What it means to follow Jesus

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In today’s world, the words “follow” or “follower” certainly mean something different than they would have meant back in Jesus’ day. Today, to be a follower of someone or something likely means you pressed the “FOLLOW” button on their Instagram page. Yet, this obviously couldn’t have been what Jesus meant when He said to follow Him. So, what does He expect and how can we truly follow Jesus today?

It’s All About Relationships

Relationships are painful. Relationships are wonderful. We all live in the drama that plays out between these two truths.”  – Tom Holladay

Anyone who has experienced any type of relationship can relate to this quote. Relationships are not easy by any standard. Yet when we look throughout the Gospels and, truthfully, the entire Bible, we find that God’s primary focus is on relationships. This includes our own relationship with Him, our relationships with other people, our relationship with His creation, and of course how we understand our own self. In fact, when asked which is the greatest commandment of the Law, Jesus replied by saying,

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

(Matthew 22:37-40 NASB)

If it wasn’t clear before, Jesus made Himself clear here. God’s priorities for us in following Him are for us to focus on our relationships, first with Him and then with other people.

Let’s talk about how we can do that.

Focus on Your Relationship with God

The first step to growing and cultivating your relationship with your Creator is to embrace  who He is and allow our lives to be defined by who He is. For many people, the reason why their relationship with God isn’t growing is that they aren’t treating Him like He is the God of their lives. Rather, they are treating Him like their own personal genie whom they go to only when they need a certain prayer answered or to call in a favor.

The reality of loving God is loving him like he's a Superhero who actually saved you from stuff rather than a Santa Claus who merely gave you some stuff. - Criss Jami Click To Tweet

My question to you is this: who is God to you? Is He Savior and Lord of your life? Or is He just an accessory that seems nice to put on when you need Him, but doesn’t really affect your life the rest of the time? How you define the role God plays in your life is foundational to truly following Jesus.

Communicating with God

The next step to building your relationship with God is to talk with Him! And not once or twice a week—but an ongoing conversation where you actually share life—the ups and the downs.  Paul tells the Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  (1 Thess. 5.17-18 ESV)

We have all heard a million times that communication is the critical key to every relationship. For some reason, we seem to forget that truth when it comes to our walk with God. Being in His Word (the Bible) daily and being in constant prayer with Him is essential to developing your relationship with God. This helps you not only to know the One with whom you are in a relationship, but it also helps you to know what His will is for you, what He wants you to do, and what He doesn’t want you to do.

You ought to pray and read the Bible concurrently. You cannot pray effectively without reading the Bible and the vice versa. - Lailah Gifty Akita Click To Tweet

An obedient life

Once you have embraced who God is and received His grace and began a daily relationship with Him through the reading of scriptures and prayer, the next step is obedience. God is always leading and it is up to us to follow.  He is also, by His Spirit, directing you to fulfill His purposes and will for your life—these are found in scriptures.  As you pray each day and read the Word, ask God to show you how to, simply and creatively, live out the precepts found in the Bible. Now is the time to take the step of faith and obey Him.  James warns us, “But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” (James 1.22 NET)

We are called to obedience!  A term which largely characterizes what it means to truly follow Jesus. Jesus Himself said,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14.15 ESV)

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”  (Luke 6.46 ESV)

God expects a level of sacrifice to following Him.  If our version of Christianity isn’t costing us something…then we might want to rethink what life we have been called to lead.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and    follow Me.  (Matthew 16:24)

John also attests:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2.3-6)

This may seem like a denial of what you want in order to follow what God wants, and it is, because in taking up our cross, we crucify our selfish nature. We have to trust that God’s plans for our life are much better than ours.

Such individuals come to the realization that no matter how greater their own hopes and plans for their lives, God's hopes and plans are greater. - Amberly Ruck Click To Tweet

Fighting the Good fight

When you follow Jesus, there is a constant battle between your fleshly desires and the desires of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you. One of the more difficult yet essential things a Christian needs to do is to cultivate obedience to the Holy Spirit through discipline, focusing on God’s Kingdom, and ultimately leaning on God for the strength to fight the spiritual battles we face, namely that of our own fleshly desires. Paul reminds us,

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal. 5.17 ESV)

Thankfully, this is not something we are called to do by our own strength, because we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us in this battle.  The Apostle Paul reminds us “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal. 5.16) So, this battle shouldn’t cause anxiety—God has our back! Yet, we must learn to rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit to help us in our struggles with obedience.

It is also important to note that if our relationship with God is not strong, our relationships with others will not be strong either. Our relationship with our Creator is foundational to all of our other relationships!

Focusing on Your Relationships with Others

Let’s face it, it’s hard to love people. Anyone who says otherwise obviously doesn’t drive on a regular basis. Yet, Jesus placed a huge emphasis on how we should treat other people. One of the most important characteristics of the Christian life is love.  We know it is evidence of the Spirit in us:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  (1 John 4.8)

In fact, He also commands us in John 13:34 to “love one another as He has loved us.” If that’s not a high standard, I don’t know what is! It’s easy to compare the way we love with the way other people love, but it becomes a whole different story when Jesus is the standard by which we love. We should strive to love like Jesus—thereby, reflecting God’s love to others as a means of pointing them to the Gospel.

After you are gone, people may forget most of what you have said and done. But they will remember that you loved them. - Steve Goodier Click To Tweet

Building good relationships with other people starts with recognizing them as bearers of God’s image who are tainted with sin, just like you are. We often have a mentality towards others that is self-exalting–that we are better than other people in some way. Yet, all people bear the glorious image of God and should be treated as such. On the other hand, we are all still very tainted and messed up by sin, so again, we really are no better than any other person. Thinking that we are superior on any level destroys relationships.

We must approach relationships with humility.

So, how do we love others? Loving people can be expressed in so many ways, but it must  begin with asking God to fill us with His Spirit—only through Him can we love the way God desires. So, we need to yield to the Holy Spirit to experience this kind of love:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

(Gal 5.22-23 ESV)

What exactly does this love look like?  Paul shares his description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13.4-8)

The greatest example of love

Love embodies selfless acts, genuine care, and a commitment to another person’s best even if there is a cost to us.  Jesus modeled this kind of love by giving His own life for us.

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NET)

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

(John 15:13 NET)

Christians are called to express this kind of love, but more so, to share how much God loves us in that “He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him would have eternal Life.” (John 3.16). This is the message of the Gospel that we are called to share with the world.  So, one of the ways we can love people is by sharing the good news of Jesus—His love and sacrifice to pay for our sins and give us new life.

The Gospel is the greatest gift that you can possibly give someone and sharing the life that Christ brings is the ultimate gift of love.

There are many ways we can love others.  Building genuine relationships with people, outside of technology, is critical to our mission of being Jesus to the world. Simply asking people how they are doing and taking a sincere interest in another’s well-being is key to developing community. Start to intentionally invest time, energy, and interest into a few of your relationships, and you’ll see a massive difference as God uses you to be a blessing to others.

Practical Steps

Here are some practical ways that you can follow Jesus in your everyday life by cultivating your relationships with God and with others. Keep in mind that these things do not come easy and must be intentional–they will not happen on their own.

  1. Your relationship with God
  • Study the Bible daily to know who God is and His will for your life.
  • Pray continuously, as a lifestyle, worshipping Him and bringing your dreams, desires, needs, celebrations, and struggles before Him.
  • Become familiar with the armor of God described in Ephesians 6:10-18. The Christian life faces battles daily and we need the power of God for every fight!
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit in your quest to love, serve and walk in obedience. He will help you when things get difficult.
  1. Your relationships with others
  • Recognize other people as image-bearers, those created in the image and likeness of God and yet tainted by sin, just like you.
  • Love others with humility and allow the Holy Spirit to fill your life.
  • Pray for the right encounters and share the Gospel naturally as you are given the opportunity.
  • Build genuine relationships by being intentional to care and serve others.
  1. Start today!
  • Commit today to following Jesus with a simple prayer, asking for God to lead you and strengthen you.
  • Ask a more mature Christian to disciple you so that you can grow in your faith.
  • You can begin by practicing the above, practical steps. All of these require time to learn and grow—so be patient—it is a lifelong journey.
  • Follow Jesus’ commandments to love God and love others!

“When we come to Christ, we’re no longer the most important person

in the world to us; Christ is. Instead of living only for ourselves,

we have a higher goal: to live for Jesus.”

– Billy Graham

What would you add?

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Zach Heffner

Zach is a musician writer, podcaster, and missionary in South Africa. He is a student at Liberty University and loves to create! You can check out his original music at: http://linktr.ee/zachheffnermusic
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