Following Jesus: Does This Describe You and Me?
Apr 3, 2020
We could wish that all churches identifying as the church of (belonging to) Christ were truly following Christ. In fact, we could wish even all the denominations were following Christ. Sadly, as we all know, wishing doesn’t make something true regardless, how noble or sincere the wish.
To be a true follower of Christ one must first follow for the right reasons. In the First Century, after Jesus was resurrected, ascended back to Heaven, the church was established being comprised not only of the remnant of the Jews who had died faithful to God under the Old Testament but also those who were the primitive (original) true followers of Jesus. In a sense, the faithful remnant of Israel were also followers of Jesus, after all they longed for his coming and the redemption He would bring (Isaiah 52:1-10; Matthew 13:17; John 8:52-57; 1 Peter 1:10-11).
These primitive followers of Jesus, which we read about in the New Testament and were known as the church (belonging to) Christ, not because of their right practices but because of their relationship with Jesus. If we think about the Scriptures, they are composed of words. Words (communication) form the basis of every relationship we have with all people. For this reason, Jesus declared, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Pretty simple, one is a following Jesus for the right reason, who believes Him, abides in His word, and is set free by the truth (of His word – John 17:17). Does this describe you and me?
As a follower of Christ, one must have a passion for the truth revealed in Jesus. It was Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). John tells us that it was to those who received him and believed in his name that He gave the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). One neither receives nor believes in his name, much less becomes a child of God, apart from a personal relationship with Him. We must come to Him and learn of Him to be saved by Him (Matthew 11:28-30). To come to him and to learn of him are no more the means of our salvation than receiving and believing in His name are. We must understand that Jesus saves and only through Him is our salvation procured. The salvation Jesus procured for mankind is there regardless, if a person ever receives and believes in his name! So, when the primitive Christians were told by the Apostles to be baptized for the remission of their sins it was merely evidence of their personally receiving his word and believing in his name (having come into a right relationship with Him). “…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins…So those who received his word were baptized…” (Acts 2:36-41). Does this describe you and me?
As kindly, but firmly as I can, let me say it does not matter how much good you are doing, or how many right things you are doing if you are not in a right relationship with Jesus. Many people think they are in a right relationship with Jesus because they think they are doing good. Others think they are in a right relationship with Jesus because they are claiming their practices to be in the name of Jesus. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). What does Jesus mean when he says I never knew you? He is not saying they do not exist. His judgment is that despite all their claims to be doing good and doing things in His name they are what we would call outlaws. Meaning, they are living outside of God’s will. Those whom Jesus know and claim as his own, are those who operate out of a right relationship with Jesus practicing only what they find in the Scriptures. For his sheep hear only his voice (John 10:14-16; 18:37). Many folks would be helped immensely, if they would learn that before they can do a thing in the name of Jesus it must first be authorized of Jesus (Colossians 3:17). Claiming they are doing something in the name of Jesus doesn’t make it right! Those in a right relationship with Jesus strive to live only by those principles and practices which Jesus and His apostles have authorized, which we read about in the New Testament. Does this describe you and me?
The desire for unity was the very heartbeat of primitive Christians but it was neither predicated on some maudlin sentimentality nor a peace at any cost. To the contrary, the only thing worse than division is unity in error. Despite the challenges to unity when disagreements arise (and they will arise), Paul reminds the early Christians at Ephesus (and us by extension who are claiming to Christians today) “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Among the many things of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, the one fact that stands out to me is how much he desired unity, a oneness, among his followers of all ages, present and future. Listen and read carefully Jesus’ words, “I do not ask for these only, but also of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (vv. 20-21). I am afraid we are more eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit by dividing, that we are to maintain it in the bond of peace. It will not sit well with some, but the truth remains local congregations do not divide at the point of arguing and wrestling over the what the Scriptures teach. To the contrary, division comes when we refuse to speak to one another and/or cease discussions over our differences. If we prefer division to discussion, then that does not reflect very well at all on our eagerness to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Do the concerns of our Lord for unity and oneness describe you and me? The answer, only if you and I are truly seeking to follow and imitate Jesus.