What does it mean to follow Jesus?

It's very common in Christian articles or books to refer to "following God" or "following Jesus". But what does this really mean? An author will say "just follow Jesus and you'll be saved", but it's really not all that clear from the statement what "following Jesus" entails. I admit that I'm guilty of this as well. Often this expression is used because it would take far too much time to go into exactly what it means to follow Jesus, and this is what I hope to expand on here.

Know Who Jesus Is

Firstly, it's impossible to 'follow Jesus' if you don't know who Jesus is. For the last 2000 years humanity's main source to learn about Jesus has been the Bible, specifically the New Testament. Here are the four Gospels which record what we know about Jesus' background, life, death, and teachings. The rest of the New Testament is mostly letters written from one of Jesus' disciples (closest followers) to various early churches about how to be a Christian. The Gospels are the best place to start to learn about who Jesus was and what he said and did. So yes, this is assuming the Bible is true and historical, and I'm not going into that evidence right now. For a short summary of who Jesus was/is, here are the main points:

  • Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, in Israel [1], possibly near 3-4 B.C between September 16 and 29.[2]
  • Jesus was born to Mary (probably a young 14-18 year old girl), who was a virgin and was engaged to a guy named Joseph, who was a carpenter.
  • He grew up as a normal Jewish kid, and learned in the Jewish Temples. Not a whole lot of detail is given on his childhood.
  • Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years old. He chose some disciples and began to preach to various groups in Israel about God and how God wants people to live. He also did many miracles and healed many people. This continued for 3 years, gathering larger and larger crowds and gaining popularity/infamy in Israel.
  • Jesus was put to death by crucifixion by the Romans, after being betrayed by one of his own disciples and arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. His main charge was blasphemy for claiming to be God.
  • He was buried in a tomb, and three days later seems to have come back to life, escaped the tomb, and appeared to his disciples and many people before ascending into heaven.

So that's the quick biography of Jesus as we know it from the Gospels. But from Jesus' teachings and those of his disciples, as well as Biblical prophecy, we can learn a lot more about Jesus, such as:

  • Jesus claimed to be God. He did not just say he was a prophet or teacher.
  • Jesus was in fact, God! God is three people in one - the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus was born as a human, he had always existed as part of God in Heaven, and actually helped create the universe (John 1:1-4).
  • Jesus' death on the cross was not just an unfortunate tragedy - it was his entire life's purpose. Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of all humanity. If we personally accept Jesus' payment on our behalf, we will have eternal life in heaven with God.
  • Jesus is currently in heaven, and will return someday to rule Earth forever. This day may be sooner than most people think.

So that's the quick summary of who Jesus was and is. The first step to following Jesus is to have faith that he really is God, and believe the other points in the above paragraph. Faith is required because it can never be completely proven that these things are true, but there is evidence from all sorts of different sources that give significant clues that Christianity and the Bible are true. If you want good starting points, I'd suggest the "The Case for a Creator", "The Case for Christ", and "The Case for Faith" books by Lee Strobel.

Also, as a side note, what does "faith" actually mean? Does it just mean that you have read the Bible and think you understand it? That's certainly helpful, but faith should actually become your entire worldview. You should live everyday absolutely knowing that Jesus is God, that God did create the world, that unless Jesus paid for your sins there would be no way into heaven. Of course there will be doubts from time to time, but if you stick with it, then you will find out it's well worth it.

Love Jesus

So once you accept these things, what is next? The next most important thing is to develop a relationship with God/Jesus. God is love, and God loves you and wants you to love Him back. The ultimate love of God for humanity - and for you in particular - is why Jesus came to die. If Jesus didn't die for us, every single person from Adam to you would be going to hell forever. God loves us so much that to prevent this, he sent Jesus. Since Jesus never sinned, by dying on the cross Jesus suffered the wrath of God that would have fallen on all of us. God would rather kill himself than see you in hell, and he did! How much larger of a demonstration of love could you expect?

So what should be our response to this amazing love that God has shown through Jesus? Of course we should love him right back! With everything that we have we should love God. We need to be grateful for what Jesus has done, although we could never imagine the suffering he must have endured. All we can do is say "thanks", over and over for all eternity. That's all 'worship' really is - saying thanks and saying how much we love Jesus for what he's done for us. Reading the Bible can help this process - it shows how much people have messed up, and how patient, loving, and caring God is towards us. The more we understand God's love for us, the better we can respond to it.

The process of learning to love God can be tricky, and can take a long time. By understanding more about what Jesus sacrifice means, and by spending time reading the Bible, praying, and singing songs to Jesus can help. You can also ask God to help you with this. When you become a Christian (accept Jesus' payment for your sins), then automatically you get the Holy Spirit, who actually lives in you, who can help you out and teach you what it means to love God more.

Talk to Jesus

Prayer is very important. Prayer just means you can actually talk to Jesus directly! While it may not seem so amazing nowadays, it really is. Before Jesus died, no one except the High Priest in Israel could talk directly to God. Jesus' death made it so that all can talk directly to God - from the poorest person in Africa to the richest or most powerful person in the world. So take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

What should you talk to God about? Anything! God already knows everything about you, and everything you have done and will do in the future. So there's nothing to hide, and you can't lie to him. Just talk about your life, ask for help about what concerns you, thank God for his love, thank God for the good things you have, etc. Keep it simple. "When you pray, don't talk on and on as people do who don't know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don't be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask."(Matthew 6:7). Of course, just because God knows doesn't mean he doesn't want you to talk to him. It's like being in a long-distance relationship. The more you talk to them, the more you know them, and the stronger your friendship gets. Prayer is even better than a cell phone or email, because you can do it anytime, anywhere, and there are no long distance minutes! You can pray on the bus, when you're sitting on the toilet, when you're in school, anywhere! Whenever you want to talk to God, he's right there listening, so do it often.

Live for Jesus

The last step of all this is to decide to dedicate your life to Jesus. This doesn't mean you have to go out and become a missionary or pastor. Basically, just live the way that Jesus wants you to live. This is summed up in two points: 1. Love God (already covered above), and 2. Love others as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). If you love others, you will forgive their mistakes, you won't hurt them purposely, you'll try to be a good husband/wife, you'll respect others, you won't steal, you won't treat people as sex objects, etc.

It seems simple, but since each of us messed up because of sin, it will be tricky at times. And God will always forgive you if you realize you've messed up and done something you shouldn't have. But you shouldn't try to sin - we should try as hard as possible not to, because God doesn't want us to. It's like when you fall in love, you want to do things that will make your girlfriend/boyfriend happy, not things that they dislike. We should do what God wants us to do, because we love him. These two rules given above are all that he asks. so do them! If you want more tips, read the New Testament, especially the Epistles (letters to the churches) which give lots of advice on how God wants you to live.

If you want to do more for God, you can learn what you're good at and use that to serve Him. If you're good at singing, maybe join a choir or church band. If you're good at organization or accounting, maybe you can help with a charity or church administration. If you like kids, offer to help out some single parents or help with Sunday school. If you have a good job and make money, be generous and donate to the church and charities. Any of your gifts can be used to serve God in some way, and no gift is better than any other one. If you're not meant to be a missionary, it just means you are meant to do something else. Find out what it is, and go to it!

Enjoy God/Jesus Forever

The last step is an easy one, and one that we should constantly look forward to. If your sins have been paid by Jesus, then you get to go to heaven and enjoy being with God forever. Can you imagine finally being able to talk face-to-face and hug the Person you've loved all your life but never been able to see? And never having to worry about saying goodbye? Plus, you'll get to do all this and live in a world where there is no more death or disease or crime or anything bad, and everything will be perfect. This short time of our lives will be only a blink of an eye compared to the time we'll spend in heaven, and that's very comforting and exciting.

Conclusion

So all of this is what "following Jesus" means. It's a lot to sum up with two words, but you can see how it would be hard to explain all of this every time someone wanted to refer to the concept of being a Christian. Basically, this is what the Christian life should be like. It's not so difficult to explain, and not so hard to do, when you break it down into these smaller steps. This is why Jesus said "This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light."(Matthew 11:30).

[1] Bethlehem, Israel - Google Maps
[2] Church of the Great God - When was Jesus born?
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