“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is a hymn that has its origin in Assam, India. In the mid-1800s, there was an influx of Christian missionaries into Northeast India. This region of India was known to be a hostile place for any missionary as they ministered among very primitive and aggressive people, some of whom were head-hunters. Despite resistance from the tribal people, the Gospel went forth and was accepted by a man, his wife, and their two children. The tribal chief caught word of this and brought the family before the tribe and told them to renounce their faith or die. Upon receiving this threat, the man boldly replied, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back.” The chief ordered his archers to kill his children. As his children were dying on the ground, the chief gave him another chance to renounce Christ, upon which the man replied: “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” The chief was enraged and had his wife killed next. The man, however, continued to refuse to deny Christ and said: “The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back.” The man sealed his testimony with his blood after refusing to deny Christ. This man was able to stand for Christ because he had counted the cost of following Christ.
In the Gospels, many followed Christ for the wrong reasons. In Matthew 8, we see Christ explaining to two individuals what was involved in truly following Christ. The first man who came to Christ was a scribe who said, “Master, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest” (v. 19). You would think that Jesus would commend this man for his overwhelming dedication. However, Jesus does the opposite. Jesus replied, “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (v. 20). Jesus realized that this man had not counted the cost of following Him and had not realized the difficulty that would come with that decision. Jesus warned that following Him might be uncomfortable and difficult. Nothing more was heard from this scribe.
The second man was a disciple of Christ who came to Him and said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (v. 21). Christ made a point to him by responding, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (v. 22). Christ gave a particular answer for a particular person that is in every generation. This man had a reluctant obedience and lacked urgency.
We must remember that following Christ is costly but urgent. Later in Matthew, Christ said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24). Christ never portrayed the Christian life as a “walk in the park.” He was up-front with men about the reality of following Him but was also urgent with men to follow Him without delay.