Are you a Child of God? Are you a follower of Jesus?
The two aren’t one in the same. Oh, they overlap for sure, but there is a difference between being adopted by God and becoming like Jesus. You become a child of God when you accept God’s sacrifice for your sin, the sacrifice that was made for you when Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty for the sins of humanity. That’s a gift. Saving grace makes you a child of God. You then become a disciple or follower of Jesus when you begin living a life patterned after the life of Christ, a life that is obedient to the Words of Scripture and to the direction given by the Holy Spirit. That action of your will enables even more of the grace of God to come into your life, leading you to a transformed way of life. Sonship (being adopted by God) should lead to followship.
In our midweek study of the book of Revelation, we studied a verse in chapter 14 that has me meditating on some things. In one of John’s visions, seen in chapter 14, those who have been marked by God instead of being marked by the beast who is at work in and through the world’s systems, those who have been marked by God are standing with the Lamb, standing with Jesus. It is an epic scene. It is said of them that they are morally pure. They live and walk in the truth. They are honest, and in one part of verse 4, it says, “They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” What a picture of discipleship. Those who stand with the Lamb are the ones who follow Him everywhere He goes.
Listen, being converted, becoming a Christian is step one. Becoming a follower of Jesus and becoming like Him is every step after step one. Where I think many believers may get stalled or where they go off track in their relationship with God is that they never move from faith in the Lamb to following the Lamb wherever He goes. In order to live a victorious, joy-filled Christian life, you have to do more than believe. You have to allow the Holy Spirit access to transform you so that you move from merely believing something to becoming Someone. To become like Jesus, you have to learn to “Follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” You have to become obsessed with and chase the life of Jesus.
Now, when I think about followship from an Old Testament perspective, I think of the way God led His people His people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This pillar wasn’t just a symbol of His presence, but it was a real supernatural phenomenon. I don’t know what the “pillar” looked like, but it was obvious, like a tornado is obvious, like Pastor Thom’s love for the Bengals is obvious, and the Israelites followed that pillar for forty years in the wilderness.
Look at this passage from Numbers 9:15-23 15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.
This is a beautiful example of the obedience of God’s people to let God lead without question. He knew where they were going. They didn’t. They had to follow the One who knew where they were supposed to wind up. Beloved, the same is true for us. Follow the One who knows where you are supposed to be going!
I love that during the day the pillar, the presence of God, was manifested as a cloud. The Israelites were traveling through a desert-like area. Listen, in the desert, the day is very hot, but the night is very cool. God’s presence during the day would shield them from the heat, providing protection. God’s presence during the night would provide warmth and comfort and even visibility to travel through the darkness when needed.
Look at Psalm 105:39: He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night. Think about what that means. Followship gave the Israelites protection from the heat and direction in the dark! Following God was always the way forward and was the way out of oppression. Guess what? It still is!
God’s leading of the Israelites was obvious. Other nations could see the cloud. Those who would oppose Israel would see that God was with them. They would see Israel following the cloud and following the fire.
Exodus 14:4- During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.
Numbers 14:13-14 13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Look at the last part of verse 14 again, “Your cloud stays over them.” God’s cloud, His presence, stayed over them because they stayed with the cloud. Followship, obedience to move at the request of God, gives you access to God’s comfort, protection, and direction. It is a signal to the enemy that you belong to God. If you are struggling, if you are hurting, if you are scared, if you are being opposed, if you don’t know which way to go, get under the cloud and move when it moves!
In the Old Testament, God’s people followed the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. Fast forward to the New Testament and the invitation to follow God. It comes from Jesus Himself. Where God led through a pillar in the Old Testament, He leads through a Person in the New Testament. He leads through the Person of Jesus. What does that mean?
Following God has always been about more than belief. It has always been about obedience to God’s leading. You can believe in God all day long. You can even believe in the sacrifice of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead with every fiber of your being. But if you aren’t willing to move with Him, not only will you not be under the cloud of His comfort and protection, but you won’t get where He is wanting you to go. Believe it or not, the destination for all of God’s children is the same. The destination is the transformation of our lives so that we look like the One we are following. God wants us to become like Jesus as we follow Him.
Romans 8:29-30-talks about how God’s plan is to conform us to the image of His Son. Jesus came not only to redeem us but to show us what life with God is supposed to be like so that we could live that life. I like the Message translation of those verses. They read, “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.”
It’s not just that we are to look like Jesus, but we are to live as Jesus did. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” John 14:6. That verse is set in the context of a salvation passage and speaks to how we come to God through Christ for salvation, but life with Jesus involves so much more than salvation. We aren’t meant to only get to God through Jesus, but it is God’s desire is that we become like Jesus as we follow Him. He is the template, the pattern, the example.
When those first disciples heard Jesus say, “Follow Me,” they would have understood the weight of the invitation. Jesus wasn’t saying, “Give Me a try.” He wasn’t saying, “Follow Me as a groupie.” He wasn’t saying, “Give me a few yours of your life.” To follow Jesus, for that first-century disciple meant you would consider Jesus to be your Rabbi. The goal was the imitation of His life for your lifetime. They would live with Him to become like Him for life.
Believer what is your goal? To just make it to Heaven or to take on the life of Christ for a lifetime?
Those who were truly followers studied everything their Rabbi did. They didn’t just listen to his words, but they listened and watched intently in order to learn to copy the behaviors of their Rabbi. There was immediate application of all they heard and saw. There wasn’t a picking and choosing of the Rabbi’s habits. When Jesus called those early disciples to follow Him, He was asking them to duplicate His life. In John 14:12 Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” -John 14:12 Jesus was saying that those who truly believe in Him would live the same kind of life He did, and we can do so in the power of the Holy Spirit who descended to fill believers after Jesus ascended to the Father.
Everyone who followed Jesus in the Gospels left things behind in order to do so. They walked away from their lives in order to live His life. They laid down their lives to pursue the life of Christ. They left it all to “follow the Lamb everywhere He went.” What have you left behind in order to faithfully follow Jesus?
I love the example of John the Baptist who recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in John 1:29. He verbally pointed other people to Jesus demonstrating that He believed in Jesus as the Messiah. But John the Baptist didn’t stop there with belief or a simple declaration about Jesus. No, when John recognized Jesus as the Messiah, there was a shift, a transition in the way he was going to live his life.
John had some followers. John already had the attention of many. John could have been about building his own earthly empire, about advancing his name, but instead of trying to seek his own success, he said in John 3:30 that Jesus must increase, and he, John, must decrease. He shifted the attention off himself and onto Christ. He understood what it meant to follow Christ. John the Baptist embraced that followship meant building the Kingdom of God rather than his own kingdom. He was going to follow the Lamb and become submissive to Jesus’ life and ministry rather than seeking to continue to grow his own following.
Is this the attitude of Christ-followers today? Are we seeking to make Christ famous or is our own reputation and following more important than pointing people to Christ through the way we elevate Him in our lives? In a culture that seems obsessed with growing your own following, adding to your followers on your social media, growing your status and success, it is a tough message for many to receive. There is no true followship without self-denial. Christ cannot increase in us if we aren’t willing to decrease.
Jesus didn’t mince words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
Taking up a cross means the crucifixion of our own lives, the putting to death of our agendas, our wills, our fleshly ways so that we can live Jesus’ life. There is no true followship without relinquishing our lives to live the life of the Lamb. To follow Christ means we don’t follow anything else. It isn’t Christ plus the wisdom of the world. It isn’t Christ plus our hopes and dreams. It isn’t Christ plus the opinion of our friends. It isn’t Christ plus popular culture. It is Christ alone. When the Spirit of Christ leads us to speak about Him, we do it. When the Spirit of Christ tells us to give to a certain need, we do it. When the Spirit of Christ tells us to leave a relationship behind or to pursue one, we obey. When the Spirit of Christ tells us to stand up for truth and justice, we do it. When the Spirit of Christ leads us to pray for someone’s miracle, we do it with boldness. When the Spirit of Christ says to get into the deep water in some way, we don’t worry about the consequences. We simply go because it is Christ’s life that we are living.
In Philippians chapter 1, while Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel, he said that his imprisonment was advancing the cause of Christ, and because of that, he was ok to be in prison. He said that his imprisonment was giving courage to other Christ-followers to be bolder in preaching of the Gospel, and because of that, it was all good that he was incarcerated. He said that he knew there were some people who were talking about Christ so as to try to stir up trouble for Paul, but because they were talking about Jesus, he was ok that it was causing extra drama for him. He knew people were praying for him while in prison. He felt God’s Spirit with him in prison. While he was in prison, his goal wasn’t to just survive. His goal wasn’t even to get out of prison. His goal was that Christ would be exalted in his body no matter what his circumstances were. Philippians 1:20 Paul was going to follow the Lamb no matter where that led him. And he sums up this incredible passage in Philippians 1 in verse 21 by saying, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul’s goal, Philippians 3:10, was to become like Jesus. His whole life, his entire identity, his everyday goal was that Christ would live his life through Paul’s life and if that meant the end of Paul’s earthly life, he knew something even better awaited. What followship! What discipleship! Are you following the Lamb?
If it sounds like it’s too hard, if it sounds like it would cost a lot, if it seems unreasonable or too difficult to you to follow the Lamb, let me suggest this: When you follow the Lamb, you gain way more than you give up. That protection from the heat that the Israelites received, you will get that. That comfort in the cold and direction in the dark, you will get that. But wait, there’s more….
When you follow the Lamb, you get revelation about the way God is at work in the world.
When you follow the Lamb, you get opportunities to be used of God in natural and supernatural ways.
When you follow the Lamb, you will increase in spiritual wisdom and maturity.
When you follow the Lamb, the limitations of this life will come off of you.
When you follow the Lamb, the things that could overwhelm you will become of no consequence.
When you follow the Lamb, you will leave footprints for others to follow.
When you follow the Lamb, you will have unbroken peace and unshakeable hope.
When you follow the Lamb, you will have joy unspeakable and full of glory.
When you follow the Lamb, you will have worship spontaneously combust in your soul.
When you follow the Lamb, you will always have a way through life’s trials.
When you follow the Lamb, chains will fall off of other people.
When you follow the Lamb, healing will flow.
When you follow the Lamb, you will walk in the footsteps of the Victor! Come on!
When you follow the Lamb, you will find the way out of temptation.
When you follow the Lamb, you will silence the enemy.
When you follow the Lamb, you will trample on the enemy.
When you follow the Lamb, you will cause the enemy to flee.
I don’t know about you, but I’m following the Lamb! And if the reasons I’ve just listed aren’t good enough for you, if they don’t convince you that followship is the route to take, let me leave you with this.
There isn’t anyone else worth following. No one else has dealt Satan the eternal blow that the Lamb has. No one else has given their life to redeem me from my sins, and no one else would be qualified to do so. No one else has conquered death. No one else has shown me the love, mercy and compassion of my Savior. No one else has invested so much in me. No one else is worthy of my followship. I’m gonna follow the Lamb!