Jesus had four levels of followers.
I would liken this to a person who has witnessed Christ working in someone else’s life. Perhaps they grew up going to church, have a Christian friend, or watched a Billy Graham crusade on TV… something has introduced them to the existence of Christ, but as yet they know little about him and do not know him personally at all. Nevertheless, they are curious and want to know more.
Once a person has seen Christ, he invites them to FOLLOW him. (John 1:43, Matt4:18-22) Having already seen something of what Jesus was about, some men wanted to know more, so when he called they dropped everything to follow him. There is a huge step that takes place here, from just knowing about Christ, listening to his words, to actually going along with him. Notice that for these men it meant a sacrifice. They left their nets, their boats, their parents and at least in Peter’s case a wife. This is a shift from a superficial belief to a sacrificial commitment.
Despite the sacrifice involved, though, this is still not a full committal to Christ, but rather a learning phase. The disciples went with Jesus, they spent time with him, they listened to his message and learned what he was about. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that s/he must fully commit to BE WITH Christ. Many of the people who followed Jesus early in his ministry were really just after a free ride.
We see this especially in John 6 where Jesus feeds the five thousand and they are reluctant to let him get away. They say that Moses provided Manna, and they want a similar sign from Jesus. But he rebukes them as working for food that spoils. He then tells them that he is the Bread of Life, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Many are offended by this and leave off following him. John tells us here that many disciples left Jesus. These were not the enthralled “come and see” onlookers, but people who had left things behind to follow him. Yet when he asked too much of them, they left.
After this exodus, Jesus asks the 12 if they will leave him as well. But Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” So there is a recognition among these believers that Jesus offers us something more than the temporal, and that it is worth seeking, worth any sacrifice.
Interestingly, even now there is a follower left who is not fully committed to Jesus. Christ proclaims, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)
There is a shift here in the teaching of Christ to a focus on his deity and his work on the cross. His “I AM” statements are begun. There is a great deal of controversy over his claims. And he talks more and more of his coming death and resurrection. As the fated day approaches, Jesus has some intimate time with the apostles. It is here that we see the final phase of following Jesus. He challenges the 12 to “ABIDE IN ME”. Jesus is the vine, his followers are the branches. Their very sustenance and life are to come from him. Without him, they will dry up and be burned. (John 15) The believer who makes it this far is fully committed, engaged and willing to endure anything for the sake of the savior. (John 16:33) They are no longer of the world but they have a mission IN the world, that of spreading the gospel. (John 17:14,18-26; 20:31)
Where are you in this journey?
Are you the curious onlooker?
The interested follower who sees the gift and wants a free ride?
God, give me this; Lord bless me in that?
Have you become the committed believer who is learning everything you can, enduring ridicule and trial for his sake?
Or have you reached the level of committed disciple, abiding in Jesus, seeking to imitate him and MAKE disciples as he commanded in Matthew 28:19-20?
Note: I feel obligated to give credit where credit is due. The idea for this outline came to me as I perused the contents of a book I found on Amazon called The Complete Book of Discipleship : On Being and Making Followers of Christ by Bill Hull. I have not read the book, so I have no idea what Mr. Hull says about the four phases (Come and See, Come and Follow Me, Come and Be with Me, Remain in Me) but I give credit lest someone accuse me of plagiarism.