In our final week of our Surrender Bible Study, we look at the last part of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples in Matthew 16. After making the decision to surrender to Jesus, denying our own will and taking up our cross, we are now ready to follow him. The deeper I study this short instruction from Jesus to his disciples, the more I realize that Jesus must have known what our future world will turn into. The concept of following is not a popular one in our culture. Successful and popular individuals lead, they do not follow. To follow makes a person look weak in the eyes of the world. True inspirational characters lead the pack.
Not disciples of Jesus.
Jesus wants us to follow him in every way. The Strong’s Bible dictionary translates the Greek word for follow akolouthei used in this passage as to accompany, attend, follow, to be in the same way with. Jesus wants us to “walk in the same way” with him by following his example of grace, humility, zeal, patience and through suffering and even death for his kingdom and glory.
Our purpose as followers of Christ is to become more like Jesus. Paul Washer explains in one of his sermons that this is our only need – our most important goal. Through our Christ-like character we inspire others to surrender themselves to Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:20-21). Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. Surrendering to him means to let go of our own will and making him Lord of our lives, ridding ourselves of our own faulty ideas and all other obstacles to growth to make room for Him. In this way we experience deeper intimacy with God which will lead to a life of real contentment, joy, and fulfilment.
The Poole Bible commentary explains that this following should resembles living as near as we can to the example of Christ, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:15.
But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.1 Peter 1:15
Last week we examined why taking up our cross is so important to our spiritual development. It is interesting that Jesus chose to put “deny yourself” and “take up your cross” before “follow me”. I believe through the choice of this word order he is calling us to not just endure the hardships we don’t choose but to make the choice to follow him through the hardships. Jesus calls us to choose to lay our own will down for him. He invites us to choose to hate our own life in this world and choose a life with him.
Recently I have heard and read quite a few warnings that we should be careful to not walk ahead of Jesus. This is such a profound illustration for me as I imagine a young child running out in front of the parent trying to show the parent where to go or what to buy, trying to manipulate the parent to get what the child wants. Isn’t that how we treat God sometimes? We show him what we want and ask him to make it happen, as if we already know all the answers and believe he must follow us. This is not how Jesus teaches us to be his disciples.
Direct your heart, don’t follow it.
In deep contrast to this instruction from Christ is the pop-cultural call we often hear to “follow your heart.” Jon Bloom explains that this belief that the heart is the compass to true happiness is both misleading and dangerous. It is misleading because, with the veneer of a sacred quest, it encourages pursuing what you desire. For this same reason it can be a dangerous temptation because following our own heart appeals to our fallen, sinful nature “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9) and can lead us into deep trouble.
Jon Bloom further encourages the Christian to rather “direct your heart” (Proverbs 23:19)
Hear, my son, and be wise,Proverbs 23:19
and direct your heart in the way.
As I mentioned last week, Jesus warned during the Sermon on the Mount that where our treasure lies, our heart lies also (Matthew 6:21,24) and we cannot serve two masters. Therefore, we should rather direct our hearts to follow the instructions from God through scripture by directing our hearts away from following what is evil and deceitful and towards what is truly valuable.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?James 4:1
What makes the directing of our heart so difficult is this constant battle within us between our human nature and that of our spiritual nature as established through the Holy Spirit when we become children of God.
I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.Romans 7:22-23
Apostle Paul admits that this battle of wills can make us a slave to sin. The fact that he had this struggle but could overcome the battle to live according to God’s will encourages us to direct our hearts instead of following it because following it will remove us further from God and closer to our evil human nature. We must consciously direct our hearts away from that which is wicked and harmful for our souls and towards the pure and magnificent that is God and his designs for us.
Turn your heart towards following Jesus
When we direct our heart towards God and truly delight in all he has done for us in the salvation work of Jesus Christ and the plan he has for our eternal future, our heart’s desires will follow suit. We will then be filled with “whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” and excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21
The closer we move to Jesus, the more we see the real treasure: God himself. And the more we allow him to take over our lives, the more we desire what he wants for us so that his desires for us become our own desires for our lives. In this process we begin to “hate all that might rob us of that Treasure.” (Jon Bloom) Let us follow Jesus with our whole heart by directing our hearts to delight in the Lord. When the desires of our hearts follow the desires of Jesus, God will give us the desires of our hearts.
Enjoy this throwback sing-a-long!