What does it mean to follow Jesus today? Many people misunderstand this to mean simply praying the “sinner’s prayer.” It’s tantamount to just having a simple transaction (i.e. a prayer) with God wherein we say, basically, “God, I’m a sinner. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Lord, I invite you into my heart. Amen.” If there’s someone who led you into this kind of prayer, he or she will then say to you, “Praise God! Now you are saved. You will go to heaven when you die. You have crossed from death to life. Start attending our church, read your Bible, pray everyday, etc.” In other words, a transaction has already been made. That’s all there is to it. There’s nothing else to add or worry about. Anything else will be called “works righteousness.” Salvation is all by grace from beginning to end.
I’m all for grace, but is this really what it means to follow Christ today according to the Bible?
When Jesus called his first disciples, this is what happened.
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)
In other words, following Jesus is not a mere transaction or a prayer. It’s a decision to follow Jesus in order to learn from him and eventually become like him, a fisher of men. To follow Jesus is to become his disciple for life. It’s not just about believing everything about Jesus the first time around, even though that would be important eventually and over time. It’s all about believing enough about Jesus, to begin with, in order to start a new journey of learning with Him. It’s a life of discovery! This is exactly what happened among the first disciples.
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (John 1:35-39)
So to follow Jesus is to begin a new relationship with Him, a relationship that is best described as a learning relationship — a relationship between a Teacher and a student. Everyday is class time!
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Salvation is not just about being forgiven of one’s sins, although that is of course very important. It is the foundation, the starting point of our relationship with Jesus. But to see it as the totality of what it means to be saved is to miss it entirely. Paul, for example, after declaring the spiritual blessings of forgiveness and justification through Christ (i.e. their initial salvation, Eph 1:3-14), prays that the Ephesians will be able to know more about Christ and grow in their relationship with him (i.e. their continuing salvation) over time.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you,remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:15-17)
In other words, God does not merely want to forgive us; He wants to transform us and save us completely. Trust me, there’s a lot to save in us and about us. This is the reason why Paul had to use eleven chapters just to explain the full breadth and extent of the Gospel to the Romans (Romans 1-11) before he can challenge them to apply it in their lives (Romans 12-16). Following Christ is not merely a one-time transaction. It’s akin to getting married. You don’t get married for one day; you get married for life! So following Jesus is all about learning from him day-by-day, as he leads you and guides you through a new life, together with others, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. You must learn how to live with him and in him, even as he lives with you and in you. This is the reason why Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Follow Jesus today and everyday of your life. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make.