We have all heard the admonition in the form of a rhetorical question: “What would Jesus do?” Indeed, Christians are required to follow Jesus’ as an example for our lives (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21). But what does this entail? Just doing what we imagine He would want us to do? Or following the example that we have given to us in the bible? There is no record of Jesus’ life or teachings outside of the bible. In this series of articles we will learn what the bible states about what Jesus taught and its clear illustration in Jesus’ life. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail us.
I Will Follow Jesus
Let me tell you about the invitation Jesus has extended to me. It’s the same one He issued to Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:19), to James and John (Matthew 4:21), to Matthew (Matthew 9:9), Philip (John 1:43), and the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:21). The invitation, simply put, is follow Me!
I’m not ashamed to say that I have decided to follow Jesus, and here are just a few reasons why.
I follow Him, because I believe in Him—that He is everything He claims to be. I believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), because the evidence is just too strong to believe otherwise. And because I believe that He is the Son of God, I believe every other claim He makes about Himself. I believe that…
- He is eternal—the One “who is and who was and who is to come,” the “First and the Last,” the “Beginning and the End,” the “Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:4, 8; 2:8).
- He is the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15).
- He is “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).
- He is the “Light of the world,” the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 8:12; 14:6).
- He is the “Lamb of God,” the Savior of my soul (John 1:29, 36; 4:42)
- He is “the Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Who else, in my right mind, would I follow? (John 6:68). Jesus, because of who He is, is worthy of my complete trust and devotion.
I follow Him, because I believe that He “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). No one took His life (John 10:18), for as the song says, “He could have called ten thousand angels” (see Matthew 26:53). I was one of His sheep who had gone astray (1 Peter 2:25), and so as the good shepherd, He laid down His life for me (John 10:17-18). He did this, despite my unworthiness (Romans 5:6-8). After all, it was my sins that nailed Him to the cross. How can I refuse someone who did that for me? “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
I follow Him, because I believe His promises, promises described as “exceedingly great and precious” (2 Peter 1:4). If I commit to following Him…
- He will take away my sins, or save me from my sins (John 1:29; Matthew 1:21).
- He will give me rest for my soul (Matthew 11:28-30).
- He will give me a new life, an abundant life, a life as a child of God (John 3:3-5; 10:10; 1:12).
- He will give me food for my soul, food that endures to everlasting life (John 6:27).
- He will be with Me, and He will never cast me out (John 14:23; 6:38; 10:27).
- He will give me peace in a world full of tribulation (John 16:33; 14:27).
- He will give me joy that no one can take from me (John 16:22; 15:11).
- He will come again, and give me eternal life—in a place He has prepared for me (John 6:54; 14:1-3).
How can I turn my back on such wonderful promises? I follow Jesus, because only He can give me what I truly need; only He can give me eternal life.
If I’m foolish and choose not to follow—He will give me none of these things, and in the end, He will take vengeance on me and punish me with everlasting destruction from His presence (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). How could I possibly choose a fate such as that?
I have decided to follow Jesus. Have you?
What it Means to Follow Jesus
Follow Me!—that’s the call that Jesus issues to every person. In the last article, I gave you the reasons I decided to follow Jesus. But what does it mean to follow Jesus?
Simply put, following Jesus means following His words—His teaching, His commandments. “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31). “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). “If anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Lest we think this unimportant, consider the consequences if we don’t. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 1:9). “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
Keep this in mind, though, about the teaching of Christ—it is more than just the “words in red”; it includes that given through His apostles and prophets. Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He told His apostles that He still had many things to say to them (John 16:12), and to accomplish that, He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (“He will guide you into all truth…He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you”—John 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit did come and reveal all truth, and this body of truth was written down and preserved for us in the New Testament (Ephesians 3:1-5; Jude 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3). But it is still the teaching of Jesus, because what they wrote came from or through Him—something they emphasized in their writings (see 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Thessalonians 4:2).
Following Jesus also means following His example (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21)—obviously a very important element of His teaching. One who claims to be a follower of Christ should make every effort to live as He did. “He who says He abides in Him ought Himself to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). The aim of His teaching, after all, is to change us into His image (Romans 8:28-29).
Following Jesus also involves following the example of those who followed Him, and there are many such in the New Testament. Consider what Paul wrote, first in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”; and then in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” The teaching of Christ is much easier to relate to when we see it embodied—in Christ, and in His followers.
In looking for examples or patterns to follow, let’s not forget about the local churches we read about in the New Testament. These churches were taught the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37; 4:17), and so what they did in obedience to the Lord is what we need to do today. Churches who are interested in following Jesus will endeavor to follow this pattern—in their worship, their work, and their organization. If you are part of a church that is not following this pattern, you are not following Jesus!
The Commitment Involved in Following
Could it be that we’re like the men Jesus met in Luke 9, who had a desire to follow Him, but didn’t understand the commitment involved (Luke 9:57-62)? The following points should help us better understand what Jesus expects from us.
We cannot follow Jesus until we have crucified or denied ourselves (Matthew 16:24-25)—until we are willing to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in Me” (Galatians 2:20). The decision we make goes something like this: “I will no longer live according to the flesh (Galatians 5:24), nor according to the standards of the world (Galatians 6:14); I will instead live for the One who died for me” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
We cannot follow Him until we are willing to surrender all—time, talents, money, and yes, even our very lives. Need some good examples?
- Dorcas, who used her talent for sewing to make garments for widows (Acts 9:36-39).
- The Macedonian Christians, who gave generously, because “they first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
- Epaphroditus, who risked his life to supply the needs of Paul (Philippians 2:29-30).
- Epaphras, who spent considerable time praying for his brethren (Colossians 4:12).
- The apostle Paul, who was willing “to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
Let’s give Jesus all we’ve got, because that’s exactly what He does for us (Romans 8:31-32).
“Were the whole realm of nature mine—that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”
(When I Survey the Wondrous Cross).
We must follow Him, no matter who may be opposed, no matter who we may have to leave behind, no matter what they may say or do to us. In standing for Jesus, we may have to stand against our friends and loved ones (Matthew 10:34-37; Luke 14:26). If their praise and acceptance means more than the praise and acceptance of Jesus, we will never be true disciples (John 9:18-22; 12:42-43).
We must follow Him daily—not occasionally, not just when we feel like it, not just when it’s agreeable to us. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Look through the New Testament and see how many times you see these words and phrases connected with our service to Jesus: daily, night and day, diligently, often, and always. Jesus doesn’t take a day off from serving me (Hebrews 7:25), so why should I take a day off from serving Him?
We must “follow the Lamb wherever He goes,” which is exactly what is said of the faithful in Revelation 14:4. We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, but consider this: If we follow Jesus wherever He goes, we will end up in heaven, because that’s exactly where He is now (John 12:26; 14:3). We will talk more about this in the next article.
We must follow Him NOW! When Jesus asked Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, they immediately left what they were doing and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-22). Let’s not make the same mistake that others did by saying, “Let me FIRST go and…” do something else that seemed important to them (Luke 9:59-61). Jesus is not someone we should put off.
Following Wherever He Goes
Many are willing to follow Jesus, but only up to a certain point. Jesus wants more; He wants us to follow Him wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4)—wherever He has gone, wherever He continues to go, and finally, to where He is now. Let’s look at some of the “places” we need to go in following Jesus.
First, we must follow Him to the cross—where we crucify or deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24), where we put ourselves to death and determine to live for Him (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15), where we unite with Him in His death by being buried with Him in baptism (Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:12).
We must follow Him to wherever the needy are found—to the sick, the weak, the discouraged, the orphans and widows, the elderly, etc. He went to them often when He was on the earth (Mark 10:45; Acts 10:38), and He is still with them, because when we serve them, we serve Him (Matthew 25:34-40).
We must follow Him to wherever the lost are found. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), a work that His followers must continue, because the fields are still “white for harvest” (John 4:35). We don’t have to do it alone, because when we go, He promises to go with us (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 4:17).
We must follow Him to the throne of God in prayer. Jesus went there often during His ministry (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 6:12), and He is still there, serving as our High Priest, making intercession for us (Hebrews 2:16-18; 4:14-16; 7:25).
We must follow Him to where others are gathered in His name. The opening chapter of the Book of Revelation pictures Jesus “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Revelation 1:13), with the lampstands representing the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:20). The teaching here is clear: Wherever His faithful are gathered, Jesus is there, but His presence is conditional. “Repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:5). Jesus is patient; He will give people time to repent (Revelation 2:21), but He cannot dwell with those who are not faithful to His word. We will take up this point again in the next article.
We must follow Him to glory. When Jesus spoke of His departure, Peter asked Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward” (John 13:36). If we want to follow Him to heaven, though, we must follow Him now—wherever He goes.
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard thee calling, Come follow Me!
And we see where They footprints falling lead us to Thee.
If they lead through the temple holy, preaching the word;
Or in homes of the poor and lowly, serving the Lord.
Then at last, when on high He sees us, our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus end at His throne.
Footprints of Jesus, That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus where’er they go.
(Footprints of Jesus, Mary B.C. Slade, A. B. Everett)
To Where His Followers are Gathered
For the past several articles we’ve been looking at the call Jesus issues to every person—“Follow Me.” We learned in the last article that following Jesus means following Him wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4). One of these places is wherever His followers are gathered, because wherever His people are gathered, He is in their midst (Revelation 1:10-13, 20; 2:1). But as we noted in the last article, His presence is conditional—He will not continue to abide with those who will not abide in His word (Revelation 2:5; 2 John 1:9). Let’s look at one “place” where we will not find Jesus.
We cannot follow Jesus into a denomination, because He won’t be there. That’s not the popular view, so before you reject it, consider the following:
HIS EXAMPLE. Jesus did not join any of the sects (denominations) of his day (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.), for several reasons.
- Their teaching, at least on some points, was contrary to the will of God (Matthew 16:11-12).
- By joining one of these, He would have promoted loyalty to a party, rather than to God. Jesus said, “I have come…to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38), and that’s exactly what He invited others to do (Luke 8:19-21; 11:27-28), independent of any of these sects. Can you imagine Him saying instead, “What we as Pharisees believe…”?
- By aligning himself with one party, he would have separated Himself from others who might follow Him.
Would it not be possible for someone to do today what Jesus did then—simply follow the will of God without being part of any party, sect, or denomination?
HIS PRAYER, especially the one recorded in John 17:20-21: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” How could Jesus support a division (denomination) when He prayed for unity?
HIS TEACHING, such as that recorded in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13: “…that you all speak the same thing…that there be no divisions among you…that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me…that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Read that passage again, very carefully. Do you see any thing that resembles the current state in the religious world? Many denominations have been formed around men and the different doctrines they teach. Clearly, from what we read in the passage above, Christ is not pleased.
THE PURPOSE OF HIS DEATH—“that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16). Jesus died to bring people together, not to divide them up. So if Jesus cannot be found in a denomination, where is He? Where can we go and be assured of His presence?
Following Jesus to His Church
Following Jesus “wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4) will take us to wherever His followers are gathered, because wherever His followers are gathered, He is in their midst (Revelation 1:10-13, 20; 2:1), having fellowship with them in their various activities (Matthew 26:29; Hebrews 2:10-12). But, as we pointed out in our last article, Jesus is not in the midst of every group, because when a church is not faithful to His word, He removes their “lampstand” (Revelation 2:5). One place we will not find Jesus is in a denomination, for all the reasons stated in our last article.
So if Jesus is not in a denomination, where is He? Where can we go and be assured of His presence?
Jesus will be found in a church whose only allegiance is to Him and to His word—a church that is truly independent, free from any associations, or councils, or conventions. The only human oversight of this church is from the elders within that local church (1 Peter 5:1-2). There is no “statement of faith” that distinguishes them from other groups, just a steadfast commitment to follow the teachings of Christ. The members of this church identify themselves simply as “Christians” (Acts 11:26). No other denominational label is necessary, because they are not part of any denomination.
Jesus will abide with a church that abides in His teaching (2 John 1:9), a church that recognizes Him as its head (Colossians 1:18), and therefore does nothing without His authority (Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5:23-24). A church that seeks to follow Christ will follow the pattern of New Testament churches, because what they did was in obedience to His commandments (1 Corinthians 14:37). In fact, Paul commended the church at Thessalonica, because they “became followers of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). The brethren at Jerusalem, who formed the first local church, “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42, NASV).
Did any of these churches described in the New Testament ever stray from the truth? Yes, they did. There were those who began to accept and teach “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), but those who did were strongly rebuked (Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 2:14-15). We can rest assured that if we do the same thing today, the Lord will feel the same way.
What we fear is that if Jesus were to visit many modern churches today, He would say the same thing to them that He said to the Pharisees: “In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men…you are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:7-9, NASV). We don’t have to be like them, in fact, we can do the very opposite of what they did. Let’s lay aside our traditions and our own precepts, and get back to following Jesus. It is only by following Him now that we can follow Him to heaven.