What Does Jesus Expect When He Says, "Follow Me"?

Dawn Wilson

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published Oct 16, 2018
What Does Jesus Expect When He Says, "Follow Me"?
The first time I heard about becoming a Christian, I was at my grandmother’s side. “Just ask Jesus into your heart, sweetie,” she said, “and you won’t go to hell.” What girl in her right mind would reject that invitation?

I said all the right words, but I didn’t know Christ in a personal way until after I joined a revival team. I’d believed I was a Christian for years and knew the Christian lingo, but my life revealed a totally different story.

I had a competing allegiance; I was the master of my soul. Rather than following hard after Christ, I followed the dictates of my own sinful heart, and out of my heart came evil thoughts and ways. As Jon Bloom says, “We need to be saved from our hearts.”

I’d never discount anyone who walks an aisle, kneels at an altar and fills out a decision card—or makes a choice for Christ in any number of ways. Only God knows the human heart. Some people go on to show they truly belong to Christ; but with others, it becomes obvious over time they don’t truly know Him. Like I was, they may be following another master.

The Gospel message is simple. That doesn’t mean everyone who hears the Gospel understands it or responds resulting in eternal life. While many claim to know the Lord, it’s more crucial to know that the Lord knows us!

Jesus warned His disciples, speaking of the Day of Judgment: “On that day … will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me….”

We come to know the Lord by believing and receiving; but it’s important to remember Jesus gives His disciples a clear directive: “Follow Me.” What does that mean? What does Jesus expect?

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Jesus Expects Loyal Commitment

Jesus Expects Loyal Commitment

Although the rise of “nones”—those who don’t identify with any religion—is apparent in United States culture, most people still call the United States a “Christian” nation, citing a Christian foundation and the morality and ethics springing from the Bible.

Countless people claim to be Christians simply because they live in this country. “Christian” has become a fairly generic term. For some, it might simply mean, “I’m not a Jew” … “I’m not a Muslim” … “I’m not an atheist,” etc. Satan loves for people to think living in a Christian nation equates to living as a Christian.

By the time I went to college, I knew all about Jesus. I’d heard about His stories, parables, commands and miracles. But again, that didn’t mean I knew Him. Knowing Jesus implies an intimate relationship. He knows His sheep individually, and they listen carefully for His voice so they can respond and follow Him.

The day I met the Lord, I finally identified with the believers in Acts 11:26b who were the first people called “Christians”—Christians in the way the word was meant to be. The community of believers in the early New Testament church were so loyal to Christ and so distinct from the surrounding culture, people took note. They likely said things like: “Those people over there… they act like Jesus. They talk like Jesus. They must be His followers.”

One source says the Romans described these early believers as “belonging to the party of Christ.” Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews, referred to believers as “the tribe of Christians, so named from Him.”

In Roman culture, “Christian” wasn’t a flattering term. It was derisive! The Christians were those radical people who did not acknowledge the emperor of Rome, because they were loyally committed to following Christ instead. Their loyalty was a commitment, but also a lifestyle.

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Jesus Expects Us to Actually Follow

Jesus Expects Us to Actually Follow

For the disciples, following Jesus meant a radical decision, a change of direction, purpose and choices. Jesus told the disciples early on to seek Him and the Kingdom before and above all else.

The scriptures give us many examples of the disciples responding to Jesus’ call to “Follow Me.” Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew moved quickly—immediately—to leave their fishing business and follow Jesus, offering their loyalty and receiving a new mission in life. Likewise, Matthew left his lucrative tax collecting career to follow the Lord. Peter said it well when he testified that he, along with the other disciples, “left everything” to follow Christ.

When we are called to follow, Jesus expects us to obey. To upend our lives, if necessary, and get in line behind Him and His will. Immediately. Without reservation.

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Jesus Expects a Changed Heart

Jesus Expects a Changed Heart

Josh McDowell and his son Sean wrote about “evidence that demands a verdict” regarding the claims of Christ—logical and life-changing truth for a skeptical world. We might also look for evidence to how people respond to those claims.

It’s far too easy today for people to claim the name “Christian” without acting like Him. 

Saving grace is entirely God’s work—apart from anything we can do to merit His grace. When the Father rescues us from the judgment and penalty of sin through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus—saving us from an eternity in hell—He alone gets the glory for the miraculous transaction.

That saving grace is also sanctifying grace; the Lord desires to change our belief system, thoughts, attitudes, actions. Everything! Before we know the Lord, the works of our hands are “dead works,” works based in self-righteousness that lead to death. But once we know Him and belong to Him, Jesus looks for evidence of a changed heart—substantiation of our life in Him, verification we are following Him.

He looks for signs of life!

Jesus might look for:

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Jesus Expects Us to Count the Cost

Jesus Expects Us to Count the Cost

We might, like Peter, think we would remain loyal under the toughest circumstances. He and the other disciples said they would even die for Jesus before denying Him. But Jesus knew their hearts.

Jesus knew those following Him would indeed pay a high price. With a word picture, He urged His disciples to count the cost. Paul also knew something of counting the cost by suffering for Christ; but he gladly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

Likewise today, loyalty to Jesus might bring grief and suffering. Following Jesus might cost His chosen ones loss of reputation, the comfort of their families, and even their life. Counting the cost can be expensive and without perceivable rewards.

But that does not mean there isn’t a reward for following Jesus. He has prepared a “kingdom” and an eternal dwelling place for His followers. And regardless of circumstances, we have the joy to know we can bring Him honor now, no matter what happens to us, when we count the cost and choose to follow. 

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Jesus Expects Us to Prioritize Him

Jesus Expects Us to Prioritize Him

The invitation to discipleship is a call to the kind of fervent, passion-filled lifestyle that might be misinterpreted by others.

Our fervency for the Lord must be so intense that it might even appear as disregard for possessions or “hate” for our family members. Jesus never called us to actually hate our family, but only to love Him so much—so passionately and completely—that any other relationship fades into the background by comparison. In loving Him, we will know how to best love others, including those in our family.

Christ-followers cannot earn Jesus’ acceptance; we are already accepted in the Beloved. But we will want to live worthy of Him, and that means prioritizing Him—His person, work and plans—over all other people and personal agendas.

We are to prioritize Jesus even before ourselves. The Lord cautioned His disciples in Luke 14:26b that He must be first, even above the disciple’s own life. The martyr gladly yields his life to the One he adores.

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Jesus Expects Us to Take Up Our Cross

Jesus Expects Us to Take Up Our Cross

Jesus told His disciples, “and whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” We’re not worthy to claim His name if we’re not willing to follow Him, wherever that leads. Taking up our cross means denying ourselves daily in order to keep in step with Him.

I laughed when a friend joked, after going on a luxurious cruise, “Ah, that’s just my cross to bear.” But cross-bearing is serious business.

It’s more than a focus on a heavy burden we might carry every day for the rest of our lives, like a debilitating illness or struggles with poverty. Those hard circumstances may indeed burden our soul, but there’s a deeper truth in cross-bearing.

Jesus’ cross wasn’t about the cross itself; it was about what it symbolized. The cross under Roman rule was a shameful device of ridicule, humiliation and torturous death. Jesus came to die such a horrible death. He laid down his life for us. The cross is about submission to the Father’s will.

Followers are called to “die to self”—to crucify their flesh and yield over all they love for His sake. Dying to self will always be hard if we love ourselves too much and Him too little.

Jesus never said countless losses will happen to us if we follow Him, but the question might be asked—a question that reveals our heart—“Am I willing to face loss for Him, even terrible, gut-wrenching loss?”

In the comfortable West, we sometimes find it difficult to step outside our comfort zone and the insulated bubble of many churches; but Christ-followers in the Persecuted Church around the world face challenging, horrific losses for their faith every day. They choose to take up their cross to the glory of Christ, siding with the Overcomer in all their troubles.

We might learn from them how to follow.

Following Jesus is relatively easy when life is carefree and painless; but our commitment is shown during our deepest trials when discipleship is demanding and sacrificial. Our loyalty to Him is revealed when we are mocked, threatened and persecuted.

Taking up our cross involves the choice to surrender our possessions, dreams, fondest hopes, most precious earthly loves and all else for the advancement of God’s purposes and glory. It involves following in the steps of our Savior.

Jesus expects that we will follow Him willingly, loyally, obediently and fully. And He has the right to expect this. Christ-followers do not belong to themselves, but live to honor the Holy One who bids us, “Follow Me.”

Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.

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Originally published Thursday, 18 October 2018.