The secret of the kingdom of God and the Christian life is revealed in two words: “Follow Me.” With two words Christ revealed to His disciples the perfect will of God and the narrow way which leads to life. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that following Jesus requires forsaking all that you have, hating your family and your own life in comparison to your love for Christ, losing your life, denying yourself, and taking up your cross daily. This is the cost of discipleship. Paul was a powerful apostle because he understood these two words. He could truly say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Jesus said these two simple words to His very first disciples. The day after two of John the Baptist’s disciples “followed Jesus” (John 1:37), Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me” (John 1:43). Notice the four fishermen who followed Jesus forsook all that they had.
Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-20; cf. Mark 1:16-18).
Notice Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. The same is true for James and John. They immediately forsook their job and forsook their father in order to follow Jesus.
When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him (Mark 1:19-20; cf. Matthew 4:21-22).
It is often pointed out that Peter still had a house and a boat so he didn’t really forsake all that he had. If that is the case, we may at the very least understand forsaking all as surrendering all our possessions to Christ for the sake of the Gospel. We are at the very least required to yield the ownership of all our possessions to Jesus. Peter’s house was used as a meeting place and a place of hospitality for the ministry, and his boat was used as transportation for Jesus. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you have surrendered your possessions to Jesus if in reality you hold on to things which have absolutely nothing to do with the kingdom of God and you are living for yourself. If we sincerely ask what God would have us do with our possessions, in many cases it will be to literally sell them and give to the poor. Consider also that Peter’s house is mentioned in Luke 4:38-39 and his boat is mentioned in Luke 5:3. But it is chronologically later in Luke 5:11 which says: “So when they [Peter, Andrew, James, John] had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” They forsook all and followed Him!
Matthew the tax collector also forsook all and followed Jesus.
After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. (Luke 5:27-28)
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. (Mark 2:14)
There is a cost of discipleship. It requires sacrifice to follow Christ. Jesus must be first above our pursuits and relationships. Those who put themselves first are rejected. Even those who said they were willing to follow Christ were rejected by Him if they held onto their comforts, cares or kin. Do you say, “Me first” or “Christ first”? Is there anything you are holding back from absolute surrender to God?
Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62; cf. Matthew 8:18-22)
A condemned criminal who carried the cross out of town wasn’t coming back or looking back. Following Jesus is directly related to our salvation. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The verb to follow is in present active form. Notice the salvation language in the rich young ruler’s encounter with Jesus:
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He said to Him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16-27; cf. Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27)
Jesus called upon the rich young ruler to follow Him in order to inherit eternal life, enter into life, enter the kingdom of God, enter the kingdom of heaven, be saved, etc. Specifically Jesus told the rich young ruler: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22). By the way, Jesus did not only say this to the rich young ruler; He also said to His disciples, “Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). And in the parable of the pearl of great price, Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The kingdom of God requires all that you have. The rich and the poor alike can afford the pearl of great price, but it will cost them both all that they have. Therefore, it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of God because they have many great possessions. Jesus let the rich young ruler go away sorrowful, though he “loved him” (Mark 10:21). But the disciples left all and followed Jesus.
Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”
So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:27-29)
In Mark’s Gospel:
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)
And Luke’s Gospel:
So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
Believe it or not, the call to follow Jesus and all it includes is the one concept which is ubiquitous to all four Gospels. The Gospel writers wanted to convey that discipleship requires forsaking all that you have, hating your family and your own life in comparison to your love for Christ, losing your life, denying yourself, and taking up your cross daily. Of course the feeding of the five thousand and the Resurrection are notable miracles mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But when we consider Jesus’ actual teaching, it is only the command to lose your life and follow Him that we find in all four gospels. Carefully consider Jesus’ words:
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:24-27)
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:23-27)
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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 honor. (John 12:25-26)
Sadly the call of Christianity today has been modified from “Follow Me” to “Study Me.” But Jesus bids us to follow Him by denying self, losing our life, and bearing the cross. Jesus exhorts both His disciples that followed Him and all that desire to follow Him to carry the cross. As soon as a man is stretched out and nailed to a cross, he had no rights of his own. He had no right to eat, to drink or even go to the restroom. People could throw a bucket of filth upon him, brake his legs with a stick, pelt him with rotten fruits and rocks. He had no right to revile those who reviled him, or to threaten those who caused his suffering.
Yes, the Gospel is that Jesus suffered for the sake of sinners, but Jesus calls saints to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus calls us to the same cross, the same suffering, the same sacrifice, the same service, the same renunciation of the world, the same humility, the same meekness,the same patient bearing of injuries, reproaches, and contempts, which the dying Christ showed upon the cross. Jesus did not merely lay Himself down upon the cross to die; He laid Himself down upon the cross to show His disciples how to follow Him and die daily (see 1 Corinthians 15:31). Disciples don’t need to look for the cross. The cross will find you. Everywhere you run or hide, there you are, and the cross awaits you. Therefore, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
Taking up the cross will cost you everything, even your dearest friends and family. Jesus also said:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)
Jesus is saying we must be more devoted to Him than any other of our closest family relationships, even more than our own life. The “love/hate” statements in Luke 14:26 and John 12:25 are idioms which convey the preference of one over the other (cf. Genesis 29:30-31; Malachi 1:2-3; Matthew 6:24). This is made clear by comparing Luke 14:26 (“does not hate his father and mother, etc.”) to the parallel statement in Matthew 10:37 (“loves father or mother more than Me, etc.”). Our relationship with Jesus is far more important than our most precious relationships. A father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, or other loved one may be the very cause of excusing discipleship. The following responses to discipleship are from those who are unworthy by putting family first, “Let me first go and bury my father.” (Matthew 8:21; Luke 9:59), “Let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house” (Luke 9:61), or “I have married a wife” (Luke 14:20). These were not doing God’s will for the sake of family.
When would we have to forsake our family? Perhaps your parents have dreams and goals for you about your life or career that are contrary to God’s kingdom, and you must make the right choice. This choice may cost you your own brothers and sisters also. Perhaps your parents are divorced and remarried, which Jesus said is adultery (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18), and you must confront them about their present sinful relationship. If you yourself are divorced and remarried, you must forsake your present adulterous “marriage” to remain unmarried or be reconciled to your first legitimate spouse. Your spouse may have ungodly expectations about your income, but Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). If you are married to an unbeliever, your spouse may divorce you if you continue to follow Jesus. You must continue to be a faithful loving spouse to them, but following Jesus may cost you your marriage. Following Jesus may also cost you your son(s) or daughter(s) if your unbelieving spouse divorces you and also takes your children because you follow Jesus. Similarly, you may have a rebellious son or daughter who will not abide in your home unless you compromise your convictions. You will have to choose to be a friend of Jesus or a friend to your son or daughter. You may find yourself in a situation where somebody does violence to you or your family, and you must decide whether you will return violence or follow Jesus who said, “I tell you not to resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39). Perhaps you will be confronted with persecution, and a decision to confess Christ before men will result in being sentenced to years in prison away from your family.
There are many ways in which following Jesus may cost you your family. In a parallel verse to Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus said,
I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53)
Moreover, Jesus said “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death” (Matthew 10:21; cf. Mark 13:12). Jesus also taught, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Did Jesus come to destroy families? No. Elsewhere Jesus taught to honor your father and mother (Matthew 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; 10:19), one of the Ten Commandments. But a requirement for true discipleship is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5). This means loving Christ above your most precious family. Christ gives us a consolation that we have a heavenly family on earth when we have forsaken our earthly family to follow Him.
While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”
But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50; cf. Mark 3:31-35)
Many professing Christians go to the cross of Christ to be forgiven, but they don’t get on their own cross to be a follower of Christ. Many professing Christians are still dead in sins rather than being dead to sins. The carnal mind desires a cross-less Christianity.The cross was an offense to Peter and he was rebuked for this very reason:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:31-35)
It took time for Peter to grasp this concept. While Peter was sure of himself, Jesus was sure of his denial. Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times” (John 13:36-38). Later Peter was restored with the two simple words: “Follow Me.”
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.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:18-22)
Years later before Peter was crucified upside down, Peter wrote:
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-22)
Does your life resemble the life of Christ? Sheep follow their Shepherd. Jesus said, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:4-5, 27).