What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him. Jesus often uses this phrase, "follow me," when he invites people to be his disciples. When he calls Simon and Andrew, a couple of fisherman, he says "follow me... (Mk 1:17). When he invites Levi, a tax collector, he says, "follow me (Mk 2:14)." On numerous occasions within the life of Jesus, he invites people to follow him. This is not merely a physical following, like we might follow someone from one location to another because we don't know the way. It is not merely being starstruck and following him like we would a famous celebrity. It certainly isn't like following someone on Twitter. When Jesus calls someone to follow-him, it is an all-of-life sort of following. It will require all of us. Jesus loves to call people to follow him, no matter their race, ethnicity, culture, sex, age or any other identifying feature. No matter their past sin, or present status in society. Jesus invites every type of person to follow him, but it will require every part of the person who does.

When I talk about being a disciple of Jesus and following Jesus, I use them as synonyms. If we follow Jesus, we are his disciples. If we are his disciples, we follow him.

SO... What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be his disciple?

Three marks of a person who follows Jesus

They love Jesus above all things

First and foremost, a person who follows Jesus must love him above all things. Recognizing that we are imperfect, and therefore cannot perfectly love Jesus, it may be more accurate to say that we are always growing in our love for Jesus, over and above all things. Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Mt 16:24). This does not mean that we do not enjoy the good things that God has created, but they must always be secondary to our love for Jesus. Often, the most elusive sins and idols in our lives are those that come from good things - from loving material things too much, from worshiping our spouse or our children, or from pursuing the praise of others as our primary goal and motivation. Loving Jesus above all things means that he is more important to us than the many good things we have the privilege of enjoying in life.

Paul talks about his desire to boast only in the cross of Jesus (Gal 6:14). There is nothing more worthy of our pleasure and joy than Jesus. All things flow from and to our love and commitment for Jesus. If we follow Jesus, then we must be growing in our love for him and incorporating regular rhythms and patterns that help us grow in that love. 

What raises your affections for Jesus? What helps you to grow in your love for him? Pursue those activities, so that you will grow in your love for Jesus.

They live in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus

The second mark of someone who follows Jesus is that they live their life in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus. This means that their character flows from their love for Jesus - it is in response to their love for Jesus. They are not trying to live with Godly character so they can earn the love of Jesus, but because Jesus has already loved them. Living consistent with their love for Jesus means obeying God's commands as found in the Bible. This can mean many things. It means that they exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 6:22-23). It means that they love God and love others (Mk 12:28-31). It means that they change from their earthly desires to those more consistent with the heart of God (Col 3:5-17). Living a life that is consistent with our love for Jesus can mean many things and the person who follows Jesus - because of their love for Jesus - seeks to bring their character into alignment with what God says in His Word.

They multiply their faith by actively making new disciples

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses to his Good News (Acts 1:8). The person who follows Jesus does so because they have experienced the greatest of news. Jesus brings new life to dead souls - that's really good news! At the cost of his own life, he gives life to those who follow him as his disciples. Jesus wants us to share this with others, so that they can also follow him. When he first called those fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 4:19)." Jesus' call to follow him means that we will catch men into the net of his Kingdom. Some of his final words to his disciples have become known as the Great Commission - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19)." The person who follows Jesus multiplies their faith by actively making new disciples. This happens with our friends, our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates and anyone else we come to know. We share the good news of what Jesus has done and invite others into the joy of following Jesus.