As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two brothers, James the son of Zebedee John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
Today, in principle, the call of the Lord Jesus has not changed. He still says “Follow me,” and adds, “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In practice, however, this does not mean for the majority of Christians a physical departure from their home or their job. It implies rather an inner surrender of both, and a refusal to allow either family or ambition to occupy the first place in our lives. Now there can be no following without a previous forsaking. To follow Christ is to renounce all lesser loyalties. In the days when he lived among men on earth, this meant a literal abandonment of home and work. Simon and Andrew “left their nets and followed him.” James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.” This is what it takes to follow Christ; leaving all that you have just like Matthew, who heard Christ’s call while he was sitting at the tax office collecting taxes left everything, and rose and followed him. (Cf. Luke 5:27-28)
Let me be more explicit about the forsaking which cannot be separated from the following of Jesus Christ. First, there must be a renunciation of sin. This, in a word, is repentance. It is the first part of Christian conversion. It can in no circumstances be bypassed. Repentance and faith belong together. We cannot follow Christ without forsaking sin. Repentance is a definite turn from every thought, word, deed and habit which is known to be wrong. It is not sufficient to feel pangs of remorse or to make some kind of apology to God. It is an inward change of mind and attitude towards sin which leads to a change of behaviour. There can be no compromise here. There may be sins in our lives which we do not think we ever could renounce; but we must be willing to let them go as we cry to God for deliverance from them. If you are in doubt regarding what is right and what is wrong, what must go and what may be retained, do not be too greatly influenced by the customs and conventions of Christians you may know.
Second, there must be a renunciation of self. In order to follow Christ we must not only forsake isolated sins, but renounce the very principle of self-will which lies at the root of every act of sin. To follow Christ is to surrender to him the rights over our own lives. It is to abdicate the throne of our heart and do homage to him as our King. This renunciation of self is vividly described by Jesus in three phrases. It is to deny ourselves: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.”(Luke 9:23). The same verb is used of Peter’s denial of the Lord in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace. We are to disown ourselves as completely as Peter disowned Christ when he said “I do not know the man.” The next phrase Jesus used is to take up the cross: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” If we had lived in Palestine and seen a man carrying his cross, we should at once have recognized him as a convicted prisoner being led out to pay the supreme penalty. Every day the Christian is to die. Every day he renounces the sovereignty of his own will. Every day he renews his unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ. The third expression which Jesus used to describe the renunciation of self is to lose our life: “Whoever loses his life… will save it.” The word for “life” here denotes neither our physical existence nor our soul, but our self. The man who commits himself to Christ, therefore, loses himself. This does not mean that he loses his individuality, however. His will is indeed submitted to Christ’s will, but his personality is not absorbed into Christ’s personality. On the contrary, as we shall see later, when the Christian loses himself, he finds himself, he discovers his true identity. So in order to follow Christ we have to deny ourselves, to crucify ourselves, to lose ourselves. The full, inexorable demand of Jesus Christ is now laid bare. He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. He calls us to make him our Lord. Jesus made it very clear: If you want to be His disciple, then you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He made it clear, and in doing so, to use the proverbial statement taken from a tennis game, He put the ball in our court. What will we do with it? Granted, it is a high-powered ball–a difficult serve, but not impossible to return. Will we let it go by, not return it, and lose what we could have won–the highest of all callings? What fools we would be! What profit would it be to gain anything else, even the whole world, and lose our lives and their purpose?
At its simplest effect, Christ’s call “Follow me” calls on us to leave our all to join in his mission, hence he said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily to follow me (Cf. Luke 9:23). He asked men and women for their personal allegiance. He invited them to learn from him, to obey his words and to identify themselves with his cause. What about the cost? The cost is high. Jesus urged us to count it. The cost is denying self, which in this day and age, even in Christendom, is not popular teaching. The cost is death to self, when in our times many people are trying to discover self and take care of self. The cost is to follow Jesus as a habit of life for the rest of your life!