Who Do You Follow?
I’d like to pose a question for self-reflection: who are you following? In other words, who are you putting your allegiance behind? There are a lot of people to follow: politicians, actors, social media influencers, musicians, even pastors. Social media makes it really easy to follow people and let everyone know who we stand with. And let’s admit it, we like to be associated with popular people. It can make us feel better about ourselves when we’re seen hanging with the ‘in crowd’. Yet, long before social media was a thing, people still wanted to be liked and followed.
2,000 years ago the Pharisees were the ones to follow. They spent their entire lives in diligent religious service. They dressed, walked, talked, even prayed in ways that got them noticed. They were famous. Their opinion mattered because they were important. They were quite literally the authority. You respected and followed them, or God would be really unhappy (or so everyone was led to believe).
Then Jesus enters the scene and pretty much blows up their world. He calls them out in front of their fans and followers for what they were – hypocrites. In Matthew 23 Jesus says of the Pharisees: “For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”
As you might imagine, this did not make Jesus or His followers very popular with the cool kids.
Instead, Jesus called people to follow Him (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, and about 20 more times in the gospel accounts). He called people publicly to stand with Him, follow Him, and obey Him. Sometimes that call to follow was very challenging (see the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10). It meant giving up control and maybe even your family or your job. He demanded nothing less than absolute surrender, and His call is no different today: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
Just as it was 2,000 years ago, proudly following or even being associated with Jesus in today’s culture is not cool and, in many cases, may get us blacklisted. Our friends and family might turn against us (see Matthew 10:34-39), we might lose friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram, and in some places, it might mean the loss of a job, freedom, or even life.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul describes the gospel as a stumbling block and foolishness to the lost. The gospel is an offensive message when preached in its fullness! People don’t want to hear that they aren’t in control of their lives, that there are consequences to their actions, and that they’re responsible to an eternal and holy God. They want to be the center of attention, the king of their world, the god of their life. This mentality is incompatible with the gospel of Christ.
Now let’s get to the good news…
Paul goes on to say, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27)
Is that not a magnificent passage? God chose the weak to shame the strong. He chose nobodies to shame the somebodies. He chose followers who were unpopular and unknown and built His church on them! And He’s doing the same today. It seems the more broken and humbler we are, perhaps the more of a nobody we are, the more God can use us.
There are people all over the world carrying their crosses for Christ and you’ll never hear about them. No one follows them. People going through cancer treatments and witnessing to their nurses. Truck drivers who share their faith at every rest stop. Brave souls who smuggle bibles across communist borders. There are millions of unsung, unknown heroes of the faith that God is using this very moment.
You see, Jesus never called us to follow other people. Yes, we all have leaders and authority placed above us and we are to respectfully submit to them (Romans 13:1). However, there is only one who is worthy to be followed, and that is Jesus Christ. He is the perfect example, the preeminent above all, King above all Kings, and absolutely trustworthy.
In 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 Paul says: “For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
You might rephrase it as, ‘I follow Greg Laurie’, or ‘I follow John MacArthur’, or ‘I follow Billy Graham’. Paul wasn’t implying these were bad leaders, but many Corinthian Christians were putting their allegiance behind humans instead of Christ, which was causing strife.
How many people have said they turned from their faith because they were hurt by a Christian or a bad church experience? The core issue there is they put their faith in the wrong person. Our faith has to be in Christ-alone, not in anything or anyone else. The world and everyone in it will at some point let us down, but Christ will not. And while following Christ and standing for the gospel may bring us some temporary discomfort and struggles, the prize is worth it!
James 1:12 says: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” And Jesus says in Matthew 5:12a, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
What a beautiful promise! Yes, it takes effort. It takes courage. It takes diligence. It takes commitment! But following Christ is absolutely worth it. It makes a difference here in our families, our jobs, our communities. Following Jesus makes us salt and light; salt to preserve the good in the world, and light to reveal the way to heaven.
Is our God worthy to be praised, and worthy to be followed? He is!