What does it mean to genuinely want Jesus in your life? What does it mean to truly follow Christ? What does authentic commitment to Jesus really entail? Jim White writes:
In his newspaper column called “Market Report,” Bill Barnhart once talked about the difference between investors and traders in the stock market. He said that a trader makes decisions on a minute-by-minute basis, wheeling and dealing, pursuing short-term profits. Traders may have no confidence whatsoever in the companies in which they buy stock. All they’re after is an immediate payoff.
An investor, on the other hand, buys stock based on their views of the company. Investors are in it for the long haul. They chain themselves to the mast. They commit their money to a stock, believing that over time, the stock will pay dividends and grow in value. The ups and downs of the market don’t scare them because they believe in the quality of the company, its leaders, and its product.
When it comes to your spiritual life in Christ, you have to decide whether you are going to be an investor or a trader. Which one you choose will determine everything.
Following Jesus is not an idea, much less a philosophy. It’s a tangible, life-changing act. It’s something that you do. It’s a fundamental, settled choice within your very being—a choice that not everyone who desires a spiritual life is willing to make.
There was a provocative series of three encounters worth noting, captured by Luke, between Jesus and some who said they wanted to be His followers. Here is the first: As they were walking along the road, a man said to [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57–58)
This person seemed to be willing to follow Jesus. He was quick to say: “Count me in! Wherever, whenever, however.” You’d think that Jesus would be thrilled that someone would have that kind of attitude. But did you notice how Jesus responded? In essence, He said, “I don’t think you get it.”
To really choose to follow Jesus means to know what it is you’re choosing, and then to commit to the choice. Jesus knew that commitment was not to be taken lightly; once He even said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). For Jesus, that language wasn’t just demonstrating a flair for the dramatic. It was literal.
Following Jesus isn’t about sitting at the feet of some guru for a seminar at a retreat. It isn’t about having a nice, comfortable, safe dose of spirituality in your life to make you feel good whenever your thoughts run deep about ultimate questions and eternal destinies. Jesus called people to follow Him, and there was only one place He was going—a cross. The true nature of spiritual living involves sacrifice, duty and commitment.
Then there was this second person Jesus encountered: He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59–60)
This person wanted a life with Christ, but wanted to put off what it would take, or at least put the investment on hold. When this man said that he wanted to go back to bury his father, that didn’t mean he simply wanted to go back and attend his dad’s funeral. It was a Hebrew phrase that meant he wanted to go back and wait for his father to die, to be available in case there was anything he needed to do whenever his father did die. His father may not have even been sick! He was saying that his life, with its issues and concerns and responsibilities, was more important than following Jesus.
Did you notice how Jesus replied? “Let the dead bury the dead.” To paraphrase: “Let those who are spiritually lifeless order their life around things that don’t have any eternal significance. You show signs of life – or at least act like you want to be alive – so live like it! Let those who care more about the material world than the spiritual world build their lives and commitments and decisions around goals and efforts and investments that won’t matter at the end of a life. I’m calling you to invest in the kingdom. And that’s not an investment for a season, but the investment of a life.”
Then came a third encounter: Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61–62)
This man didn’t jump in and say “Yes” without thinking about the cost. He didn’t put Jesus off and say, “Well, maybe later.” This guy had a different twist—he said, “Okay, I’ll follow you, but….” Then he added a condition, he inserted a qualification, about the degree to which he would follow Jesus.
In his case, the qualification seemed reasonable, didn’t it? All he wanted to do was go say goodbye to his family. But that wasn’t what was really going on. The issue wasn’t saying goodbye. We can see that from how Jesus responded to him. Jesus saw right through his words to what was really going on. It wasn’t about saying goodbye to his family, it was about not wanting to say goodbye to his previous way of life. He wanted to say “Yes” to Jesus while holding on to what he had been following and to the priorities he used to pursue. Jesus’ reply made it very clear that He had no use for that kind of following.
To follow Jesus means that your heart is fully His, not divided in its loyalties. Jesus didn’t want little professions and half-hearted commitments or weak, watered-down responses.
He didn’t want people to think that following Him was something tame that could be done on the side in someone’s spare time. Following Him could never be a matter of “Yes, BUT—let me do this, or not do that, go back here, cling to this, keep doing that,” and yet make you feel, the whole time, like you were really following.
It’s as if Jesus said: “You’re wanting just enough spirituality to feel good about yourself, but not enough to change your life. That’s not what this is about.”
It’s worth noting that not a single one of these men wanted to turn Jesus down. Not even one said, “No, I don’t want to follow you.” They wanted what they knew in their hearts Jesus would bring to their life. They wanted to feel good about themselves spiritually and develop themselves spiritually. They wanted Jesus in their life.
What they didn’t want to do was what it would take, which was commitment. Sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten what commitment really entails. Encountering it seems so alien to our sensibilities.
I don’t want you to lead an “almost” life.
A life that could follow Jesus fully, but instead chooses against full commitment. A life that chooses the things of the world over the things of God.
And that is what is key: realizing the stark nature of the choice. So here’s my final challenge. Don’t take your one and only life and almost live for Jesus.
Completely live your one and only life for Jesus.