Leaving all to follow Christ
One day Jesus was talking with his disciples about the level of commitment it takes to be one of his followers. He had just had a conversation with a young rich man who was a bit too dependent on his material wealth to leave it all and follow Jesus. Jesus told him to sell all his earthly possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, then to come and follow him. The young man was challenged by the idea of leaving all to follow Christ.
The young man just couldn’t do it, and left deeply grieved.
Jesus took this opportunity to teach his disciples a very important lesson.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard [some ancient manuscripts add: for those who trust in riches] to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27 NLT
Level of commitment
Jesus was always looking for people to follow him with their whole hearts.
The disciples were really surprised at what Jesus had said. And more than anything, it may have caused them to ponder their own commitment to Jesus.
But as they’re thinking about all that Jesus has just said, Peter makes a bold statement, “we have left all, and have followed thee.” (Mark 10:28 KJV)
There could maybe be a little self-justification in there. But I think it’s more an acknowledgment of the level of commitment.
What does it mean to leave all to follow Christ?
There’s another account in John which sheds some light on what Jesus had in mind.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:56, 60-63, 66-69 ESV
So what does it mean to leave all for Christ?
Are we supposed to sell all our worldly goods, give it all to the poor, live on the streets or in a cave, depend on charity, or get our money from a fish’s mouth?
Jesus only said to one person, that young rich man, to sell all earthly possessions. That fellow was probably not aware of how dependent he was on his wealth until Jesus spoke with him.
But just selling all you possessions is not what it means to leave all for Christ. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church in Corinth,
If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3 NLT
Just giving away all material possessions doesn’t mean you’ve given away all material thinking.
What does leaving all to follow Christ mean?
As always Jesus gives us the answer. And it’s more the way he lived his life, and not just the words he said.
So it is best for us to begin with how we live our lives before we make some bold declaration telling everyone we’re going to leave all for Christ. If you are actually doing that in your daily life, people will notice.
How did Jesus’s life answer this question? The answer is actually quite simple.
Jesus surrendered completely to God
Jesus did not pursue his own will, he always did God’s will. (See John 6:36 below)
Jesus didn’t come to accumulate and bask in personal glory. Everything he did was for God’s glory. (See John 8:50 and John 7:18 below)
Where do you and I fit on that spectrum of seeking our glory or God’s? Let’s face it, sometimes we want some personal glory and honor for what we do.
We can hide behind saying the words of giving all the glory to God, but the human ego still craves personal glory.
To leave all for Christ means to expose and expunge these desires.
No personal agenda
Jesus did not come with his own personal agenda. From the time he was a young boy, he was about his Father’s business. (See Luke 2:49 below)
He did not maneuver his way into people’s lives to exert his personal power over them.
Each breath he took, each step he took, each word he spoke, each deed he accomplished, each person he healed, he did so because God directed and empowered him to.
And what was the result of his complete surrender to God’s will?
He treated people, even those lost in sin, with compassion and dignity. He healed their broken hearts and bodies. He gave them hope. And ultimately, he gave them the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus surrendered his will, his voice, his glory to God’s.
Can you let go of self-will?
How much of your self-will are you actually willing to let go of?
How often rather, do we think we know exactly what we need, or what must happen in a given situation? We basically tell God what to do and how to work things out. As if God needs our advice!
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, this is not leaving all to follow Christ.
We are pretty attached to our own opinions, our own perspectives, and our own will.
And yet, at the same time we say we want to leave all for Christ.
Giving up your human will
It’s odd how we sometimes cling so firmly to what we consider our divine right to exercise our own will as opposed to yielding to God’s will.
But the more I study the life of Jesus, the more I’ve come to see that he didn’t use his will to obey God. He gave up his will, he surrendered it, to let God do His will God’s will. There’s a big difference between using your will to do something and letting go of your will.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, this was a struggle even for Jesus. So, it should be no surprise that we struggle with this as well. But the struggle is totally worth it and should never stop us from following Jesus’s example.
It’s a day by day sort of thing
So, how do we leave all to follow Christ?
It’s not a one-time event. It’s a day by day, sometimes moment by moment discipline of listening for and obeying the Father’s voice, letting go of our own personal opinions, preferences, and preconceptions.
As we do this, it opens our hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Even if you left all for Christ yesterday, today is a new occasion. Each and every day requires the same commitment.
Jesus put it this way,
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 NIV
What are your motives?
And as in everything we do, it’s really eye opening to examine our motives for leaving all for Christ.
Are we trying to get spiritual brownie points with God, our pastors, or our fellow church members by telling people our plans to leave all for Christ? Or do we just love Jesus and simply want to follow him?
In everything Jesus did, his motive was to glorify God, not himself.
To leave all for Christ is to follow this example, to let the way we live our lives be such a shining light that it glorifies God.
Jesus made a promise, which was also a prophecy, when he said,
I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. John 14:12 NLT
This promise is fulfilled to the degree we leave all for Christ.
Think about that for a minute. We can do greater works than Jesus? If he hadn’t said that, it would almost sound blasphemous, wouldn’t it?
But there it is, plain and simple.
Do we believe in Jesus in a way that we are doing the works Jesus did, and even greater works?
Start with love
Let’s start just with the way Jesus loved people.
Are we moved with compassion and love to the degree he was when he saw the multitudes? Or do we judge people by all the outward appearances and separate them into “us” and “them” categories?
I am pretty sure there were people in those crowds, which Jesus looked on with compassion, who were not necessarily the most outstanding members of society. We might not even want to associate with some of the people Jesus loved so freely. And there some of those folks we would not want to show up in our churches.
But Jesus saw the worth and dignity of everyone he came in contact with, regardless of their social status or how much of a saint or sinner they were.
Personally, I think he even loved the Pharisees and all those who opposed him. He did not love their hypocrisy, but in his rebukes of their worldly ways and means, he was actually trying to help them see the error of their ways. Because he loved them.
Following in Jesus’s footsteps
To the degree we can leave our self-focused, material, earth-based perspective for Jesus’s perspective, we will follow in his footsteps. We will love and heal as he did and we will give all the glory to God in the process.
It all sounds pretty idealistic, doesn’t it. Sometimes it seems like an impossible goal, actually leaving all to follow Christ.
But it is possible or Jesus would not have said so often, “Follow me.”
He only asked and expected of us what he knew was possible.
Something I have slowly realized over the years is that it is impossible to leave all for Christ through human will power and determination, theological and intellectual gymnastics. Leaving all for Christ is not an activity of the human mind. It is a letting go of the human mind’s involvement and perspective.
You can’t leave all for Christ by yourself. It’s really an activity of the Holy Spirit, which baptizes you, washing away everything in your heart and mind that has not yielded to Christ.
Time for some self-examination
Take a moment for an honest look at yourself.
What is it in your heart that hasn’t yielded to Christ? Is there any anger or resentment? Are you holding onto a victim mentality because of past circumstances or the way people have treated you? Are you a control freak and always have to be in control?
These are just a few of the things that we must surrender as we leave all for Christ.
Why do we hold onto these things? Because we think they define us. But they don’t. They just describe something that happened to us.
As you leave all for Christ day by day, throughout your life, as you do the works of Jesus – and you will – do not be too impressed with yourself. Jesus told the returning 70 disciples, who had healed and cast out demons in his name,
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20 NKJV
Why should we leave all for Christ? Because in the process we discover that our names are written in heaven. We discover our relationship, our oneness, with God and Christ.
Ultimately, to leave all for Christ is to let go of everything you identify with that is not part of how God originally made you in His image and likeness.
If you have questions or comments please contact me. I’d love to hear from you..
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life.
Bible references this week
Mark 10:23-27 NLT
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard [some ancient manuscripts add: for those who trust in riches] to enter the Kingdom of God.
25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
Mark 10:28 KJV
28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
John 6:56, 60-63, 66-69 ESV
56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
1 Corinthians 13:3 NLT
3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[fn] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
John 6:38 NLT
38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.
John 8:50 NIV
50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.
John 7:18 NIV
18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.
Luke 2:49 KJV
49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
Luke 9:23 NIV
23 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
John 14:12 NLT
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.
Luke 10:20 NKJV
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.