There comes a point in time in every relationship when you have to figure out three things . . . where have we been, where are we now, and where you are going. In every dating relationship there is a time when you have to decide if the relationship is going anywhere. You get to the place where you evaluate the relationship. You ask and answer questions like, “How long have we been in this relationship?” “Where are we right now?” “How far have we progressed in our relationship” “It’s time to get more serious or is it time to call it quits?” “Is this relationship worth my time and effort?” “We need to either be more committed to one another or just walk away?”
Right or wrong, I always had a philosophy growing up. My philosophy was there was no reason to even go out on a first date if I didn’t see potential for a serious relationship with that girl. If I didn’t see a potential future with a girl it wasn’t worth my money or my time to go out with her.
Once your relationship with Christ begins, there comes a time when you must evaluate what that relationship looks like too. You have to look at the same kinds of things. “Where was I before my relationship with Christ began?” “How did my relationship begin?” “When did my relationship begin?” “Where am I now in my walk with Christ?” “Am I becoming more like Christ today than I was yesterday?” “Am I a follower of Christ or just a fan?” That is the ultimate question, “Am I a fan or a follower?” When you begin to break it down, there is a big difference!
Kyle Idleman wrote a book several years ago called, Not A Fan. If you ever want to read a book that will challenge you about how you answer that question, I strongly recommend you read that book. Kyle says in the book that a fan is defined in the dictionary as, “an enthusiastic admirer.” Fans may be fine with repeating a prayer, attending church once a weekend and slapping a Jesus fish on the back of their bumper; but Jesus wanted a deeper relationship that that. Fans don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in their lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up but Jesus is thinking overhaul. Fans think a little decorating is required, but Jesus wants a compete remodel.
Here are some characteristics of fans versus followers. Followers are committed and fans can be fickle. Followers trust their leader and fans trust their leader only when it benefits them. Followers want a vision and fans want a show. Followers ask “What have I done for you lately?” and fans ask “What have you done for me lately?” Followers are in for the long term while fans are in for the short term. So the question is, “Are you a fan or a follower?”
Jesus was always preaching a sermon, performing a miracle or telling a story that would “thin out the crowd” and show the difference between a committed fan and a follower. This happened in John 6. The crowds were following Jesus and it was time to eat. Jesus miraculously feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After an exhausting day, Jesus and the disciples go across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. The disciples get in the boat and start out and that is when Jesus walks on the water. After Jesus gets into the boat they make it to the other side. “24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’” (John 6:24-26).
Jesus was saying, “You really don’t want me. All you want is what I can give you. You just want another free meal.” At that point Jesus began to tell them how He was the bread of life. “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51). Then He says something that totally “rocks their world.” “54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54).
It became very obvious at that point who was with Him and who was not. The fans left and the followers stayed. “66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69). How do we answer that question today? How do we know if we are truly a follower of Jesus or simply a fan?
In Luke’s account right after the feeding of the 5,000 with the “miracle meal” Jesus lays out the criteria or characteristics of a follower. Turn in your Bibles to Luke 9. When you look at these descriptions you can quickly evaluate if you are a follower or a fan? “23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26).
Jesus reveals to us right here what a true disciple or follower looks like. This is how a follower is going to think and do. “Come after” (Luke 9:23) means “to attach yourself to Jesus as His disciple.” It is not just a tagging along from behind somewhere but you are choosing to attach yourself to Jesus. You are going to do like Jesus does . . . You are going to think like Jesus thinks . . . You are going to go where Jesus would go . . . You are going to be treated like Jesus is treated . . . etc. To “deny yourself” (Luke 9:23) means once and for all you will say no to your old nature. You are willing giving up every bit of reliance on everything and depending on God alone for your salvation. You are walking away from every thought, habit or religious duty that might pull you away from Christ.
“Take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23) is the imagery of a condemned man who is forced to carry his cross to his execution. But what the condemned person does under duress, you do willingly. You voluntarily and definitely accept the pain, shame, and persecution that will be yours because of your loyalty to Christ and His Kingdom. You willingly subject yourself to His discipline on a daily basis. All of this is a part of following Him through trusting Him, walking in His footsteps and obeying His commands. So what is your motivation for doing this? You do all of this out of gratitude for salvation that He has provided.
Once Jesus has laid the groundwork toward the end of the chapter He gives three examples of people who are potential followers. The first potential follower makes a bold statement to Jesus. “57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” (Luke 9:57-58). This guy makes a very bold statement to Jesus. He says, “wherever” (Luke 9:57). He is talking a good game and telling Jesus he will follow Him without reservation. There are no limits on where he will follow.
Jesus’ response to this man reveals where his weakness and lack of commitment are. This man struggled was Commitment vs. Comfort. Comfort is a big deal for us. Think about our thermostats. In the summer time, you might like your house to be 68 degrees while I prefer 70 degrees. In the winter time, you might prefer 74 degrees and I prefer 72 degrees. That’s why when we get into public settings we have people sitting beside each other with one saying, “I’m too cold” and the other one saying, “I’m too hot.” What we are saying is this place is not within my personal comfort zone and I don’t like it.
This person will be the type person who will go through God’s Word like it is a buffet line picking and choosing. We pick and choose what looks good and we don’t worry about the rest. They might say things like, “I want to follow Jesus but don’t ask me to forgive the person who hurt me.” “Don’t ask me to release that bitterness and resentment I’m not going to let that go.” “I want to follow Jesus but don’t ask me to give a percentage of my money. I worked hard for that.” “I’ll follow Jesus but don’t talking to me about my sex life. I can’t help my desires.” We want just a little bit of Jesus but not too much. If we do that it can be like an inoculation. A little bit can become immune to the real thing.
The second man’s struggle was Commitment vs. Convenience. “59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ 60 And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-60). The key phrase for this man was “let me first” (Luke 9:59). The first thing this guy does is put Jesus off. He was saying, “Jesus, I really want to follow you, but right now is not a good time. I will follow but just not today.” It’s like that diet we are always going to start . . . tomorrow. Or it’s like that exercise regimen we are going to start . . . tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow . . . when I get out of college, when I get married, when my kids are older, when my job is less demanding, etc.
Initially when you hear this you might think that Jesus is being pretty hard. But this was the man’s excuse. If the truth were to be told, the man’s Dad probably wasn’t even sick. He could have been saying, “When they die and I get the inheritance, then I will follow” or “When they die and I know they won’t disapprove, then I will follow.” Jesus knows that the longer you put off being committed, the less likely you will be committed!
The third man’s struggle was Total Commitment. “61 Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62). This man’s response to Jesus begins with “but” (Luke 9:61). Obviously, commitment to Jesus was not the highest priority for this man. Later in Luke’s gospel Jesus said, “26 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). “Hate” (Luke 14:26) is not literally like, “I hate you!” We are commanded to love our family and people around us but our love for Jesus must be so intense and strong that our love for other people looks like hate.
There were other things more important to him than Jesus. Half-hearted commitment is not commitment! Jesus uses an old parable to describe this man’s attitude toward commitment. He talks about the person “who puts his hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62). Anybody who plows wants to plow a straight “furrow” or line. In order to do that you have to be focused and looking ahead. You can’t allow yourself to get distracted or look back because the very second that you do you will mess up what you have been working so hard to accomplish. What Jesus is describing here is somebody whose heart is divided.
One of the greatest evangelists who has ever lived was D.L. Moody. D.L. Moody was quoted as saying, “The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.” Moody did not originate the line. Henry Varley, a British revivalist who had befriended Moody in Dublin, remembered in 1873 Moody asked him to recount words they had spoken in private conversation a year earlier, just before Moody’s return to the United States.
D.L. Moody asked Henry Varley, “Don’t you remember saying, ‘Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him?’ ” “Not the actual sentence,” Varley said. “Ah,” said Moody, “those were the words sent to my soul, through you, from the Living God. As I crossed the wide Atlantic, the boards of the deck of the vessel were engraved with them, and when I reached Chicago, the very paving stones seemed marked with ‘Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.’ Under the power of those words I have come back to England, and I felt that I must not let more time pass until I let you know how God had used your words to my inmost soul.”