“The scriptures do not present us with a series of
Christian types to be imitated according to choice:
they preach to us in every situation the one Jesus Christ.
To him alone must I listen. He is everywhere one and the same.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Everybody wants to be a Christian but nobody wants to follow Jesus.
Sound provocative? A little overstated? Completely disagree? Well, the idea behind my hyperbolic statement is that while Jesus has many admirers who love the idea of who they think Jesus is there are fewer who actually attempt to discover who Jesus really is and what he really said in order that their beliefs, convictions and actions would match his. Many are easy to confess how pro-Jesus they are and how spiritually inclined they seem to be but when they open their mouths (and lives) revealing what they truly believe, their conclusions and viewpoints seems so very…un-Jesus like.
Now, some are ticked I would even make a statement to that effect and label me judgmental, close-minded or some other politically correct pejorative. But before you jump to that easy (and close-minded) conclusion, let me make my case.
Question: How does one know about who Jesus is and what he believes?
Answer: The Bible.
The Gospel accounts display Jesus in High Definition, but what about the rest of the New Testament? Well, Jesus, seeing his impending crucifixion just around the corner, gathered his disciples together and told them how they would play a vital part in being his voice after he left the scene. He said to them in John 16:13-15
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
This helps us have confidence that not only do the Gospels reveal Jesus’ heart and will to the reader but the rest of the New Testament joins in that endeavor as well. These apostolic writers (e.g, Paul, Peter) were led by the Holy Spirit to continue sharing with us exactly what Jesus wanted his followers to know and believe. German pastor/martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to the epistles of the New Testament as the voice of the risen Jesus. In other words, God’s Word is the testimony of Jesus. When rightly understood, the Bible’s stance on any issue is Jesus’ stance on any issue.
Yet we live in an age where many people feel a great freedom to associate themselves with Jesus but have little to no clue of what he really says in the Bible about life and everything in it. Informed by generalities and oft-quoted (and oft-misunderstood) verses, many seem to admire Jesus for being loving, kind and generally a “really cool dude” and feel they have a good grip on who he is and what he wants. Still others go so far as to declare him as Savior and Lord but to dig deeper into their behaviors and worldviews is to find a great incongruity with their “confession”. In other words, it is very common to see people say how much they love Jesus but have little understanding (or even desire) as to what Jesus would have them believe and how they are to live.
While our postmodern designs might easily live with this definition of loving/following Jesus, Christ himself sees it quite differently. 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” In other words, our love for God is best demonstrated in our gratitude-saturated obedience to God. But you can’t really obey God if you don’t know what he says. That’s why Jesus calls the bluff of those who claim to love him but don’t seek to follow him…or even try to figure out what exactly he’s called us to do. Jesus himself said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” To hear his voice is primarily to seek after the Scriptures, and Jesus says the people who hear him there and subsequently attempt to follow him are genuine followers. The rest? Well, they may admire Jesus but at least in Christ’s view (which is the most important) they certainly aren’t sheep of his fold.
That leaves us with a group of people who want to be Christians but don’t want to follow Christ. They like the “idea” of what Jesus represents but are still fiercely devoted to their patently unbiblical worldviews and belief systems. They want Jesus but don’t “do” the Bible. And to challenge that status quo by calling them to search the Scriptures is to run the risk of being persecuted as narrow-minded, fundamentalist, etc. However, I believe it’s a challenge worth taking because God, in his grace, may grant the one who reads his Word the faith to see the real Jesus of history and escape the illusion of a Christianity that doesn’t really care to seek after Christ.
Here’s to being a Follower and not simply an admirer.
P.S. – Homework: Go through different issues you hold and activities you practice and ask yourself, “What does the Bible say about this?” Try to discover what areas of your life and worldview have been shaped more by the world than they Word. I know for me, there’s a lot more work to be done in my life.