Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost 1. However, in the Bible we never see Jesus inviting people to pray a prayer to “receive” salvation. Throughout the four gospels we see Jesus calling people to follow him, and it’s this commitment to follow Christ that leads to salvation 2. How we understand and respond to Jesus’ call will have eternal implications.
Let’s examine some Biblical examples of Jesus calling people to follow him, and the different ways that they responded.
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62 ESV).
Notice the initial response of both men. “Let me first…” Neither man refuses to follow Jesus, but their immediate reaction is to adapt Jesus’ call to accommodate their personal situation. The Lord of heaven, the savior of the world, has just invited them to join him in fulfilling the eternal purposes of God, and their immediately concern is how it will affect their personal life. This really is the big trap. Most people want God in their life, and many people want a relationship with Jesus. But the great temptation is to want it on our terms; and while our terms seem perfectly reasonable to us, don’t expect Jesus to agree.
The first man asks permission to bury his father. Some teach that the man’s father hadn’t died yet and the man wanted time to wait for his father’s death so he could secure his inheritance. That’s quite an assumption, because there’s nothing in the text that supports this view. At face value this is simply a request to go and bury his dead father. But Jesus tells him to let others take care of that and instead to go proclaim the kingdom of God. The second man also makes what seems to be a reasonable request to say goodbye to his family, but Jesus does not accommodate him either.
The beauty of reading about Jesus in the scriptures is that we can have full assurance that if Jesus said it, or Jesus did it, then it is right, it is good, it is grounded in perfect wisdom, and motivated by perfect love. But don’t expect it to make sense to our self-biased, natural way of reasoning 3. If we expect God to operate within the guidelines of what we think is reasonable, we will be seriously limited in our perception of who he is and what he expects of us.
Wanting to bury your father or to say goodbye to your family certainly isn’t bad within itself. Some would argue that these things actually fall within the realm of basic responsibility. So why did Jesus respond the way he did? I think Jesus’ response was triggered by the very fact that they wanted to negotiate. He calls them to follow him and their first thought is about themselves. It’s not that there isn’t time to do what the men requested. Time isn’t the issue. It’s the attitude of their heart that Jesus is addressing. They have encountered the Son of God, who has come to earth to save a lost and dying world. He has personally invited them to join him in this work that will alter the history of the world and change everything for eternity, and their response is to put their personal life “first”. Jesus’ uncompromising response is an attempt to help them see correctly.
Now contrast the above scenarios with the following passage.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22 ESV)
These men are at their jobs, providing for their families. James and John are part of a family business and they are at work with their father. But when Jesus calls them, they “immediately” leave the boat and their father and follow him. From a natural perspective this was not a reasonable response, but it was exactly what Jesus was looking for, and their lives were transformed in the most remarkable way for all of eternity.
Make no mistake, these men are far from perfect. Through the gospels we get many glimpses into the weaknesses and short comings of Peter, James, and John. But their unconditional commitment to follow Jesus led them to an amazing place in history and eternity. Later, Jesus tells them how they will be rewarded for their radical choice to follow him. He also makes it clear that this reward is extended to everyone who responds to him in the same way.
And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30 ESV)
We should not think that our encounter with Jesus is any less amazing than what these men experienced. Jesus invites us into the most intimate of relationships by promising he will live in us by the Spirit of God 4. He says that through the indwelling Spirit we will be empowered to live lives that represent him 5. He declares that he is the head and we are his body, literally his hands and feet on this earth to carry out his eternal purposes 6. Just as our calling is no less remarkable than that of the first disciples, neither should our response be any less.
Throughout the scriptures, Jesus challenges us to put him first in every way. Not just to love him the most, but to love him so completely, that in contrast, our love for anyone or anything else will seem like hatred.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37-38 ESV)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, 33 ESV)
Jesus rightly claims a position of complete supremacy in our lives, and this knowledge is vital to a healthy relationship with the Lord. But knowing is very different from doing. If we don’t understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us, then the degree of love he commands and the position he claims can seem extreme, unreasonable, and undesirable. But if we see Jesus for who he truly is, and if we understand the eternal riches that he calls us to, then all-consuming love and unconditional surrender is the most natural and logical response we can have.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)
This short parable is packed with life-changing truths. It reveals that the kingdom of heaven is hidden. It is not something that everyone sees. Jesus calls us to live a counterculture life; to live according to values that seem unreasonable to most of those around us. Also, the kingdom of heaven has a cost attached; the man had to buy the field. This reveals that everything we value is expendable in order to obtain the kingdom of heaven. But the greatest truth in this little parable is the compelling motivation that the man acted on. He didn’t need to be coerced into selling all that he had, he did it freely and with joy because he saw the treasure, he saw the all-surpassing value of the kingdom of heaven.
Just knowing that we should respond to Jesus with an all-out commitment is not enough. We must see the treasure. We must see Jesus in his goodness and greatness. We must see our complete wretchedness apart from Christ. We must be captivated by the depth of love that caused Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our redemption. And we must see the wonder of an eternity that will be spent in the unbridled goodness, love, and glory of our eternal Father. When we see the all-surpassing value of life in Christ, we will be able to respond with joy to all that the Lord requires.
When Jesus’ requirements for discipleship come up in conversation, the way people respond speaks volumes about what they truly value. Many people show immediate resistance. They want to rationalize the things that Jesus said, to lessen the cost, and to modify the call. They seem far more concerned about getting carried away than they are about coming up short; more concerned with protecting their immediate lifestyle than laying hold of eternal life 7. But some people accept the requirements spoken by Jesus as legitimate, personal challenges. They take these things to heart and lean into the challenges. They’re willing to let these things weigh on them and drive them to God in humility and desperation.
Jesus said that “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” 8. Self-preservation seems very logical. It doesn’t seem wrong to make life choices that simply have our best interest in mind. Yet, Jesus warns that following this basic instinct will cause us to miss the life he calls us to. Again, we need a revelation of the treasure in order to be delivered from the trap of self-preservation.
Jesus warned that the way that leads to life is hard, and few find it 9. He also warned that it’s hard to enter into the kingdom of God 9. Are we listening to what Jesus said? He said the path he calls us to walk is hard. But if our default response to the Biblical challenges of following Christ, is to look for a more reasonable approach, then we have already compromised the call, we are looking for an easier path that will fall short of the amazing life God has prepared for us 11. It’s disturbing how we guard what is inferior and temporary, at the expense of what is superior and eternal 12.
I know I don’t love the Lord the way he deserves to be loved. I know that I don’t trust him with unconditional surrender the way that he expects. I know I don’t obey him the way he desires. And I know I’m not alone in this realization. I know there are believers who don’t want to cut themselves slack and settle for the easy path. Instead, they want to embrace fully the requirements of the Lord, so that what was purchased on the cross of Christ can be fully realized in and through their lives.
Lord soften our hearts to believe what you say. Grant us repentance from self-preservation. Give us eyes to see the treasure; the all-surpassing value of who you are, and the eternal riches of a life surrendered to you.
- “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10 NASB)
- “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV)
- “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
- “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7, 13-14 ESV)
- “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
- “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV)
- “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12 ESV)
- Luke 17:33
- “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14 ESV)
- “And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24 ESV)
- “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13 ESV)
- “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)
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