What does it mean to follow Christ?

This weeks devotional is written by Katie Moon. 

There’s a line in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss that says, “he stood puzzling and puzzling till his puzzler got sore.” I was having a morning like that one day this spring. I had been studying the dialogue in John 21 where post-resurrection Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Him. That particular morning Jesus’ final command to Simon-Peter was puzzling me. Why after the three-fold question, “Do you love me?” did Jesus say, “Follow me” (v. 19, 22). Hadn’t Peter already been following Him the past three years? And what in the world did it have to do with loving Jesus?

The command seemed significant to me. So I went on a quest for other New Testament passages where Jesus commanded, “follow me.” Yet I couldn’t find a stated definition of what it means to follow Jesus. There were clues in each of the passages I looked up as to what ‘following’ looked like, but nothing laid out and clear of what it was. Eventually, my boys woke up, and my day started. Yet all morning I remained somewhat distracted from them (this is what my kids deal with!). I couldn’t stop puzzling over what it means to follow Jesus. I remember asking the Lord more than once that morning, “What does it mean to follow You?” I wanted to know. I deeply wanted to do it.

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It so “happens” that I arrived 15 minutes early to preschool to pick up my son that day (if you know me, you know this does not happen). So instead of waiting in the car, I took my two younger boys inside to sit in the nursery of the church (where preschool was) as we waited for Judah to get out of school. We stepped in to the little room, and as my middle child began to play with toys, I sat down in the rocking chair with the baby. My incessant puzzler, still puzzling over everything I had studied that morning, was getting quite sore (as Dr. Seuss would say). I leaned my head back in the chair and closed my eyes. Thats when I had a sense in my spirit that I should look. I opened my eyes, my head still heavy on the back of the rocking chair. On the wall directly in front of me, hung a little too high, was an old frame that held a faded illustration of sheep in a pasture. The verse written on it was none other than Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I read the first line and sat straight up in that chair. Heart quickening. Shepherds lead. Sheep follow.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anoints my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I had never before considered that this well-known Old Testament Psalm might pertain to the New Testament concept of following Christ. And in fact, I’ve grown convinced that it is exactly what this Psalm is about. Actually, what is true for us now, was true for believers then. Not unlike us, they were called to follow God. Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” Since this is so, it really is possible that Psalm 23 is David’s words from his own experience following his coming Savior—Who was eternally alive in Heaven, but was still promised to come in the flesh. Moreover, David, the former shepherd boy, was certainly a qualified person to tell us what it means to follow the Shepherd.

We’ve been talking a lot at church about the difference between becoming a Christian and following

Christ. There is a major difference between the two. Becoming a Christian guarantees we’ll go to Heaven when we die, but it doesn’t guarantee we’ll become Christ’s disciples on earth. All Christians should, but many (maybe most) do not. So why don’t all go on to follow Christ?

One major reason might be pride. Would it be reasonable to say that pride stems from mistrust? We self-protect in every conceivable way (which always includes some form of self-promotion) because we don’t believe anyone else will take care of us, do what is right or best for us, or really love us. Was that not the serpent’s accusation of God in the Garden? Didn’t He bring into question God’s goodness toward Adam and Eve? The first portion of Psalm 23 tells us of God’s tender care for us as our Shepherd. That God really is trustworthy. In fact, that we can entrust ourselves to Him: to do what is best for us, to care for us, and to really love us.

In fact, John 10 calls Jesus the Good Shepherd. Imagine following Shepherd Jesus. Close your eyes and picture Him in front of you, you directly behind Him. Picture walking through every day of your life right behind Jesus. Picture Him in front of you as you deal with that thing you are dealing with right now. How does He feed you? He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Ah, He gives you rest and the food of the Word to satisfy your soul-hunger (cf. John 4:34; Heb 5:12-14). How does He provide for you? He leadeth me beside the still waters. He cleanses us from our sins (1 John 1:7, 9). How does He minister to you? He restoreth my soul. He restores you to fellowship with Him. How does He lead you? He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He guides you into righteous living, for His Name! Notice the progression: He feeds us the Word which judges the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Heb. 4:12), He washes us from our sin, He restores us to fellowship with HIm, then He leads us in righteousness. Beautiful!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

What is the ‘valley of the shadow of death’? I have in times past thought of it as the difficult times in life, or even facing physical death. In light of the theme of following in this Psalm, and in light of the metaphorical nature of the Psalm, I think that the ‘shadow of death’ pertains to the daily death we are to practice each day of our lives. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24)

Notice that those who follow the Shepherd in Psalm 23 walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’? Is it possible to truly follow the Shepherd without dying? I would suggest no.

Matthew 16:27-28 goes on to say, ” “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” It seems to me, based on the context’s discussion of following Jesus, dying to self, and the mention of judgment, that Jesus is saying that some standing there with Him would never choose to die to themselves their whole life long. In other words, some of the disciples (believers) He was speaking to in these verses would never become His followers. (And so we see again that Christians do not automatically follow Christ.) In the tandem passage in Luke 9:26 Jesus said it like this, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” It does not say that Jesus will take away their eternal salvation, or not allow them entrance into Heaven. It says Jesus will be ashamed of him for his lack of willingness to die to his old flesh for the glory of Christ.

We’ve forgotten the need for death. We’re scared of its rub, we avoid the rub. We protect our skin at all costs. And that cost has been steep.

It’s a trust issue. Look at Psalm 23 again.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

When we die to our flesh, we don’t need to fear! 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Yes, we need not fear any evil. For Thou art with me. For He cares for you. A shepherd would have used a rod to fight off any attacking animals, and the staff was used to keep the sheep on the path or rescue it from danger. When we face the death of our flesh, we feel exposed and fearful. We certainly feel pain. Yet we should take comfort. We have a Perfect Shepherd who is with us through the death. I don’t know about you, but this means so much to me! “…where can I flee from Your presence?… If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there… Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Ps. 139:7,8,10).

As anyone who has made a commitment to follow Christ knows, death to the old sin-nature is painful. Satan puts up a serious fight to keep it alive. Moreover, this is a death we must die daily. Paul said “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). As long as we walk planet Earth, if we are committed to following Christ, we will daily experience the (sometimes even excruciating) discomfort of being a new creation in an old flesh. But as we walk this earth, Christ is ever with us. He’s close. And He’s got the tools to protect us. Will you believe that? Take comfort, fellow follower! You can trust Him far more than you can trust yourself! Your newly created soul will be protected, fed, nurtured, carried at times, and lead! He can care for you far better than you’ve ever cared for yourself! As long as we follow in His death and abide in Him, He Himself will raise us to more and more abundant life.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11)

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death ; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-1!)

Very briefly now, we’ll conclude with the rest of Psalm 23. Hasn’t it been a delight so far?

Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anoints my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

After death, there is resurrection! He is so generous to us. And He is so conspicuous in His love for us. Even our enemies see. Imagine how they writhe at His grace toward us! Picture the damage the enemy has done to us during our stay on earth. Now consider the look on his face as JESUS, Sovereign King, metaphorically annoints your head with oil and fills your cup to overflowing. Following Christ feels like an injury to us, but it’s really life. Following Christ really is an injury to Satan. Glory!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

As we follow Christ in death, His goodness and mercy will be ours in life. Goodness will lavishly wash over what we lost to death. Mercy will sweep over the suffering of death. And the joy of abiding in the Lord will be the delight of our lives.

Remember Peter? Jesus asked if he loved HIm. Then He said, “Follow me.”
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Do you love Jesus? Follow HIm!


3 Replies to "What does it mean to follow Christ?"

  • Greg Molinaro
    July 1, 2014 (2:58 pm)
    Reply

    There is so much here to agree with, study and reflect upon. I’ll just simply say “amen”, “amen”!

  • Nate K
    July 1, 2014 (4:14 pm)
    Reply

    Mrs Moon! Love the little quips of Dr Sues and your “puzzler.” Knowing just a littl bit about you this braught an agreeing smerk to my heart today as I read. Thanks for sharing your passions and desire to follow Jesus.

    I am not totally convinced that “valley of the shadow of death” refers directly to “daily taking up our cross and dying to oneself” but I will say I absolutely love your perspective on this and say you make a exceptionally compelling case that is it so!

    You have definitely give me something to think about and “puzzle” over!

    Well done.
    Ither way, you point is definitely truth, whether expressly spoken about in this Psalm or not.

    • Katie
      July 9, 2014 (2:49 pm)
      Reply

      Nate, your smirk brought a smirk to my face! THANKS!


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