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Following people today is effortless. We follow each other with the click of a button on social media. The cost is minuscule. At most, we lose a bit of dignity (depending on whom we follow). Ordinarily, we want to follow friends and family, or people whose lives we covet. Celebrities have millions of followers, and they don’t ask for much in return, perhaps the occasional “like.” Nowadays, following someone is easy, so easy in fact that we can follow hundreds, even thousands, of people. I wonder if this phenomenon has helped to confuse us about Jesus’ words, “Follow me.”
The life that Jesus calls us to emulate actually wasn’t coveted by anyone. If Instagram existed in the first century, I’m not sure Jesus would have had many followers. He was a religious outcast, so the pious wouldn’t be caught behind Him. In our day, the “spiritual but not religious” find it equally hard to follow Jesus for two reasons.
First, Jesus demands that we follow Him in a way that we follow no one else. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Family and celebrities are happy to share their followers, but Jesus isn’t. You cannot follow Jesus and be devoted to others in the same way you’re devoted to Him. This type of exclusivity is especially difficult in societies like ours, where non-Christians are happy to include Jesus among the great religious teachers but not above them. Yet, Jesus won’t share the stage with anyone else, and He demands that our love for Him be unique.
Second, Jesus demands that we follow Him precisely when it isn’t exciting or comfortable. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27). The comfort and glory we often want for ourselves are antithetical to the cross. Yet, to follow Jesus is to embrace a cruciform life. John Calvin wrote that Christ’s followers “ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil.” So great is the cost of following Jesus that He exhorts us to consider the decision thoroughly before we “click” (vv. 28–32).
Jesus concluded His call to discipleship in Luke 14 by saying, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). Simply put, following Jesus will cost you everything, but what you gain is greater than what you lose. Through the cross, we get the Christ, who for our salvation bore it before we did.