FOLLOW ME Means Repent, Deny Yourself, Lose Your Life and Make Disciples

“What did Jesus really mean when He said, ‘Follow Me?’” This is the title of a small pamphlet by David Platt that a friend showed me. I eagerly read it, since “follow me” is repeated at least 17 times by Jesus in the four gospels in the NIV, and implied countless more times. You might not realize it but “Follow me” is the most frequent command Jesus gave. (Incidentally, Jesus did not say even once, “worship me.”)

This pamphlet has three parts:

Part I. The great invitation (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17).

Part II. The great cost (Lk 9:23).

Part III. The great change (Mt 28:19).

Repent, deny yourself, make disciples. Without going into detail, Platt explains in Part 1 that every person’s fundamental problem is sin and that we need to repent of our sins (Mk 1:15). In Part 2 he explains our need to realize that the great cost required in following Jesus is to deny ourselves and to give of ourselves entirely to Jesus (Mt 16:24-25; Mk 8:34-35). Finally in Part 3, he states that if one is truly following Jesus he will invest his life for making disciples (Mt 28:19). Platt’s point is to speak against being nominal Christians (which is not following Jesus), and instead be a “radical” Christian who is completely sold out for Christ. This in essence is what Platt says Jesus expects of any Christian who responds to his command, “Follow me.”

Formulaic? I do not disagree with any of Platt’s main points, for I am very much pro-repentance, pro-self-denial, pro-all in for Christ, and pro-making disciples. But I do not like the way he answered this very important and fundamental question of what it means to follow Jesus. (Platt also wrote a 246 page book with the title “Follow Me: A Call to Die, A Call to Live,” which I did not read.) Perhaps, a decade ago I would have fully embraced his answers with a high five. Perhaps it might still be a good primer for new believers and a challenge to “nominal Christians.” But today I find this rather unsatisfying or formulaic, if not a turn off. Let me try to explain why.

(1) The focus and emphasis is on YOUR PROBLEM–SIN–rather than on God’s mercy, love, grace and forgiveness. Basically, “your problem is sin and you must repent…or else…”

(2) Thus, the focus is on what is wrong and bad and sinful and horrible (YOU) rather than what is right and good and holy and wonderful (God).

(3) It primarily addresses and emphasizes what you must do (repent, deny yourself, make disciples) rather than on what Jesus has done for us through his incarnation, condescension, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension.

(4) While there is mention and affirmation of it, yet there does not seem to be any great proclamation or excitement regarding God’s goodness, grace and generosity, nor is there any awe and expression of how truly majestic, magnanimous, marvelous and mysterious our God is.

(5) In my opinion, such a presentation of what it means to follow Jesus makes Christians rather judgmental and critical of others (perhaps without realizing it), rather than on being loving, gracious, generous and ever forgiving and patient Christians like our God.

Judgmental Christians. I think that when following Jesus is articulated, expressed and communicated in such ways, it may be little wonder why Christians often come across as being judgmental, intolerant, angry and impatient toward those who sin (which is basically everybody …. except themselves!). We are judgmental of those who, in our opinion, do not repent, deny themselves, or are not making disciples. Some Christians even come across as being constipated and intolerant of anyone who is not a Christian like themselves; they are rather ungracious and condescending toward “other Christians” who are not living like them, making disciples like them, marrying like them, dressing like them, behaving like them, preaching like them, etc. It is for these reasons (and more) that I dislike the above answers as to what it means to follow Jesus. Perhaps, Platt does a more wholesome and comprehensive job in his book.

David Platt may be a wonderful Christian, pastor and preacher. I heard David Platt preach on missions from Revelation 5 a few years ago at a Gospel Coalition conference. He is gifted and passionate with much heartfelt unction. I loved his sermon and preaching. So this is not a criticism of Platt as a person, preacher or pastor, but simply of his pamphlet.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? I am sorry that I did not answer this question myself, but only critiqued the way Platt answered it.

Do you agree or disagree with my reasons regarding Platt’s answers to what it means to follow Jesus? Do such answers appeal to non-Christians? Christians? Are such answers good, satisfactory and adequate?

19 comments

  1. Mark Mederich

    or could it mean: REPENT, BE YOUR BEST SELF (GOD GIVES GIFTS TO MANAGE CHALLENGES), USE YOUR LIFE (IMITATE GOD’S RIGHT WAYS), & ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO DO LIKEWISE (WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD)?

  2. Ben, I am extremely shocked and dismayed at your lack of awareness about what it means to be a Christian disciple. The bible spells this out very clearly (as David Platt explains): repent of your sins, follow Jesus and make disciples who will also repent of their sins, follow Jesus and make disciples. Lather, rinse, repeat. What is so hard to understand about that? Why all of this thinking and pontificating about what it means to be a disciple? You’re not dabbling in that emergent crowd stuff are you? If you were in Piper’s circle, he might be tempted to utter the phrase, “Time to go, Ben Toh”…

    Of course, I’m kidding (perhaps we need a sarcasm font for ubfriends). It’s hard for me to listen to people like Platt these days because of over-simplified messages like this for something that is innately complex. God bless his heart, but I need something more robust when it comes to understanding what does it actually means to follow Jesus; it’s just not as simple as some would make it out to be. And the formulaic approach is somewhat akin to franchising or commercializing discipleship, which is very off-putting and inorganic to me. Anywho, Joe, Sharon and I talked about this a while back and Joe directed me to an insightful series that he did on how the church grows: http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/06/29/the-myth-of-multiplication-part-1/

    • David thanks for that link, Joe did an excellent job on it. Honestly, for me, the telling point was that Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he taught, not just disciplemaking. In fact, Jesus spent three years teaching them those things, and another 30 or 40 revealing more and more (ie Gentile ministry and the work of the Holy Spirit). Yet when I began Bible study, and began leading them a year later, I was told that I was a little slow, as in Korea, many would begin teaching the Bible after 6 months.

      It’s much more important to teach spiritual formation, trusting in Christ, loving God, repenting of sin, and learning to love others and build Godly relationships. That takes a while. In my mind, around then, *some* people begin to think they can teach others — at that time, it becomes important to learn “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus” because they need to know what it really means to follow him.

      In my opinion, “deny myself” starts with repentance of sin, but it is the extension of repentance . . . continuing in repentance (like not being a jerk while you serve God). It also means laying down our privelege to follow God’s calling.

      On that note, laying down our privelege, it doesn’t mean we should intentionally go into a life of folly, becoming hopelessly financially and emotionally dependent because we are living against the world. It means, if God calls us, we need to stop thinking about ourselves, our rights, our anything that stands against God. If we don’t understand that right, we begin to expect many things from the world because we gave up so much (yet niether God nor anyone else asked us to . . .)

  3. forestsfailyou
    forestsfailyou

    I think for newer Christians a lot of the things Jesus did and said leave them wondering “So what? What does this mean for me?” And so this formula is attractive, and perhaps useful for a time. But not forever

    “He [i.e., God] had taught me how a thing can be revered not for what it can do to us but for what it is in itself. That is why, though it was a terror, it was no surprise to learn that God is to be obeyed because of what He is in Himself… To know God is to know that our obedience is due to Him. In his nature His sovereignty de jure [by right] is revealed.” Cs Lewis

    • In the church, “obedience” can easily happen for all the wrong reasons: desire to please others/leaders, to get what we want, to be accepted, approved, loved and commended by others, legalism, fear, misunderstanding grace and the gospel, and in some cases even to get married, etc.

      But obedience that stems from the gospel of God’s grace and love (Jn 14:15, 21, 23), or “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5c; 16:26) is appealing and draws others to the love of God by the work of the Holy Spirit.

  4. Dave, thanks for linking Joe’s article from four years ago. This quote nails it, I believe:

    “The principle behind discipleship does involve one person influencing another, which does result in a change in heart and mind. The success of discipleship doesn’t depend on soldiering forward in a mechanical strategy of reproduction and multiplication. And discipleship doesn’t involve developing a well-trained, elite sales force. Rather discipleship occurs when a transformed person radiates Christ to those around her. It happens when people so experience God’s love that they can do nothing other than affect those around them.

    The heart of being a disciple involves living in intimate union and daily contact with Christ. Discipleship – the effort both to be a disciple and to make other disciples – is about the immense value of God at work in one individual’s life and the resulting impact on other lives.”
    – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/06/29/the-myth-of-multiplication-part-1/#sthash.kShLiAdm.dpuf

  5. Gajanan Nial
    Gajanan Nial

    Hi Ben, thanks for initiating this discussion. In May this year, a Bible school in India wants me to take special lectures for their students. And they suggested me to teach on “What it means to be a Christian?” which is more or less the same thing as what it means to be a disciple. As I am preparing myself for the 9 sessions that I have been offered to cover in three days with the given topic, I am beginning to go back to the gospel that Jesus and the apostles preached, I think I am beginning to see how much of western Christianity (or the so called evangelicals) has reduced the gospel to sin—hell, forgiveness—heaven, and the call for discipleship primarily to mission. Here are my initial observations and would like to hear from others:
    1) The gospel that Jesus preached was not the gospel of forgiveness deciding heaven or hell, but the gospel of the kingdom. He preached repentance in the context of the kingdom. In other words repentance to Jesus and his audience meant change of citizenship from being governed by king of this world to being governed by the king of the kingdom of God.

    2) Jesus did not define what it means to be a Christian because he never intended to start a new religion. He rather elaborated much about what it means to be a citizen of his kingdom through Sermon on the mount and other passages. The need for overcoming anger, immorality, greed and worry etc following the Beatitudes are a call for repentance in the context of the kingdom citizenship.

    3) Much to my surprise in the gospel narrations, it is mostly the disciples themselves who addressed/assumed the title of “disciples” but Jesus preferred to call them as “guests of the bridegroom , family members, friends etc. In my understanding therefore, discipleship has little to do with “doing” and much to do with “becoming.” They could not have been fishers of men by doing things for Jesus but primarily by becoming members of the royal family.

    4) Yes, Jesus talked about the great cost of denying ourselves and give ourselves entirely to Jesus. But every time teachers and preachers quote Lk 9:23 or even Mt 16:24, they simply skip the context in the verses immediately followed by those verses. Again the context is Jesus’ kingship and the coming kingdom. But the kingship of Jesus and kingdom reality are too fantastic to believe so instead of talking about becoming good citizens we talk about doing stuff for him. So the golden rule is not “seek first God’s kingdom” but “seek first God’s mission.” Language and words change the message greatly.

    5) In my opinion, we are so fixated with the cross that we have very little understanding and content to talk about the kingdom. In fact Jesus did not talk about the cross only until Peter confessed him as the Christ (and the context is clear that he meant the King). Sometime I feel by overemphasizing the cross are we pointing people to a dead savior, instead of the living God and King.

    6) I don’t want to write too many points but one final thought on Mt 28:19. Jesus never termed this as “Great Commission,” the translators did especially that of NIV. However in our present day Christianity we pay little attention to what Jesus himself termed as the Greatest Commandments.

    In the end, we seriously need to rethink whether we can make much progress by reducing the gospel of citizenship of the kingdom to membership of religion; and the focus on becoming royal family members into workers and multipliers. To me, majoring on minor is one of the greatest obstacles in preparing disciples unto maturity. Would love to hear what ubfriends think.

    • Thanks, Gajanan for your response. The aspect of kingdom living that you mention is something that I sorely need to grasp. For so long, I felt as if my Christian life was confined to some kind of disciple-making factory when, as you pointed out, we are actually citizens of a kingdom where God reigns.

      One aspect of the kingdom that I’m trying to understand is fidelity, that is establishing and sustaining relationships based on love (grace and truth), justice (or right motives and actions) and commitment. Relationship building is probably one of the greatest struggles that I have. One thing that greatly helps me in this is Jesus’ humility upon the cross. When I meditate upon this event and identify with him in that moment, I find that I can begin to let go of my own ego and understanding in order to understand the other’s perspective. Often time this marks a significant transformation in my own humanity and strengthens my connection with the other. I feel as though I am undergoing a practical resurrection in this way. I know that many times, my wife has practiced this toward me and, by God’s grace and goodness, we have grown significantly in our mutual understanding and appreciation of one another over the years. For me, I believe that the cross is in many ways the entry point to the kingdom of heaven which paradoxically must be visited again and again.

      Lastly, I will say that the cross was foundational in helping me to realize that I needed to break away from a spiritual environment which sought to impose so many external, man-made standards upon me. Jesus said of such systems, ‘It is finished’. We are to never again bear up under these kinds of yokes. Rather, when we are in him, the new standard is love which he helps us to fulfill by way of being united with him in death and resurrection.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      David W, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Relationships are the most complicated issues always, and I will never dare to claim having mastered. I too am and will remain under construction as far as relationship is concerned. But this is what I am right now based on my understanding of kingdom relationship.
      Here too, I think we need to go back to the beginning. God created us to “rule over” every other creatures and created things, but not over other human beings. Things always get ugly, when one person tries to rule over the other person(s), because it is against God’s divine will.
      The kingdom of God, unlike any other kingdom, is the only kingdom where there are no “subjects”. It is a kingdom of members of the royal family. We all are kings and Jesus is the King of kings. The scriptures both OT and NT, especially NT, as a king we have dominion over certain gift that God has bestowed and we relate to other kings through the area of our gifting, even if it is between wife and husband.
      Jesus said being born again is the entry point to the kingdom. And there is a time we must accept the work of the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. But to me revisiting the cross repeatedly is like not making much progress in the christian life. Having been forgiven through the cross, I would rather learn relational aspect through Bridal paradigm and building up others through the gift that I have received to live as a king together with other kings (that includes my wife as well).
      Thank you for listening.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      We are to never again bear up under these kinds of yokes. Rather, when we are in him, the new standard is love which he helps us to fulfill by way of being united with him in death and resurrection. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/03/24/follow-me-means-repent-deny-yourself-lose-your-life-and-make-disciples/#comment-17304

      +1 !

      When Jesus first introduces the teaching of the cross, denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him, it comes at a very interesting time in the narrative of the gospels. He had just begun to teach them of his death and resurrection. We know that even after he died and rose from the dead they didn’t yet understand it from Scripture. It didn’t sink in right away for them.

      UBF Bible studies on “the cross” for this section always left me unsatisfied. Sadly, “taking up your cross” was reduced to “taking up responsibilities.” Everything that’s a responsibility was labeled as a “cross,” such as children, your job, serving a particular task such as a message, being a disciples maker and so on (although Jesus doesn’t ever append making disciples to all people and to what it is to be a Christian, and neither do the apostles). Such teachings don’t take into consideration the flow and context of the narratives. For example, how hearing such words to take up your cross would be understood by Jewish people in Jesus’ days. A criminal who “took up his cross” was shamed and he would not be putting that cross down and returning to a normal life–that was it.

      I’ve come to the same conclusion on the new standard of love (not sacrifices and demands) as you wrote. To live in unity with Jesus and others, to obey what he has commanded and to live as he did, it comes down to love for one another. And this has been one of the major motivation factors that I began to consider how UBF has/is treating people and speak up.

  6. Thanks so much, Gajanan, David, for your emphasis on kingdom and relationships as a Christian, which I think is vital and central to what it means to follow Jesus and live as a Christian in the church and in the world.

    “The kingdom of God, unlike any other kingdom, is the only kingdom where there are no “subjects”. It is a kingdom of members of the royal family. We all are kings and Jesus is the King of kings.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/03/24/follow-me-means-repent-deny-yourself-lose-your-life-and-make-disciples/#comment-17291

    This is so very well and excellently and wonderfully stated. It emphasizes the utmost importance of loving, trusting, respectful and deferential relationships among Christians as brothers and sisters in a family. This is clearly preferable to some kind of pecking order being communicated as “shepherd/sheep,” or “leader/member,” or “senior/junior,” or “missionary/native.” These distinctions somehow communicates that there is some kind of “power ranking” among Christians, which may more easily lead to abuse, bias, prejudices, unfairness and injustice.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Thank you Ben for listening and your encouraging words.
      I think I need to clarify little bit about what I meant in the above comment, when I said “…as a king we have dominion over certain gift that God has bestowed and we relate to other kings through the area of our gifting…” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/03/24/follow-me-means-repent-deny-yourself-lose-your-life-and-make-disciples/#sthash.EiY3xcLM.dpuf
      What I meant is: We are kings over and through the gifts we have received. And a gift is never for self use. The gift is for serving and building up others. I recognize teaching and pastoring as my gift and use it serve and build up others. People willingly make themselves available to me by trusting my teaching and pastoral care. My wife and children trust my choices for them and our family because they recognize the gift in me. So in a sense I am the leader/king/ruler over my family only when I am using the gift in the position of a servant. Jesus exemplified and amplified this servant-leadership in the kingdom when he said “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for many.”
      To me Mother Teresa is a real king not because she had economic, political, or military power, but because she knew how to use her gift to serve the least. She is a king in the kingdom context of kingship. No wonder not only India but the whole world calls her Mother (a recognition and willingness to submit to her spiritual authority by being inspired by the use of her gift).
      We will never ever stop making disciples. We can never stop shepherding. We can never stop leading. If we stop, God will choose someone else to do. But and its a big but, what we need is a right paradigm that will save us from wrong motifs, religious spirit, burnouts and heartaches. And I think kingdom model of servant-leadership that Jesus himself set before us is the need of the hour. (The example of Mother Teresa was reminded by my dear wife Sarah after reading above exchange of comments)

  7. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Hi Gajanan,

    You wrote: “The gospel that Jesus preached was not the gospel of forgiveness deciding heaven or hell, but the gospel of the kingdom.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/03/24/follow-me-means-repent-deny-yourself-lose-your-life-and-make-disciples/#sthash.R6jizS6j.dpuf

    I think it’s great that you will your lessons will start here. I agree with you that to understand what it is to be a Christian it is very beneficial and of great import to orient oneself in the context of the kingdom that Jesus preached. My own studies on the kingdom over the past couple of years were truly transformational. My thinking in terms of relating to God and others completely changed.

    One resource that helped me greatly was N.T. Wright’s lectures on Jesus and the kingdom he preached. There were two series in particular: “How God Became King,” and “Jesus and the Kingdom.” You can listen to them as podcasts here: N.T. Wright Podcasts.

    As a first step, it was important just to begin thinking about the kingdom and how God, Jesus and believers fit into that context. Honestly, it was not something I was familiar with. Actually, it was a problem that I didn’t know how to express or understand until listening to these to Wright’s lectures. It just wasn’t taught properly in UBF. Although UBF uses the word “kingdom” all the time, I don’t think it is done in the right way and with the same biblical meaning. This is why people do not even understand the prayer topic to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, yet it has become the staple of the ministry’s theology (as BrianK would put it, the KOPAHN theology). When I got to passages such as Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem or the pouring of the perfume on Jesus’ feet, the UBF teachings, I felt, always fell short and were unsatisfying. There was something missing, but I did’t know before that it was the teaching of the kingdom. Instead, the passages became about you or me sacrificing something to serve God’s mission. I began to do serious re-thinking and reading when having to preach through Samuel and Luke. The ideas of the kingdom and Jesus as the Messiah were more foreign than I had expected. Reading the Kings was also eye opening that there was something much bigger at work, a greater context of living as a people of God because of the Messiah.

    Anyway, I pray for God’s blessings on your lessons and if you happen to listen to those lectures (if you haven’t done so already) that they may be as beneficial to you as they were to me.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Thanks Charles. Great to hear that we are on the same boat as far as the journey of transformation through the understanding of the kingdom is concerned. I learned many good points from your comment above.

      I have watched some youtube videos by NT Wright and read one book by him. I will definitely explore the link you mentioned. Once again thank you.

  8. UBF Bible studies on “the cross” always left me unsatisfied. Sadly, “taking up your cross” was reduced to “taking up responsibilities.” Everything that’s a responsibility was labeled as a “cross,”… – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/03/24/follow-me-means-repent-deny-yourself-lose-your-life-and-make-disciples/#comment-17305

    When asked what it means to “take up your cross,” perhaps the most common answer or response is “take up your cross of mission.” “Cross” has become synonymous with “mission,” or responsibility. It is such an unfortunate and inadequate answer that has perhaps become the primary accepted correct unquestioned answer in UBF.

    Hopefully, someday there will be public correctives to address texts taken out of context which has become pretexts for a proof text.

    • Gajanan Nial
      Gajanan Nial

      Five years ago when I started listening to messages and read books from outside of UBF, and started to question ubf system, I was publicly put to shame, both by the Indian leaders and Korean leaders, as one following cult groups. The Korean leader in fact make it an announcement at their SWS.

      At that same time, my reaction was how people whose understanding of the scripture is so shallow, who are twisting the scripture out of context resulting in oppression, who have only one way of thinking for past fifty years, who are burnout behind those plastic smiles be so proud of their bible studies as to call anything outside of their organization as cult or even evil?

      Thank God I “learned” before getting completely “burned”! Not to forget, ubf bible study saved me and many others, but that is just the beginning. We are not to remain infant forever after being born again, we need to grow up and become mature. I see unbf leaders’ attempt to remain where they were fifty years before, in terms of their understanding of the scripture and ministry practices, as very childish and refusal to grow up and mature.

  9. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    More and more I’m thinking about what Jesus said to the apostles and what, in turn, the apostles communicated to other believers after Jesus ascended to the Father. For example, is there any place where the apostles reference Jesus’ teaching to take up your cross and follow him? If not, why? There are surely things that were said to the apostles for the specific things Jesus would have them do that are not to be literally applied to all believers. I’m curious as to how others are reading Jesus’ teachings in view of the apostles’ teachings and understanding what is for those who are not apostles (I mean, specifically those twelve (eleven) chosen by Jesus). Certain actions and commands from Jesus to the apostles make perfect sense in the context of him sending them out as his witnesses after his resurrection, but don’t make sense when applied to anyone else.

  10. I just happened to see this more gracious review of Platt’s book, “Follow Me,” but with somewhat of the same or similar conclusion or sentiments, I believe: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/davidplattfollowme/

    • Michael Lanier

      That’s very interesting. But yes, the gospel I was taught could not be watered down to repent and go make disciples. It is naive at best.