Requirements for salvation: Following Jesus

A certain ruler asked him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'

'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered. 'No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: "You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother." '

'All these I have kept since I was a boy,' he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (Luk 18:18–23).

We are looking at the biblical requirements for salvation with particular reference to Old Testament believers. In this fourth study we are going to look at the necessity of following Jesus.

Follow me

In our opening text a wealthy ruler asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life—surely the most important question any human being can ask. In reply, Jesus told him to do three things:

Selling everything we have and giving to the poor is not necessary for everyone, but money was this man's god and the remedy had to be drastic (Mat 6:24). But obeying God's commandments and following Jesus are necessary for everyone. Jesus is the way to the Father (Joh 14:6) and we must follow him.

Go and make disciples

The Greek word translated 'disciple' in the New Testament means a committed learner and follower of a person. In Mat 28:16–20 Jesus told his apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything he had commanded them. What did they do in response to that instruction? They went out and made disciples.

Act 6:1,7 tells us that the number of disciples was increasing, and in Jerusalem they increased rapidly. In the Book of Acts the word 'disciple' is used twenty-seven times to describe those who had believed in Jesus, whereas the word 'Christian' is used only twice.

A Christian, then, is not just a believer in Jesus Christ. A Christian is also a disciple of Jesus Christ: someone who follows him and obeys his teaching. Dear reader, are you a Christian?

Love for God

In Luk 14 Jesus revealed further requirements for discipleship:

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luk 14:25–6)

Eph 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church; so what was Jesus teaching? He was using the word 'hate' in a comparative sense.

The first and greatest commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind (Mat 22:35–8). Compared to our love for God, our love for everything else should seem like hatred.

Do you love God like that? Do you love him more than anyone or anything in this world, even your own life? If you don't, then you're not a disciple of Jesus. You may think that you are, but Jesus says you are not.

In a similar vein he said:

'Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.' (Mat 10:37)

Are you worthy of Jesus? If you love anyone more than him, you are not.

Carry your cross

'And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.' (Luk 14:27)

Every Jew would have understood what that meant, physically: the cross was a Roman method of execution. It was like saying: 'Whoever does not carry their own gallows cannot be my disciple,' when hanging was the method of execution in this country.

But what does carrying our cross mean, spiritually? It means accepting God's will for our lives, whatever that may be. For Jesus, God's will was death on a cross, but before his crucifixion he prayed to his Father, and said, '…yet not my will, but yours be done (Luk 22:42).' Jesus fully accepted his Father's will for his life (Joh 18:11).

In Joh 21:1–22 he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and told Peter that he would die for his faith. When Peter heard that, he looked at John and said, 'Lord, what about him?' Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.' Again emphasizing the importance of following Jesus.

It doesn't matter what God has willed for other Christians, it's what he has willed for us, and our commitment to doing his will, that's the important thing.

Jesus said:

'For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.' (Luk 9:24)

That saying of Jesus, in various forms, is found in all four of the Gospels, and twice in Matthew and Luke's Gospels. If the Holy Spirit wants us to read it that often, it must be one of the most important things Jesus said. But what does it mean? It's not just about being martyred for Jesus, which only affects a few of us; it's about dying to self, which affects us all.

In the previous verse, he said:

'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' (Luk 9:23)

Denying ourselves is relinquishing authority over our lives. If a follower of Jesus retains control of their life, they will lose their life (eternal life). But if they surrender their life to God and accept his will for them, they will save their life (keep it for eternal life – Joh 12:25).

The cost of discipleship

We cannot live our own lives on earth and go to heaven. Jesus didn't (Heb 10:5–7), and neither can we. Salvation requires total surrender to God.

But before we do that, Jesus wants us to consider what it could cost us. He said:

'Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, "This person began to build and wasn't able to finish." ' (Luk 14:28–30)

Jesus had thought a lot about his death; he spoke to his disciples about it long before it happened. He, too, had considered the cost of serving God.

He'd spent his working life as a carpenter (Mar 6:3), hammering nails into wood and making wooden structures, knowing that one day he would be nailed to one. He'd had plenty of time to think about it; every working day had been a reminder.

Discipleship can involve us doing things we don't want to do. Crucifixion is a cruel death and Jesus, having a human body like ours, didn't want to be crucified. During his life he'd offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from the cross (Heb 5:7), and made his final pleas to his Father in Gethsemane (Mar 14:35–41).

Likewise, Jesus told Peter that when he was old he would stretch out his hands and someone would lead him where he didn't want to go (Joh 21:18). Peter would be crucified too, and he wouldn't want it either.

Are you prepared to do what God wants you to do, and not what you want to do? That is a cost of following Jesus. It's no good saying, 'I will follow you, Lord', then turning back when things get difficult. Jesus wants us to think deeply about what following him could mean before we commit ourselves to it.

Christ's slaves

'In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.' (Luk 14:33)

Being a disciple of Jesus involves us yielding everything to him, not only our wills and ambitions, but also our wealth and possessions; everything should be laid at his feet. It's called lordship—making Jesus Lord of our lives. We then become stewards of what now belongs to him.

The wealthy ruler in our opening text was tested in this area. Was he prepared to sell everything he had and give to the poor to gain eternal life? That was what Jesus told him to do. Is there anything we wouldn't do if Jesus told us to? He said, 'Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say (Luk 6:46)?' Lordship requires obedience.

Jesus is referred to as 'Lord' more than 200 times in the New Testament. The Greek word (kyrios) means lord, master, owner.

Are Christians slaves? Yes, we are. 1Co 7:22-3 says:

…the one who was free when called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price…

Paul was writing to Gentile believers in Corinth. In the Greco-Roman society in which they lived slaves were bought and sold for money, but Jesus had purchased them with his blood.

In that society slaves had no rights, property or possessions. They were totally dependent on their master for their daily needs. Sometimes they were put in charge of his possessions, but they had nothing of their own. If we've made Jesus Christ Lord of our lives, the same is true for us.

Paul, Peter, James and Jude all described themselves as slaves of Christ (Rom 1:1; 2Pe 1:1; Jam 1:1; Jud 1:1). The Greek word used (doulos) can mean slave, bondservant or servant, depending on the context. The NIV translates it as 'servant' in those instances, but the same word occurs in 1Co 7:22, where it translates it as 'slave'.

I believe it should be translated as 'slave' in all of those verses (the NLT does) because every blood-bought child of God is a slave of Christ. In 1Ti 6:8 Paul said that if we have food and clothing we will be content with that. That was the lot of a slave; that was all they received for their service to their master.

Have you given everything you have to Jesus Christ, even your life? Have you relinquished all rights to it? Are you prepared to go where he wants you to go, to do what he wants you to do, to live as he wants you to live? If you have, then Jesus really is your Lord (your master), and you are his disciple (his slave).

Follow wholeheartedly

This series is looking at salvation with particular reference to Old Testament believers. Were there any Old Testament believers who followed Jesus? Yes, there were: we are told that Caleb and Joshua followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Num 32:10–2).

They didn't follow him physically (he wasn't with them in person), but they followed the leading of his Spirit, as we do; unlike the rest of Israel, which rebelled against his Spirit (Psa 106:32–3).

What was the outcome of them following the Lord? Out of all the people, twenty years old or more, who came out of Egypt, only those two entered the promised land (symbolic of eternal life) and received their inheritance there; all the rest perished in the wilderness (Num 32:13).

1Co 10:1–11 tells us to heed the warnings from Israel's history. If we want to be sure of eternal life we must follow the Lord wholeheartedly, as Caleb and Joshua did, and as Jesus told the ruler in our opening text. For he is the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through him (Joh 14:6).

Following Jesus is necessary for salvation.

Michael Graham
July 2013
Revised September 2023

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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