jesus, it is expected of you, and your life will manifest the fruit. The more you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, the more of the manifestation of this fruit shall be produced in your life.
Conclusion: May I ask you again: Are you following Jesus or you’re just taking a stroll? This is a question you must answer with utmost sincerity. Are you a true disciple of Jesus or you’re just associated with His name? There is still opportunity for you today to come after him, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him. “Jesus said to all of them, ‘If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me. Those who want to save their lives will give up true life. But those who give up their lives for me will have true life’” (Luke 9:23-24 New Century Version).
If you’re not born again, you need to make yourself ready for eternity. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start to attend a Bible-believing, Bible -teaching church. There you will be taught how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent and confess my sins. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing, Bible teaching church in your area where you will be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I’ll be glad to hear from you. May the Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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