It was my first time in Paris. Emerging from a railway station, I struggled to find my bearings with a map. A Frenchman offered to help me get where I needed to go. Unfortunately, I spoke no French—nor he any English. So, we communicated by sign and he gestured in grunts and hand signs where I needed to go. I tried to follow his instructions, but got lost a couple of times further along the way.
This contrasted with my first time in Chicago, where a stranger offered not only to help me find my way to a particular Metro station, but to accompany me on the journey. His ‘follow me’ was much preferable to simply being pointed in the right direction.
Discipleship is first and foremost an invitation to journey with and after Jesus.
Where you get to and what you become in life depends fundamentally on who you’re following and which road you take. Jesus once described life starkly in terms of two roads, one broad that leads many to destruction, and one narrow – on which only a few find life.
We must trust Jesus through His Holy Spirit to be our surest guide on the narrow way to God the Father, because in Jesus, God has come to us. He knows the way because He is the way. It is no accident that the earliest followers of the Christian faith were known as followers of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2; 11:26; 22:4).
It is no surprise then that the first and most common phrase Jesus used on prospective disciples was simply ‘Follow me.’[i] It is not clear in the original Greek whether this is a command or a request – perhaps both. But the implications in many of the contexts where Jesus used the phrase is clear – he was calling with some intended force and expectation that those he called would give him their unqualified attention and an obedient response.
It was a call first and foremost to himself.
On the other hand, the Jewish rabbis and the Greek philosophers of His day expected disciples to commit themselves to a specific philosophy or a definite cause – i.e. to their teaching rather than the teacher. The call of Jesus was wholly personal – his disciples were to follow him, to be with him, and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to him.
Likewise, we as disciples are called to make Him the singular focus of our lives; to a way of life that is entirely in keeping with His character, saving work, and kingly reign. We are called to an all-consuming love for Him. In that sense, Christian discipleship is predicated on the claim of total devotion by Christ.
‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’ (Matthew 10:38; cf Luke 14:27, Matthew 16:24-28; John 10:27; 12:25-26).
In fact, he can brook neither rivals nor competition, nor accept even reasonable requests for deference or delay (Matthew 19:21-22, Luke 9:57-62).
Discipleship is the all-life response we are called to make to God’s gracious free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. This demand, as John Stott said, is as total as the offer is free.
We either follow Him with our all, or we are not following him at all.
Are you truly following Him today?
[i] See for example Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 19:21; John 1:43; 1:44; 21:19; 21:22.