Learning what it means to follow Jesus is not a one time answer, but something we spend our whole lives learning. It’s a lifelong pursuit, but it’s also simple at its basic level. Very simply, following Jesus means that we believe Jesus died for us as the perfect son of God, we apologize and turn from our sin, and we submit our lives to His will.
But what does that mean in our daily lives? It’s simple to define, and simple to believe, really, but very hard to do. That’s why you and I sometimes feel like we have no idea what it means to practically live our lives as Christians. Deciding to be a Christian means your life is supposed to change, but it’s hard to know what that change looks like.
Learning what it means to follow Jesus actually has a fancy name: “sanctification.” Sanctification simply means the process of becoming holy. It’s something we will do our whole lives — and something we are SUPPOSED to pursue our whole lives. “Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16. When people become christians, or feel a little stagnant in their faith, we think to ourselves, “what NOW?” There can be guilt surrounding that question for a lot of people. We think if we were actually “strong in our faith” we would know what we are supposed to do as Christians. That question is so common – I think every Christian has that question every now and then.
Let’s break down those three “simple” things we do when we follow Jesus that I mentioned earlier. They were: 1. Believe that Jesus is the perfect Son of God who died for our sins, 2: Turn away from our sin and, 3: Submit our lives to Him.
When we believe that Jesus was the perfect Son of God who died in our place for our sins, the Bible says we are saved. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) God’s grace is credited for this, and we will do none of the following things perfectly. God wants our efforts and hearts, not our perfection.
After we believe, we’re supposed to “repent,” or turn away from our sin and live our lives as God created us to. Again, you will not do this perfectly. The point is not perfection. The point is a heart that tries to live to glorify God. And that brings us to the last point: Submit our lives to Him. That means learning what He wants our lives to look like and then giving up our way to live how He wants us to. That is what this verse means: “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 15:24-25). Jesus tells us to deny ourselves – our sin – and follow Him. It’s the least fun part, and people compare it to death. Because it really is. When we follow Jesus, our sinful selves die and we gain Him.
To follow Jesus means that we believe that Jesus died in our place for our sins, and out of our love for Him we give our lives to Him. When we give our lives to Him, we give Him control of our lives and try to live as He created us to, while knowing that we will never live up to those standards in this life.
Learning the disciplines of daily follow Jesus is another step we take after giving our lives to Jesus. There are things God calls us to do each day, like spending time with Him, that we need to take the time to learn over the course of our lifetimes. This is a process, and is difficult for people to learn because it is a discipline. It’s so normal to start these, and then stop, and then start again. But it’s common to think it’s just you that starts and stops, and then you stop completely out of frustration with yourself. Don’t get frustrated with your lack of consistency, but know that it’s normal! Give yourself grace and just start again!