Being a Follower of Christ
As many of you know I had a rough year in 2009. The challenges of the year and the way Jesus met me during my fight against cancer changed me in many ways. One unmistakable change is how my spirit has been sensitized to His voice and to a desire to be in His perfect will. The word of God is no longer merely a collection of doctrines to me but is the very speaking of God Himself. The Bible has become for me a very serious book not to be taken lightly.
As I have explored the Bible in recent weeks the word has come alive to me and my understanding of many truths has been severely challenged. One of those truths is what the word has to say about what it truly means to be a Christian. I have thoroughly covered this truth in chapter six of my book Face to Face.
I always understood this truth as a doctrine but somehow the doctrine has become a transforming reality in my life. This understanding has raised the possibility that many who profess to be Christians may indeed be mistaken. Many of the believers with whom we fellowship are coming to the same conclusion.
We have accepted, in this country especially a very weak notion of what if means to be a disciple of Jesus. Years ago we entered an age of cheap grace in which we accepted the notion that we can be Christians without paying a price. Indeed, Christ paid the price for our sins but let us not reject the truth that there is a heavy price to be paid for following Christ.
Christ asks us to come out of the world and take a stand for Him and His simple truth. That, in itself, is a stumbling block to many. Many Christians I know want to be known as Christians but they reject the notion that we are called to a serious commitment to lay down our lives.
We mistakenly believe that we can be with Christ without following Him where He leads. We think we can be sheep of the Great Shepherd without being able to hear His voice and follow Him. We think we can be the church, which by definition is made up of those who hear His call and come out of the world to Him, without hearing Him and obeying Him.
Obedience is the sure sign of faith
The write of Hebrews wrote, “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Peter said, “Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Many other passages show clearly that obedience is the sure sign of faith. Those of us who say we have faith but do not obey Christ may be deceiving ourselves. I am concerned that many are doing just that.
Jesus told His disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:24-27).
Let’s break that passage down and see what the Lord was saying. Jesus was talking about coming after Him or following Him. In order to follow Him He said that two things must happen: we must deny ourselves and we must take up our cross. These two things are prerequisites to being His follower.
The Lord goes on to say that a person who sets out to save his life will lose it. The word translated “life” here is the word “soul.” Jesus is saying that a person who sets out to save his soul in its present condition will lose it. In the next statement He says that the person who loses His soul for His sake will find it. Clearly Jesus was saying that in order to follow Him a person must lose His soul in order to find it.
In the first statement Jesus said that we must deny our selves. Self is a synonym for “soul.” Your soul is all that you are—your mind, emotions and will. This is what Jesus is saying must be denied. But if we lose our soul for His sake we will find it. Jesus is saying that in our unredeemed condition we possess a soul that is selfish and incapable of following Him. It must be denied. It must be lost. It must die before we can follow Him because it will insist on its own way at every turn.
On the other hand, if our soul is renewed by our commitment to follow Him and be with Him, it will take on His nature. This is salvation to the fullest extent, our being like Christ. This will result in a desire to obey Him and live by His leading. In this way our soul-life is found and we begin to fulfill our destiny in Christ. Our soul will not be forfeited but will be found and saved in Him.
We must take up our cross
In the next statement Jesus said we must take up our cross. Anyone who lived in Roman-controlled Jerusalem in that day was quite familiar with the meaning of the cross. A cross stood for death. A person who takes up his cross is one who sets out to die. The death Jesus alluded to is the death of our selfish, fallen, unredeemed soul. Without its death we cannot follow Him because it simply will refuse to go where He wants to lead.
Jesus wants us to be His followers, His disciples, those who listen for voice and go where He calls. The Christian life is not a life of independent freedom in which we choose to make it what we want it to be. Rather, it is a life of dying to self so that we can follow Christ where He leads. He is the Good Shepherd and we are the lambs who are to hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow. Jesus does not ask us to go where He has not been. Paul wrote of Him, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, counted not being equal with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. (Phil. 2:5-8).
When Jesus required that we take up a cross, He knew what He was talking about. His life was lived with the cross ever in His view. We do not have to die on a cross or suffer separation from God because He suffered death for us. But we are told by Paul in this passage, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). Our attitude about our journey on earth is to be tempered by having the same attitude that motivated Jesus. He was not out to do His will, to make a name for Himself. He was willing to become a servant, humble Himself and die on the cross. We are called to the same way of thinking—to the same walk of death to self.
The most wonderful thing of all is that this humbling leads to great exaltation. This same passage says of Christ, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and given to him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (vv,10, 11).
Peter declares, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). God does not want us to die to self because He likes death but because He knows that this death produces life. As we die to self we will truly live. As we humble ourselves under His great hand He eventually uses that hand to exalt us just as He did His Son. Christ now dwells in the highest place because He was willing to go to the lowest place of death. His name is above every name because He was willing to put aside His own will, His own desire for a name, and obey His Father.
This is Christianity in its purest form. This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not about using the ways of this world to promote ourselves in the name of Christ. It is not about seeking to be somebody in our own right. It is about laying it all down for His sake. It’s all about Jesus and His desires for our lives and how they fit into His eternal purpose for His bride, the church.
And that is why all of this is possible only in the context of the functioning body of Christ. Without the fellowship, accountability and love of our brethren none of us can begin and finish this journey. Let us pray for a revelation of what it means to follow Christ in union with His people. Let us stop asking what’s in it for us and begin to seek to fulfill His heart’s desire for our lives and for His church. God bless you all in this endeavor.