The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 190)

What does it mean to follow the Lord?

Christian Life

In the four Gospels we come across the accounts of Jesus calling people to follow Him while He was on earth. What does it really mean to follow the Lord then?

Using Peter as an example, we find that the Lord issued His call to him to follow Him several times under different circumstances (Matt. 4:19, Luke 5:10 -11; Matt. 16:24, John 21:19, 22). Therefore 'to follow the Lord' is not a once and for all event. It takes on different meanings for various purposes. From the four Gospels we can deduce at least five different meanings to the phrase 'to follow the Lord'.

1. To follow the Lord is to receive Him as one's personal Saviour
After Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (men), many who had once followed Him began to desert Him. Jesus asked the twelve disciples, "Do you also want to go away?" But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 6:67- 69 NKJV).

Many people who had eaten the bread and fish Jesus provided for them continued to follow Him because of the material benefits they enjoyed. Their motive of following Jesus was wrong and He also knew that they did not follow Him to believe in Him as their Saviour (John 6:26-27). When He uncovered their impure motives, they stopped following Him. Seeing the people leave, Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to leave Him also.

From Peter's answer, we know that the disciples continued to follow the Lord with the right motive and purpose. The multitude came for the food that could only satisfy their temporary hunger but the disciples abided in Him because He had the words of eternal life and that they had come to believe in Him as the Son of the living God. To the disciples, following the Lord meant to receive Him as their personal Saviour.

Speaking to the people at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12). In this instance Jesus’ call to the people to follow Him is in fact an invitation to them, to come and receive Him as their Saviour. He first declares Himself to be the light of the world and then promises that those who follow Him will come out from darkness into the light of life.

Of the multitude that came to the Lord, to hear His teaching, to witness the miracles He performed and even to benefit from the bread that He had given out, many were not genuine believers. The Lord knew this and did not treat them as true followers. As such Jesus constantly reminded these people to be watchful and to examine their own hearts as to whether they were following Him for the right reasons.

As in the days past, we too, have people mingling with Christians in the church, engaging in all kinds of Christian activities, thinking that this makes them followers of Jesus Christ. But only those who truly trust in Him as their Saviour are His genuine followers.

But only those who truly trust in Him as their Saviour are His genuine followers.

2. To follow the Lord is to obey His commandments
Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 7:21-23 that not all those who call Him "Lord, Lord" are true followers of His; only those who do the will of God and obey His commandments are the true believers of the Kingdom of God.

On one occasion, Jesus told a group of professing believers, "If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed" (John 8:31). They were not happy with what they heard and began to argue with Him. From what they said to Him, we can sense that they were not sincere followers at all because they despised Him and His teachings. Jesus then issued a very stern warning to them, "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God" (John 8:47). Not only did they not heed His warning but they also turned against Him and took up stones, trying to stone Him (John 8:59).

Nowadays we see too many of these "professing Christians" who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ but do not obey God's commandments in their lives. There are among them, preachers and theologians whose lifestyles directly oppose the Word of God. They not only have no faith in the Lord (denying that Jesus is the Son of God, His resurrection and His power), but also do all sorts of things to blaspheme and attack Him. They are no different from those Jews who claimed to be worshippers of God in John chapter 8.

On the other hand, if we say that we are true followers of Jesus, we must constantly heed His words (John 8:31) and obey His commandments. Anyone who disobeys the clear teachings of the Lord cannot be considered a true follower of Jesus Christ. Or how can others identify you as a Christian if you refuse to follow His commandments?

How can others identify you as a Christian if you refuse to follow His commandments?

3. To follow the Lord is to imitate His example
At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples before they partook of the Passover Feast (John 13:1-17). After that He said to them, "For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Being like Jesus enables every Christian to grow spiritually. So Paul exhorts the Christians at Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

In washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus had intended to set them an example and to give them a new commandment to love one another (John 13:34). How then were they to express their love for one another? Jesus said, "…as I have loved you, that you also love one another." The disciples were to love one another according to the example Christ had set for them.

John in his first epistle explained further, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). When the Lord said that He gave us a new commandment, this is what He wants us to do: love one another the way He loves us, so that the world will recognize that we are His disciples. The hallmark of a Christian disciple is Christ likeness.

In the field of martial arts, one may know a swordsman’s clan and his teacher by a display of swordsmanship. If so, can others tell that we are the disciples of Jesus Christ by the way we live our lives?

The hallmark of a Christian disciple is Christ likeness.

4. To follow the Lord is to walk in His steps
The footprints of Jesus began in the manger of Bethlehem and they left marks in Nazareth which led finally to Golgotha. When Jesus calls people to follow Him, He called them to follow in His footsteps. Those in His days literally followed Him wherever He went. Paul, in the epistle to the Philippians (Phil. 2:5-8), describes Jesus' footsteps as a path of humility, obedience, sacrifice and suffering; yet this same path brought Him glory.

Many people tried to follow Him in His time but failed because they were not able to walk in His steps when the Lord called them. In the Gospel of Luke 9:57-62 we read of three people who desired to follow Jesus but finally withdrew because they were not able to fulfil His requirements. The first one was not willing to give up his material comforts to follow Him when Jesus told him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58).

The second man placed his priority on his earthly ties. He wanted to take care of his parents until they were gone before he came to follow Jesus. The Lord answered him saying, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). But he rejected the call.

The third case was a man who lacked commitment and determination to follow Him, so the Lord said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

In His own life, Jesus Himself fulfilled all the three requirements which He laid down for these people. Therefore if anyone were to follow Jesus, he has to walk in His steps taking the path to Golgotha, denying himself and taking up his cross daily and following Him (Luke 9:23).

Therefore if anyone were to follow Jesus, he has to walk in His steps taking the path to Golgotha, denying himself and taking up his cross daily and following Him.

After Peter denied the Lord three times, he was so discouraged that he went back to his former fishing business. The resurrected Lord then appeared to His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias where they were fishing and there He challenged Peter three times, to rekindle his love for Him (John 21:15-19). When Peter had expressed his renewed desire to serve Him, Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” Then He said, "Follow Me." Jesus not only predicted the manner of Peter's death for the glory of God but also indicated that He Himself would walk the way of the cross and Peter was to follow His footsteps too.

Many people find it hard to follow the Lord not because the way is difficult but because they are unwilling to deny themselves and with Him carry the cross daily to Golgotha. In actual fact when He calls us to follow Him He has already taken this path of suffering and is willing to walk alongside us as we travel on this path which blesses us and glorifies God.

5. To follow the Lord is to serve Him
Jesus said, "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour." (John 12:26). To follow the Lord also means to serve Him. Anyone who is not willing to follow Him cannot serve Him. If anyone wants to serve the Lord he must be willing to do the four things mentioned above, that is, to believe the Lord, to obey His Word, to imitate His example and to walk in His footsteps.

Anyone who is not willing to follow Him cannot serve Him.

The Lord makes it very clear that if anyone wants to follow Him he must serve Him. No one should follow the Lord merely for personal blessing and enjoyment; neither for personal selfish desires nor for opportunities to show off one's talents. If that is your purpose then you will be most disappointed.
Many believe that Judas Iscariot was one such person. He followed Jesus for personal gain and betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. In a sense, he may be expressing his dissatisfaction towards the Lord. Or perhaps he felt that he had not profited as he had hoped to, in following Christ for three-and-half years and so he finally resorted to selling Him to get a reward. Sad to say, there are many Judases in the church today too. They follow the Lord for the purpose of personal gain. But the Lord calls us to follow Him that we might serve Him.

We may serve the Lord in two ways. One may enter into fulltime service like the twelve disciples, who laid aside all their secular work to concentrate on the service of the Lord teaching and preaching fulltime (Matt. 4:19, 21-22; 9:9). Throughout the centuries, the Lord has called tens of thousands of people to lay aside their professions, to serve Him in the fulltime capacity of preaching the Word of God.

However, not all believers are called to serve Him in this manner. Ordinary believers who are not called into fulltime service are still called to serve Him, but in a different capacity. For serving the Lord is not a matter of what we do but rather whom we serve. One who serves the Lord does everything for the Lord’s sake. While he may not be preaching the Word of God fulltime, he is serving the Lord fulltime because he lives to serve Christ.

For serving the Lord is not a matter of what we do but rather whom we serve.

Paul in Romans 14:7-9 said for none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. The chief aim of a believer on earth is to live for Christ and to die for Him also. Such is the service a believer renders to the Lord.

Serving the Lord is not just a concept or an attitude although these are important. More importantly, serving the Lord is a lifestyle. It is manifested in two areas: our church life and our personal and family life.

In our church body life, we must not neglect our service to Him apart from worshipping, learning, fellowshipping and enjoying all the other blessings and benefits the Lord has prepared for us. While we are engaging in various ministries, serving brothers and sisters-in-Christ by meeting their needs, we serve Him. We believe that every brother and sister should be given the opportunity to serve the Lord in the church.

In our personal life we can serve the Lord through our lifestyle - witnessing in school, at work, and in our family, through the way we use our money, time and talents. The book of Hebrews 9:14 exhorts us, "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Christ saved us and called us so that we may be able to serve the living God. Let us learn to serve Him with sincerity and in truth, both in church life and in our daily living. Life is meaningless unless we offer ourselves for His service.

Life is meaningless unless we offer ourselves for His service.

Throughout the centuries the Lord has called tens of thousands of people to follow Him. They lived faithfully in their own time, trusting the Lord as their Saviour, obeying His commandments, following His example, walking in His footsteps and serving Him in unity. They were the true followers of the Lord in their time. Today, the Lord continues to call people to follow Him. Are we willing to respond to His call, as His disciples did in His time, laying aside all to follow Him?

Huang Ee Yuen
- Mr Huang is the pastor and an elder of the 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship. This article is translated from the original written in Chinese.

Back to FISHERS 190's mainpage