During this series of articles called “What ‘Following Jesus’ Really Means,” I’ve been taking a close look at each phrase in Greg Ogden’s definition of a disciple, or one who follows Jesus:
“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 part two of this series, we saw that 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.
But what exactly are we’re responding to? Let’s explore what the phrase “the gracious call to follow Jesus” means.
Making a Decision for Christ?
When we use the language of “making a decision for Christ,” we can get a little carried away and think it was because of our own effort or decision that we responded to Jesus’ call. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play—we do—but it may not be as significant as we think.
Think about it this way. Imagine someone goes out and buys you a gift, and brings it to your house to give you. They ring the doorbell, you answer and see them standing there with a gift, smiling. They extend the gift in your direction, clearly offering it to you.
You have a choice in that moment of whether or not you will accept that gift. Now, we have cultural norms that put pressure on us to accept the gift, but it really is up to you whether you accept it. Let’s say you do accept the gift, and now it’s yours.
Who is credited with you having the gift? You could say it’s now yours because you accepted it when you didn’t have to, and that’s certainly true. But it’s also true that you wouldn’t have been able to accept the gift without it being offered in the first place. If there was no gift-giver, there would be nothing to accept.
This is how salvation works. We accept a gift that was graciously given to us by God through Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.
The best explanation of this in my mind is from Ephesians 2:1-10. The first three verses focus on what it was like when we were separated from Christ by sin, then verse 4 is a turning point where we see the gracious gift of salvation in Christ is offered.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We didn’t deserve to have Jesus die on our behalf, but God sent him to the cross because he is rich in mercy. None of us deserves to even be offered the gift of salvation in Christ, but God offers it anyway.
But God… Those two words contain the heart of the gospel, that God loves his children so much that he sent his Son to die for them. Now, all those who respond in faith to the gracious call to follow Jesus get to enjoy his righteousness.
Following Jesus means we respond in faith and obedience to his gracious call to follow him. Though that’s a simple enough concept to explain, the reality is that responding in faith and obeying Jesus is a lifelong process, which is the theme we’ll explore next time.