Jesus met four men by the seashore and spoke just a very few words to them, but those words forever changed the course of their lives.
In Matthew 4:18-22 we read, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”
Jesus was at the beginning of His ministry, and this account describes His call of four men who would become His disciples and close associates during the remainder of His time on earth. As He walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee that day and saw those fishermen, He knew that these were men He could use—men who would respond to His invitation. We do not read that He gave them a list of reasons why they should follow Him. He made no attempt to convince or persuade them by pleading, “Will you please follow Me? I need help!” He just said those simple words, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and kept on walking. But Scripture says that the men immediately left what they were doing and followed Him. Those four fishermen and the others who responded to His call detected something special in Jesus. They recognized the Spirit that was upon Him, and said, “I am going to follow this man.” For them, following Christ turned into the experience of a lifetime. They were never the same again.
While Jesus called these fishermen to specific roles as His disciples, from cover to cover in the Word of God we see God calling people. Throughout the ages of time, God has extended the invitation, “Come, and follow Me.” He looks down on this earth and sees individuals—young children, teenagers, adults, the elderly. He sees the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the bold and the meek. At some point in the course of our lives, He calls each one of us, asking us to follow Him. That call requires a decision on our part. Will we follow or will we reject His invitation? If we choose to respond, we will find, like the fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee, that following Jesus becomes the experience of a lifetime.
So, how do we do this? How do we truly follow Christ? Some insight can be gained by looking at the word translated follow. In the original language, the word Jesus used that day was an imperative (a directive or command) which means “to accompany, or to go in the same way as.” In Mark’s account of this occasion, he records Jesus as saying, “Come after me.” Our English dictionary says the phrase come after means, “To move behind in the same direction—to accept the authority of, or to imitate.” These definitions help us understand something about how we should follow Jesus.
Look again at the part of the definition which says, “To move behind.” We must be careful to let Christ lead. We do not want to get ahead of Him. He knows the way; He sees what is ahead of us. We do not. There may be a tendency for us to become impatient or to resist waiting on God. We would all agree that waiting is not always easy, but we must be sure we do not let our own ideas and opinions influence our direction or cause us to move out in front of Him.
Some have attempted to follow Christ from afar. Maybe they are not sure about what it really means to follow Christ. Perhaps they are interested but are not ready to make a full commitment. Maybe they want to follow only when it is convenient, or when Christ’s way coincides with their own desires. That type of “following” really isn’t following at all.
To take up our cross means to die to self, and to live in an ongoing manner that truly imitates Christ in all things—in our walk, in our talk, our actions, and our reactions.
Jesus explained to His disciples what truly following Him would mean, and He did not describe it as a partial commitment or following from afar. He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The cross was an instrument of death. To take up our cross means to die to self, and to live in an ongoing manner that truly imitates Christ in all things—in our walk, in our talk, our actions, and our reactions. It means to walk holy before our fellow man. It means to demonstrate Christ in our homes, in school, in the workplace, and wherever we are. It means subjecting our will to God. That kind of sacrifice is necessary if we are truly going to follow Christ. Jesus said to the multitude in Luke 14:27, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
Some people start out to follow Christ but falter when hard times come. Temptations or trials occur, and they get discouraged, dissatisfied, or fearful. They may have thought salvation was a panacea, a remedy for everything that was wrong in their lives. When they got saved, they figured that would be the end of their problems and everything would be all right. The reality is, problems do not disappear when we get saved. It is sin that disappears! Yes, we will be forgiven and freed from condemnation, but disappointments and hard places will still occur. Life happens. Challenges occur whether we are saved or unsaved. However, as followers of Christ, when challenges do come, we can lean on the assurance found in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
At times people who have begun following Christ decide to turn away. An example of this is found in Acts 5:1-16. Ananias and Sapphira were part of the Early Church; evidently they had an initial purpose to follow Christ. However, they allowed self-interest to overcome their purpose. Ananias sold a possession but then, in collusion with his wife, kept back part of the money while ostensibly giving the full amount to the church. They turned away from following, and paid for their deception with their lives.
Today, people stop coming to church. They make excuses regarding why they cannot make a total commitment of obedience to Christ, and turn away from following. We need to understand that the call of God to follow does not require just a one-time response, but a continual walk. If our purpose is to stick with it, one word describes how we should walk with Christ—closely! We need to seek His will for our lives, and follow it. When we get down to pray, we say, “Lord, what would You have me to do?” He answers, “Obey Me in everything. Imitate Me. Live holy. Be led by My Spirit.” We do not see the whole journey when we first get saved; we learn it day by day, step by step, as we continually walk with the Lord.
One of my favorite Christian authors asserts that true followers are not content just to be saved and on their way to Heaven, but rather are engaged in an ongoing “pursuit of Christ.” Between the moment of our conversion and the moment when we go Home to the Lord, we should be focused on walking a close walk, living a holy life, and engaging in intimate communion with our Savior. Paul said in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The word press means “to pursue.” Are we pursuing Christ? Are we following closely after Him?
If we follow closely, He will give us strength and courage to persevere in the good times and in the hard times. As we do, we will find peace in the storms of life—we will not feel alone when we are buffeted by trials because we will know that Jesus is with us. We will experience His blessing on our lives. Others will see Christ in us and will say, “What is different about you? What is it that you have that I don’t have?” A true follower of Christ is a light in this dark world!
Perhaps you are following God, but you realize it has been from a distance. It is not too late to begin following more closely. In James 4:8, God promises that if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. He is extending an invitation; His Spirit is speaking. Will you answer His call and follow Him?