To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples."
Defining a follower
This statement by Jesus clearly shows the meaning of what a disciple or follower is. Many will claim that a disciple or follower of Jesus or other teacher is one who has received the ritual of baptism or initiation, as Jesus did by John. But here Jesus clarifies that it is not the ritual that makes the disciple. Jesus clearly defines that his actual disciples are those who "hold" to his teachings.
And what does it mean to hold to a teaching? To hold to a teaching means first to hear the teachings carefully, and then apply them to our lives. To hold to a teaching means to not let it go. To not abandon it. To hold to a teaching means to take shelter in that teaching. To hold to a teaching means to make that teaching the center of one's life.
By holding to Jesus’ teachings, we become his followers. This means to read them very carefully and understand their meaning. This means to abandon teachers and their institutions that do not hold to his teachings, or interpret his teachings in ways that are inconsistent with all his teachings.
In other words, a teacher cannot cherry-pick Jesus’ teachings. For example, they cannot talk about loving ourselves before we can love others while excluding Jesus' first and greatest teaching:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)They also cannot teach praying to Jesus for material wealth and success as many teach, when Jesus taught:
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)and
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." (Matt. 6:25)Why did Jesus teach them not to worry about the body? Because he taught that we are not these physical bodies. These bodies are temporary vehicles, and when we die, we leave these physical bodies behind:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)This teaching - that we are not the physical bodies, is critical to understanding our real position: The fact that we are children of the Supreme Being, and we were created to love and serve Him. Understanding this fact has the ability to free us from the consciousness of the physical world - the consciousness where we think the physical things of the material world will make us happy:
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
How will Jesus' teachings set us free?
Currently, most of us in the physical world are bound up in our self-centered desires. Each of us schemes or dreams of things or events to come, thinking these things will make us happy - related to possessions, positions, fame, glory, respect, wealth, family and so on. In other words, we are empty now, but tied up in our own concoctions of what might make us fulfilled in the future.
The problem is that none of these concoctions - these schemes and desires - will bring us fulfillment. We can know this simply by looking around us at the people who have those things we dream of. We can see that none of the wealthy people, the famous people, or the most powerful people are fulfilled. We see their emptiness in their continued search for fulfillment elsewhere. We see it in their alcoholism, drug addictions, suicides, anger, violence and so many other symptoms.
Our schemes and dreams for fulfillment also include the need for love. We are constantly looking for love in a partner, be it a wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend. Or even children. For those who do not have a partner, we dream that loving a new partner or a child will fulfill us. Those who have found a partner or have children begin to see, gradually, that this partner or child does not fulfill us. So we keep looking for fulfillment.
All of these dreams and schemes we have are ultimately unfulfilling, yet we are bound to them. We struggle so hard in an effort to obtain them, and once we achieve them, we find out they are not fulfilling. So we immediately concoct a new scheme hoping this new scheme will be different. This binding to endless self-centered schemes - our desires - is like a prison. It is like being chained and shackled.
But should we follow Jesus' teachings, to love and serve God with all our heart and soul, and we hold to those teachings, we will no longer look for our fulfillment in the forms and things of the physical world, nor in our self-centered schemes for the future. We become freed from those self-centered, unfulfilling concoctions.
Should we follow Jesus' teachings, we begin to direct our lives towards coming to know and love the Supreme Being, which fulfills us. As we become pleasing to the Supreme Being, He reveals Himself to us more and more. This allows us to increasingly fall in love with the Supreme Being - Jesus' "first and greatest" instruction.
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement according to the Gospels of Jesus:
“If you follow my teachings then you are certainly my followers, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32)