What does it really mean to Follow Christ? Does the Gospel account leave us in any doubt as to how we can do so? In the early part of the Gospel accounts, we have examples in the calling of the Apostles when Jesus asks them to Follow Him and they left their vocations and served Christ (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:27).
We need to note that implicit in their action was their trust in the words and the person of Christ. This trust led them to the action of turning their backs on what they were doing up to the point when they were called, be it as Tax Collector or Fisherman. Instead, they followed Christ and served him during the three short years of his earthly ministry which continued into the early church period after His ascension, in proclaiming the good news of salvation that is by faith in Christ. The trouble is that the Saviour is no longer physically with us today, and besides, not all of us are called be ordained Ministers of the Gospel – you may say – and so how then can we follow Christ like the Apostles did? Let’s first seek to know what it means to Believe in the Lord Jesus.
To start with, believing or trusting in the Saviour means not just relying on him and his words abstractly, but it leads to one receiving the gift of eternal life (John 3:36). Having an abiding faith in Christ also leads us to obedience. In other words, faith and obedience are two sides of the coin that relate us to Christ. The emphasis on obedience in the testimony of John the Baptist in John 3:36 can be seen from words “believeth not” which can also be translated as “disobedience”. In the words of one commentator, our Saviour Jesus “confronts sinners with the invitation and the demand to trust and obey,” and the rejection of it leads to death and having the wrath of God continue on them!
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
This is indeed so if we, who individually esteem Christ to be the Saviour – who can save us from our sin – will therefore do whatever he bids us to do just as the Apostles did!
Now, is there a definitive statement from the Scriptures on the corollary action of attaching ourselves to Christ as his Disciples? If so, what then are the steps or actions? In fact, we can learn this principle of new life in Luke 9:23 and other parallel accounts of the Gospel. In Luke 9:23, it is clear that this action applies to all disciples individually and NOT to the 12 Apostles alone. It is universal and without exception, applying to all who trust in Christ to escape the wrath of God.
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Let us seek to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If any man will come after me.” The phrase “To come after” means the desire to attach oneself to Jesus as his disciple. This means to trust and therefore attach oneself to Christ as his Disciple. To do so, one needs to do three things as mentioned in Luke 9:23, namely;
Firstly, we need to bid farewell to self, not part or some of ourselves, but our full sinful self. This is logical, and a natural action of a Sinner-servant reconciled to God the King. This brings us to the Garden of Eden, prior to Adam and Eve’s usurping of God’s Authority over their lives, where we are to discharge the Creation mandate. It means now also that having dethroned self and renounced our selfish agenda, we invite Christ to the throne of our life as our Lord and Master and therefore follow his will for our life, no matter what. These thoughts are echoed in Matthew 6:33, Luke 17:10, the parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) and the like.
This then brings us to the second step, namely, we have to carry one’s baggage, namely our allotted Cross on a daily basis. What is this Cross then? What does the figure of the Cross mean? This Roman Cross to our Saviour means suffering and death for the sake of the Elect, for those whom he came to save. For us, we are each allotted a Cross and we need to bear it on a daily basis. But what does our allotted Cross mean? We are perhaps too familiar with the word because our indwelling sin has watered down the meaning of the Cross. In the words of one commentator, “It is a mistake to call our suffering a cross. The wicked have many sorrows but no crosses. The Cross is that suffering alone which results from our faithful connection with Christ (Luke 6:22)”. Bearing one’s Cross means suffering for the Gospel’s sake and not the suffering due to sickness, the fallen world or our sinful self. Bearing one’s Cross also means that we are also willing to lay down our earthly life for the Gospel’s sake, just like our Saviour did for us. In the words of R.C. Lenski, one can picture an overwhelming scene consisting of each disciple bearing his or her allotted Cross, following ‘in one immense procession after Christ like men who are being led to be crucified.”
Finally, the third and final step is to proceed with the journey in following Christ, meaning steadfast attachment to Christ’s cause all the days of our life. We know that by ourselves and our own strength we cannot do the three steps. We have the assurance that we can follow Christ because we are his Sheep and therefore will hear the Master’s voice and follow him (Jn 10:27,28; 12:26). This brings us to the title of this short pastoral message.
Does the title “This Life is NOT about Ourselves” still sound unpalatable to you on initial glance? Isn’t it true that we have to trust and obey Christ? To be his disciple, in attaching to him in an abiding faith relationship, we have to dethrone self and enthrone Christ and carry our allotted Cross all the days of our life. This means that this Life we have in Christ is not about ourselves, not about our family, not about our wealth and reputation but about the Kingdom of God and that we are part of the great procession of pilgrims bearing our allotted crosses throughout the ages “like men who are being led to be crucified.”
Are we or are we not his disciples?
This article was first published on 9 February 2014. A version of the article may be found online here.
About the author: Wilson Oon is an engineer by training and has served as an Elder in First Evangelical Reformed Church (Singapore), leading the follow-up ministry and the Church contact committee. He occasionally preaches and previously contributed this article to the the weekly church bulletin.