Why Who You Follow Matters

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September 19, 2022

How can someone tell who you follow?

Ifyou follow a certain musician or band, people can tell because you play their music. If you follow a specific car company (like GM), if you are loyal to them for whatever reason, well, people can tell because you always buy GM cars.

Or, If you are like us and hail from Michigan, you may follow the Detroit Lions. And if you are a devoted fan of the silver and blue, people can tell because you’re always miserable from defeat. Your faithfulness to the Lions comes through because your spirit is low, your expectations are low, and your humility is high. People can see that you’re a Lions fan by the brown paper bag over your head about week ten (you know, with the little eye holes cut in it); it’s a dead giveaway, “That’s a Lions fan. For sure.” I’m just kidding. This is our year. Without a doubt, this is the year for the Lions.

My point is that people can tell who we follow. By the concerts you attend, the car you drive, and the team colors you wear, people can hear, see, and then discern who you follow in life.

But what about when it comes to following Jesus? How can people tell when Jesus is the one we follow? Is it a Jesus t-shirt that all Christ-followers wear, or is it a cross necklace we put on? Is it the little fish emblem that people put on the bumper of their car?

While some of those things are great, Scripture clearly shows how the world will know we follow Jesus — and it’s not by our “Jesus swag.”

Jesus says this in John 13,

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — v. 33–35

The world knows who we follow by how we love one another.

Here, Jesus says, I’m leaving; I’m going to be exalted back to heaven. Since I will be gone, I’m giving you this new commandment to love one another. The idea is that even though he will be physically absent, we, as His followers, will be lovingly present in each other’s lives. And this love we have for one another is the distinguishing mark of a disciple; our love for fellow Christ-followers is how the world will know that we are Christ-followers.

But, our sinful nature is exposed no more than five minutes after Jesus gives His followers this command. You remember in verse 33, Jesus says to the disciples, “You will seek me [but because I’m about to be exalted to heaven, so] ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” Then in verses 34–35, He gives them the command to love one another. Then in verse 36, Peter totally neglects the love commandment[1], saying, ‘Hold up, Jesus. Let’s back up. Maybe we can talk about love later. First, tell us where you are going?’ That’s what Peter is interested in; he says, ‘Jesus, if you’re leaving, then we want to go with you.’ Peter is not particularly interested in following Christ if Christ is going to be physically absent. But Jesus replies and re-affirms to Peter that where He is going, Peter cannot come — at least for now. Later on, after God’s purposes for Peter on earth are complete, Peter will join Jesus in heaven, but not yet.

Peter is still not happy with this answer, so he asks in verse 37, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” In other words, Peter says, ‘Nothing can stop me from following you. Nothing can hold me back. You will not leave me, and I will follow you even if it kills me.’ This is a massive amount of confidence — a massive amount of self-confidence.

And Jesus immediately counters in verse 38, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” And that’s exactly what happened. Before the night is even over, before the rooster sounds the alarm for a new day, Peter is going to deny even knowing Jesus three different times.

But just a few hours earlier, Peter is amazingly self-confident, and the self-confident follows the flesh. What we mean by the flesh is that Peter, in his self-confidence, is reliant on his own strength; he’s reliant on himself. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson says about Peter here,

“Tragically, the boast that he would never deny his Lord, even to the point of death, displays not only gross ignorance of human weakness, but a certain haughty independence that is the seed of the denial itself.”[2]

In his self-confidence, Peter is unaware of his weakness, and he’s operating independently, under his own power, not relying on God’s grace to sustain him.

Much of the conservative culture we live in values taking responsibility for yourself, working hard for what you earn, and cultivating a kind of self-sufficiency to make it on your own so that you won’t have to rely on others. And there’s a lot of good in that. Taking responsibility, working hard, and not succumbing to a victim mentality are good.

However, these same values can also create a kind of individualism and arrogance that betrays who we really are and how God designed us. We are creatures made to rely on God and his strength in us. Furthermore, we are broken creatures in need of grace to cover our sins, to empower us for discipleship to Jesus. We can’t make it on our own. We can’t rely on ourselves. We need God, and we need God’s people. We need God’s grace for salvation, and we need God’s grace to grow in salvation. Peter has this “can do” attitude, and he’s filled with zeal and passion. But what Jesus is exposing is this undercurrent of self-confidence and arrogance that we are all in danger of. Church, let’s check our ego at the door and not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

And, church, this is what God is calling us to — a God-centered approach to life. We don’t live for ourselves and are not confident in ourselves. We are reliant on God, and we are trusting in God, in His will, in His path for us, even though it includes death to self and denial of self, as Jesus experienced on the cross.

How can someone tell that you follow Jesus? It’s not a special tattoo; it’s not even a particular religious activity (like church attendance or tithing). Jesus says that the world will know that you are my disciples, and the outside world will identify you as my followers by the way that you love each other. Let’s repent of our selfishness; let’s repent of our self-reliance, and let’s center our lives on God and His purpose for us. And let’s love each other just as Jesus has sacrificially loved us.