This is part 2 in the series “What ‘Following Jesus’ Really Means.” Read part 1.
In the first part of this series, we saw that when Jesus called someone to be his disciple, he did not mean sitting in a classroom and memorizing information. Following Jesus means walking where he walks, doing what he did, and teaching what he taught.
Disciples of Jesus are not supposed to simply learn information, they are supposed to apply information into their lives in a way that leads to transformation.
In his book Discipleship Essentials, Greg Ogden writes,
“A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is a lifelong process of dying to self while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.”
In this article and each that follows, I’ll be taking a closer look at each phrase in that definition to give us a fuller picture of what following Jesus really means.
Responding in Faith
It’s common to hear someone in the church refer to the time they “put their faith in Christ” or “made a decision for Christ.” And for good reason. That’s part of the way we respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, by putting our faith in him and trusting him to lead our lives.
But to truly understand what the Bible means by putting our faith in Christ, we need to know what the Bible says about faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
If we have faith, then, we don’t merely “hope” for things in the sense that we wish they would happen. Instead, we have the assurance that those things hoped for—no more pain, no more tears, no more death—will one day come to pass. If we have faith, we have conviction in the things God has revealed to us through the Bible; things we cannot see. We don’t have to see the resurrection to have the conviction that it happened.
Responding in faith to Christ, then, means we are assured, we are confident, in his promises of salvation, restoration, and eternal life. We have the conviction these things will happen despite our lack of visual evidence.
Our response of faith isn’t a one-time thing, either. Living by faith is an everyday action for the Christ-follower whose beliefs and convictions are constantly being challenged by other people or life circumstances. An unexpected layoff calls for faith that God’s timing is perfect. An unwelcome diagnosis calls for faith in the resurrection of the dead, where we’ll one day receive a new body, uncorrupted by sin.
When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” it requires faith to move any further.
Responding in Obedience
But responding to Christ’s call to follow him is not merely about faith—it’s also about obedience. By obedience, I simply mean doing what Jesus tells us to do.
Jesus is not satisfied with divided allegiances. He is not content with fair-weather followers. He requires total and complete submission to his lordship over our lives. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Anyone who would follow Jesus is required to renounce everything he has—his selfish ambition, plans, dreams, family, job, income—before truly being able to say they are a disciple of his.
This is why the phrase “I accepted Jesus into my heart” can be so troubling. It’s not that the heart is uninvolved; of course our submission to Jesus results in an emotional response. It’s that the heart can only go where the hands and feet are willing. To give ourselves to Jesus only sentimentally is the same as not giving ourselves to him at all.
Jesus does call us to follow him with our heart and our minds, but he also calls us to follow him with our hands and our feet. Remember, the call to discipleship, or following Jesus, is not just a call to believe; it’s a call to change your life and actions based on those beliefs, as well.
Just as a disciple following their rabbi would become more and more like the rabbi the more they followed him, so we want to become more and more like Jesus in our thoughts and actions the more we follow him.
To be clear, we are not saved through our actions, but our actions are evidence that we have been saved. This is what James is talking about when he writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). And it’s what Jesus means when he explains, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14 ESV).
If we have truly put our faith in Christ, our inward transformation will have outward results. But without faith, we have no foundation for following Jesus in the first place. The two go hand-in-hand—the disciple responding in faith and obedience.
Next time we’ll look at exactly what it is that we’re responding to.