Jesus said “Follow Me”. What does that mean? And why does it matter? Jesus tells us exactly what it means and the impact it will have on our lives. But first, let’s be clear. Just as in Jesus’ time, within our present culture we have confused the difference between being a fan of Jesus versus being a follower of Jesus. A fan stands on the sidelines cheering the idea of Jesus. A follower gets off the sidelines and personally engages Jesus on a lifelong journey. There is a difference between believing in Jesus and actually following Him.
In Luke 9, Jesus is speaking with His disciples and asks them who the crowds say that He is. With that question, the disciples provided all sorts of answers, which fit the narrative of a “lesser than” form of Jesus. Jesus then asked His own disciples who they believe He is. To this, Peter said: “The Christ of God” (v. 20b). With that answer, Peter revealed that he understood Jesus to be more than a rabbi, more than a prophet. He understood Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God Himself, the Word become flesh. After Peter shared his answer, Jesus then revealed that He would soon suffer, die and be raised to life on the third day. This was a bombshell revelation. Afterwards, Jesus told His disciples what is involved in truly following Him and the transformation that will take place.
The Effort Involved in Following Jesus (Luke 9:23-24)
Jesus stated first that if you are going to follow Him, you “must deny” yourself (v. 23a). To deny self is a personal choice, and one that must be made each day. To deny yourself in order to follow Christ means to sacrifice your self-driven interests for the interests of Jesus. You purposely give up what you prefer (the things that align with your will) in a given moment to follow where He leads (aligning with His will).
Secondly, Jesus said, “and take up his cross daily” (v. 23b). When Jesus spoke these words, the cross was an instrument of death. Jesus uses this image to call us to not only deny self, but be willing to die to self. This means choosing to stay true to the journey Jesus is leading you on, regardless of the cost. Jesus challenged His disciples then (and now) with a big ask. It’s not easy to sacrifice in this kind of way. But then He follows up with a big promise.
Lastly, Jesus said simply, “and follow Me” (v. 23c). The word “follow” is used 77 times in the New Testament, and is the primary term used to describe being a disciple of Christ. It calls for trusting Jesus to lead your life — every part of it. It also implies that you will develop a genuine companionship with Him on the journey. Jesus will transform your life through this developing relationship.
Jesus did not call you to be a fan, standing on the sideline of life, cheering the grand idea of Jesus. He calls you to follow Him each new day of your life, one day at a time.
The Transformation Experienced in Following Jesus (Luke 9:25-27)
In the final verses of this conversation, Jesus points to the promise that if we choose to follow Him, He will transform us in this life and in the life to come. In v. 25, He paints a picture of a person who is a fan of Jesus — not a follower. Such a person, in time, will seek to live a life of significance, not through Christ, but through what he/she can “gain” in the world. The result? According to Jesus, he/she will “lose or forfeit his very self.” The word “lose” is used here to mean to destroy or ruin. To lose your “very self” pictures someone isolated and alone, though they have gained “the whole world” (or at least what the world had to offer). A life focused on self, rather than following Jesus, will inevitably result in an empty, isolated life. Jesus offers a meaningful life, a life worth living — as opposed to one spent collecting all that this world offers. To follow Jesus means you will be transformed in this life as you take the faith journey and develop companionship with Him.
In v. 27, Jesus also promised that some of the disciples would get a glimpse of the life to come. Peter, James and John, eight days later, experienced the Transfiguration on the mountain (vv. 28-36). They experienced a sample of the life to come, and were so affected by it, they did not want to leave. However, Jesus called them to follow Him back to earth to fulfill the purpose God had for them.
Are you a fan or a follower? Do you just believe in Jesus (and comfortably sit on the sidelines) or do you actually follow Him (engaging Him on a daily basis)?
“‘Then He said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his LIFE for Me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’”