If we knew up front everything Jesus meant when he said “follow me,” we probably would have run away.
Imagine, for example, if Jesus had spelled everything out to Peter when he offered the “How to Become My Disciple” sales pitch: “Peter, here’s what I have in mind for you. You can follow me, and all of this will come true: I will accuse you of being Satan; I will announce your failures in advance to all your colleagues; I will ask you to stay awake with me during sleepless nights of blood-producing work; I will have a team member confront your ineptitude and record it for all to see as a part of your permanent public record; eventually I will ask you to give up your life in excruciating death to demonstrate your loyalty to our mission. So, Peter, how about it? Are you in?” If I’m Peter, I’m politely declining and throwing my nets into the water on the other side of the boat.
But Jesus doesn’t spell it all out for us. He just says, “Follow me.” If this were a job offer, it would feel more than a little vague. But Peter, and many more, followed Jesus anyway.
In theological terms, we speak of irresistible grace as God’s call on us and His influence in our hearts to make us something new. We choose to follow Jesus, but we would not do so unless God reached into our hearts and got to work. I think we need irresistible grace because irresistible trials do not exist. I can easily resist a trial or test. These are difficult struggles, and I avoid them whenever I can. Trials are to be endured when necessary, but never sought out. People that seek out trials are usually in need of medication.
When especially tough trials come my way, it can feel like Jesus didn’t adhere to industry standards or best practices for honesty in recruitment. In these moments, I think, “Jesus, this is not the plan that I thought we had worked out together.” But I’m growing to see it differently.
An Open-Ended Commitment
Jesus gives a simple “follow me” as both an invitation and a command. It’s a command, because he is our king who has come to lead. It’s an invitation, because he is our Rescuer who has come to save. This invitation-command is open-ended. He does not tell us where we are going. It’s not a follow me from Point A to Point B on the map. The invitation-command to “follow me” carries an implied meaning of follow me (wherever I go). When we respond positively to Jesus’ call, as Peter did, we stand ready to follow Jesus anywhere. So, our commitment to follow is also open-ended. We aren’t certain of where the path leads. We just know that we’ve committed to go.
In this sense, it’s like marriage. When people get married, they commit to be together. They stand up in front of friends and family and make vows to one another saying “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” These are open-ended commitments. We are promising to remain faithful no matter what. But let’s be honest. How many young couples have any idea what they are committing to when they make these promises? I love my wife and have a wonderful marriage. But the truth is that, when we married, Nan had no idea what the “worse” parts of my life would be. We said for richer or poorer, but we only imagined the richer. When she said “in sickness and in health,” she had no idea that one day we’d have three kids under the age of four when I had surgery and could not walk or drive for two months. We make bold statements of unconditional love on our wedding day, but the fullest understanding and deepest joy of those commitments comes only through many years of experiencing life together.
In the same way, we come to understand more deeply what following Jesus means through the experiences of life. Wisely, Jesus doesn’t detail every hardship up front. He simply bids us come, and then he gives us grace that carries us day-by-day. Our job is to follow him in what is right in front of us.
Open-ended commitments can be scary. Would you sign a contract to buy a house with an open blank on the line for sales price? Of course not. We have been taught to negotiate contracts to make sure there are no surprises. This is what makes open-ended commitments so frightening: you can’t negotiate the unknown.
A Relational Commitment
This is also what makes all open-ended commitments relational at their core. You can’t be sure of what lies ahead, but you can make sure you know who you are with. This is why the one who says, “Follow me,” also says, “I am with you always.” We have confidence for the road ahead because we know Jesus goes with us. When we begin to see this, our journey becomes less about the road ahead more about the companion at our side.
Growing up, we used to sing: “Wherever he leads, I’ll go.” Ultimately, that’s the commitment we make when we decide to follow Jesus. I copied below the page out of my grandmother’s old hymnal. The song still works.
Can you honestly sing (or say) the words to “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go”? Is there anything that causes you to hesitate or doubt?
“Trials are to be endured when necessary, but never sought out. People that seek out trials are usually in need of medication.”
Ha! Nice article.