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What Does It Mean To “Follow Jesus”?

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In my Facebook profile, I call myself a “Jesus follower.” I am a Christian, but I think “Jesus follower” expresses better what I mean by “Christian.”

Being a Christian is most fundamentally about following Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less.

However, the longer I am a pastor the more I find that words like “following Jesus” or being a “Jesus follower” can also be misunderstood. We talk about wanting to become “like Christ” but I don’t know if we all mean the same thing.

I am reading a book right now that makes this point pretty well:

There is a pervasive theology of “likeness”—“O God, make me more Christlike”—that cheapens the gospel and depresses the spirit…To be His follower means more than admiring His courage and gleaning lessons from His teachings…to be “like Christ” often implies that you don’t really need Christ, since you already have the ideas and teachings of Christ…try to be like Christ, and you will quickly realize that you don’t have a prayer of becoming like him (Jesus Manifesto, pp. 69-71).

Now, I have dedicated my life to following Christ and becoming like him. However, these guys are on to something.

For most of my life, I have tried to do this largely by my own effort. I gave my life to Christ at a young age, but my spiritual journey has often been empty and frustrating. It wasn’t until well into seminary (when I was training to be a pastor!) that I came to the painful, yet thrilling, realization that I can’t do it.

The painful part was realizing how I had been pushing God away with my self-effort. The thrilling part was that there is a much deeper dimension to following Christ than self-propelled obedience. Following Christ isn’t about striving to be good; it’s about inner transformation as we give up our lives and receive his life (Galatians 2.20; 5.16-25).

In other words, following Jesus is all about the Holy Spirit.

Faith and obedience to Christ isn’t self-effort. It’s responding to God’s will and living by His indwelling life through the power of the Spirit (Jesus Manifesto, p. 68, emphasis mine).

Exactly. We are called to become like Christ (Romans 8.29), but how we do that determines everything. We cannot do it in our own power.

So…What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Well, the starting point is always to surrender your life to him as your Lord and Savior (Romans 10.9). Nothing happens without faith in him; that’s where the following starts.

After that—well, now we’re talking about an ongoing relationship with the King of the universe—so let’s let him define the relationship:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15.5).

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14.19-20).

Following Jesus means we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us. We remain in him by spending time with him, watching and listening, so that his life begins to emerge in our lives. We stay so close to him that his desires become our desires. His mission becomes our mission.

Following Jesus means allowing his Spirit to live through us so that we begin to bear fruit that look like him: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). We begin to radiate his life in all we do.

I long for that to become truer in my life. Are you with me?

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking the spiritual journey is just about receiving forgiveness for our sins or becoming better people through Jesus’ teachings. Let’s not be fooled into thinking the Holy Spirit is merely a “force” that can help us accomplish our dreams.

Jesus is alive. The Spirit is real. Let’s walk with him and radiate the life of Jesus to the world around us.

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