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What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus?

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Mark 8:34–38

"And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them,

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and

the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:34–38)

When we look at Mark 8:34 by itself, we see that Jesus is saying that following Him is very difficult, perhaps even fatal. Indeed, as I write this I have recently read of the intense persecution of our fellow Christians overseas, particularly Nigeria, where over a thousand have been killed since the beginning of the year and more kidnapped for ransom or forced to wed. In contrast, Christians in the United States face what could be termed difficulties as some are singled out for lawsuits in an attempt to coerce them to kowtow to behavior that is against Christian teaching—in particular homosexuality.

Looking at Mark 8:34–38 (or the parallel passages, Matthew 16:24–27 and Luke 9:23–26), we can come to a less grim conclusion, which is perhaps easier on the souls of us whose churches have never been set on fire. In these verses, the Master is saying that following Him is the most important thing in our lives. Upon a moment’s reflection, Mark 8:35–36 is more challenging than verse 34: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Saving our lives could cost us our souls? Could we be throwing away our salvation for mere life? Could we lose Heaven for trying to remain on Earth? As this article is not about the “Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints,” which is Article 10 of our Articles of Faith, we will, for now, move forward.

Traditionally, one interprets Mark 8:35–35 as presenting a choice. We are either following Jesus Christ and headed for Heaven, or we are lost and headed for an eternity in the lake of fire. In other words, the choice is to follow Jesus and live or refuse to follow Him and die eternally. Jesus presented this choice to Nicodemus in John 3:16–18, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” In other words, God the Father was motivated by His great love for every living soul on Earth to send God the Son to Earth as a human baby boy to grow up, to live, to die, and to rise again so that the unbreakable laws of God that require payment for sin would be satisfied. God the Son, Jesus Christ, then willingly gave up His life on the cross to pay for the sins of all human beings.

In fact, our understanding of salvation theology is that all those who were faithful to God did not receive eternal life because of their faithfulness in keeping God’s law, but because of the faith, they placed in God and their faith that God would one day send a Messiah. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross then saved them—He paid for their sins as well as the sins of all who believed in Him from the time of His death.

We must return to the topic at hand. What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ, or what does it mean to be a follower of the Lord Jesus? Is that one question or two?

Indeed it is one question. A follower of Jesus Christ behaves as one who follows Jesus. The Lord Jesus did not preach an abstract, theoretical theology. He practiced a hands-on ministry. He touched lepers and healed them; He broke the two pieces of fish and the five barley loaves and fed the thousands with them. Six verses in the Gospels use the phrase “had compassion” (Matthew 18:33; 20:34; Mark 5:19; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) regarding the Lord’s expectation of people or His actions, and Matthew 14:14 tells us that Christ “…saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” Just as the Father was motivated by love to send the Son to die for us, Jesus, God’s Son, was motivated to help those around Him while He ministered on the Earth.

Let Luke 10:33 illustrate the point of this article: “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.” The story of the Good Samaritan was given as a response to a question asked the Lord by a lawyer. The question was “Who is my neighbor?” That question was a follow-up to a previous question: “…Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25)? Jesus had the man answer his own question to which the lawyer replied, “…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (Luke 10:27). Jesus approved of the man’s answer, which brings us to Luke 10:29: “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” Christ then gave the story of the Good Samaritan who tended to a man who had been beaten and left for dead by thieves.

At the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, the Lord Jesus asked a question of the lawyer: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves” (Luke 10:36)? Luke 10:37 gives the reply: “…He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

So I say to you to go and do as the Good Samaritan. Show God’s love to all those around you by meeting their needs as far as you are able—physically and spiritually. As James wrote in James 2:8, in so doing, you will fulfill the royal law.

  1. “1,470 Christians Killed in Nigeria Within Four Months,” (05/14/2021), (accessed May 19, 2021).

  2. The writer acknowledges that some church arsons have occurred in the United States, and even in North Carolina.

  3. “Article 10. Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints,” The Articles of Faith and Principles of Church Government for Original Free Will Baptists (of the English General Baptist Heritage), Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, p. 46. One is surprised not to see Mark 8:38 in the footnotes of that article.

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