What it takes to follow Jesus is full abandonment to Him. Jesus Christ surrendered His life; it is only fair for us to do the same.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
Do You Want to Follow Jesus?
Christ does not demand that we accept His gift of salvation. He freely offers us salvation, if we will but take it. But taking it is not just saying “thanks” to Jesus. He expects us to follow Him as a disciple and spread the Good News to the world.
Salvation is freely offered, but that is not to say it isn’t costly. It will cost us everything we have. That’s why Jesus told us to count the cost of following Him (Luke 14:25-34).
Recall the story Jesus tells about the pearl of great price. The man discovers it and then goes and sells all he has to claim it (Matthew 13:45-46). Unlike the man, we don’t purchase salvation from Christ. But like that man, we give all we have to attain it.
So, when we are told what it takes to follow Jesus, He says “if any of you wants to be my follower”.
An if statement is a conditional statement. If we do this, we can expect that. Likewise, if we don’t do this, then we should not expect that.
So, if there is an “if” explaining what it takes to follow Jesus, we need to pay attention. We don’t need to let our preconceived ideas or religious traditions get in the way of the most important “if” we will ever consider. We need to think about Christ’s words very, very carefully. Jesus gives us 3 things we must do.
Give Up Your Own Way to Follow Jesus
The first thing Jesus tells us to do is to “give up your own way”. So what does that mean?
It means, that in the palace of our heart, there is room for only one king on the throne. And it’s either going to be us, or whatever else we allow to sit there.
That whatever else doesn’t have to be God, necessarily. We are capable of worshipping many things, without kneeling before an alter or saying prayers.
We can understand what a person worships by what they invest in. Where we spend our time, our money, and our attention is a clue to what we prioritize.
Health, politics, making money, sports, sex, thrill-seeking, relationships, travel, hobbies – you name it. We have an abundance of gods (little g) we can establish on the throne of our hearts. The Bible warns us specifically not to fall in love with the things of this world (1 John 2:15-16).
Or we can “cut out the middleman” so to speak, and just make ourselves #1.
What it takes to follow Jesus is to wholly submit to His will in our lives. To put aside all our own interests and desires for His sake. In the passage we cited earlier about counting the cost, Jesus tells us we will hate our own family by comparison to our devotion to Him.
Does anyone or anything complain of feeling neglected in your life because of your devotion to Christ?
We may think we are selfless or know selfless people, but the truth is, all of us are selfish in some area. And it’s there where we will struggle to follow Him. It is at that point we will have to decide “if” we will choose Christ, or ourselves.
Take Up Your Cross to Follow Jesus
The second thing Jesus tells us to do “take up your cross”.
First, we had to give up something. Now we have to take on something. And that is our cross. What does it mean to take up our cross?
I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus used this description very deliberately. When Jesus took up the cross, it was to sacrifice His life to fulfill the will of His Father. To take up our cross is to take a step beyond submission to Christ. It means to actively take on the burdens that comes with being His disciple.
Jesus tells us His disciples will be hated and even killed because of their choice to follow Him (Matthew 10:21-22). The book of Acts is replete with many stories where Christ’s followers were beaten, jailed, jeered, and killed simply because they dared to share the Gospel. History is filled with stories of Christian martyrs.
What persecutions do we complain about? Are we feeling persecuted because we aren’t getting what we want, or are we getting ridiculed, slandered, and abused specifically because we are actively living for Jesus Christ?
Lastly, Jesus says “and follow me”.
We may not think of this as its own piece of the conditional statement, But even if we deny ourselves, and then take up our cross. we still have to be about the business of following Jesus Christ every day.
What it takes to follow Jesus is to actively, daily, make the choice to allow Jesus Christ to lead us where He takes us.
To think about it that way, we can’t actually follow Jesus Christ until we’ve done the prior work of submitting wholly to Him and taking His burdens as ours. So going out on faith and following Christ day by day becomes a step unto itself.
Nothing short of a fully surrendered life is what Jesus requires of His disciples.
This is what it takes to follow Jesus. But what about those who don’t choose this path?
The Alternative to Following Jesus
Of course, we don’t have to take this path. But then we get to the other part of the “if”. If we decide we don’t want to be His follower (or worse, pretend that we are), what happens then?
Jesus tells us plainly that if we attempt to hang onto our life, we will lose it. Jesus Christ does not force us to accept His plan of salvation, but without it, we have no hope.
Because, the truth is, we only have 2 options: To accept His call into eternal life, or to deny His call and face eternity without Him. Jesus came to make it possible for us to have eternal life. But all humankind already stands judged for not believing in Him (John 3:16-18).
For many, this statement will be too offensive to accept. The exclusivity of the Gospel is a problem for many precisely because of the throne in our hearts. Not everyone is willing to give up their seat. Not everyone wants to agree with Jesus when He says that He is the way, truth and the life, and that the only way to God is through Him.
Please don’t let this be a stumbling block to following Jesus Christ. If we believe Jesus to be God, we have to accept that He has the right to decide what the path to Him looks like.
If you are reading this and asking yourself whether or not your life reflects this level of abandonment to Christ, may I humbly suggest that you go back and reflect on Christ’s offer of salvation? Or perhaps you once lived like this, but now need to turn your life back to Christ.
Please, heed Christ’s teaching and lose your life (to Him) to save it.
More Bible verses about what it takes to follow Jesus:
Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 55:6-7; Daniel 3:16-18; Romans 12:1; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 2:12-16; James 4:8