Follow Jesus and Be Saved
“There is only one path to final salvation, the path of discipleship…. We are only and ever saved by discipleship to Jesus.” —Matthew Bates
The most controversial element of the discipleship gospel is the imperative call to follow Jesus. The non-discipleship gospels being preached today do not include following Jesus at all—not one of them. As soon as following Jesus becomes an optional add-on to the gospel, it’s a death sentence for disciple making. If we’re deceived into thinking that following Jesus isn’t essential, then we won’t do it. The fundamental problem here is that because of the proliferation of non-discipleship gospels, people think they can believe the gospel and be Christians without following Jesus. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
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When people say that the call of Jesus’ gospel are his words “follow me,” they mean that Jesus saves those who follow him—and only those who follow. In other words, following Jesus is essential to the gospel and necessary for salvation. Most people won’t say it as bluntly as this because they’re nervous others will accuse them of teaching works-salvation or abusing God’s grace. Neither accusation is true biblically. However, in a Christian culture saturated with non-discipleship gospels, you must be prepared to have people question you about these things and be ready to answer them with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).
This is a standard practice in gospel-preaching churches in America today: a person wanders into a church building, they hear some presentation of the gospel, and they are invited to pray a version of the sinner’s prayer. After they’ve done this, they’re told with unwavering confidence that they are “saved.” But are they? It seems that the church is doing what singer Dionne Warwick sang in “I Say a Little Prayer” (from the late 1960s) rather than what Jesus taught us to do. Does Jesus ever lead someone into salvation with something that’s even remotely like praying the sinner’s prayer anywhere in the Gospels? Not even close.
Don’t misunderstand us at this point. We’re not suggesting that people haven’t been truly saved by expressing their faith in Christ through prayer— because they have. We’re also not suggesting that prayer isn’t a fantastic way to begin following Jesus—because it is. But to think that saying a one-time prayer is the only response to the gospel that Christ calls us to is, in a word, delusional. For starters, praying a one-time prayer in no way reflects the teaching of Jesus. We must stop giving people the impression that it’s all the gospel demands of us. Jesus calls us to surrender our whole life to him with the gospel, not just pray a token prayer. Mark shares an account of Jesus saying, “For whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35, emphasis ours).
Jesus teaches that those who follow him will enter the kingdom of God and inherit eternal life. While Jesus did, in fact, die to atone for “the sins of the whole world,” as 1 John 2:2 says, he also taught that only those who follow him are saved. One of the greatest evangelistic opportunities of Jesus’ ministry demonstrates this truth: his encounter with the man known as the rich, young ruler. We now consider this encounter in more detail. Warning: Jesus’ words in this story may ruffle your feathers if you’re really listening to what he says.