He Said to Follow Him

canstockphoto20221983We have different ways in which we speak of what a person does with Jesus when they become a Christian. We ask them to believe in Jesus, or accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, or trust him, receive him or some combination of those.

We also talk about worshiping Jesus and following Jesus. All these are perfectly acceptable ways of putting it, although each of these can indicate different things to different people. But how did Jesus put it?

Let’s start with what he didn’t say. Not once did Jesus ever tell anyone to worship him. He was always directing people’s worship to the Father, but not to himself. This might have been to accommodate people’s understanding of who he was: to everyone he was just a man, and to ask people to worship him would have been blasphemy. But even after the resurrection, when he could have safely claimed some kind of divinity, Jesus didn’t call for worship.

In fact, in the gospels there is only one person who asks to be worshiped, and that is the devil during the temptation of Christ.

Jesus also never asks anyone to trust him (or trust in him.) In spite the fact that evangelicals like to speak of trusting Jesus, that English word isn’t used in the New Testament at all. It’s actually a good way to translate the Greek word pistis, but New Testament translators prefer to use believe. More on that in a moment.

Jesus also does not ask people to receive him. In John he speaks of receiving his testimony (3:11) or his word (12:48), and that’s pretty close I guess.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus also doesn’t ask people to accept him. John uses it twice with reference to accepting Jesus (1:11 & 5:32), and once referring to accepting Jesus’ word (8:43).

So what about believing in Jesus, which is perhaps the most common way that we speak of becoming a Christian? Again, John is different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in which Jesus never really demands that anyone believe in him, although it is arguable in one or two places that it is implied.

In John Jesus doesn’t imply anything, he flat out says it. There is, of course, John 3:16 in which Jesus says that whosoever believes in God’s only begotten son shall not perish; he says much the same thing in 6:40. Believing in Jesus occurs no less than three dozen times in John, no doubt because knowledge (gnosis) is a major theme in John, where Jesus is introduced as The Word.

So all the ways that we like to talk about a person coming to Christ (hey, there’s another one! Quick search—nope, no real preference for that either) Jesus doesn’t really use.

So does Jesus have a way that he prefers to call a person, one that is attested to in all four gospels? Well, yes he does.

Follow me. Over and over he says it. Follow me.

It’s an action word, and while all those other ways that we like to use are wrapped up in following, following doesn’t necessarily proceed from any of these things. There are lots of people who believe in Jesus, who trust in Jesus, who have accepted Jesus, received him, and now worship him, but don’t do what he says.

I’m not standing on my high horse here; I’m one of them. I have found it easy to believe in Jesus, to accept him as my Lord and Savior, and worship him. I did all those things when I was ten years old! How hard can something be if a ten-year-old can do them?

But following Jesus? Actually doing what he says? Not the stuff people sometimes say Jesus told them to do personally—which all too often seems to be what they wanted to do in the first place—but the stuff he actually said that’s written in the gospels.

Love your enemies. I don’t want to do that! I want to despise them, it feels better!

Forgive someone who hurts me or who hurts someone I love? I’d rather get back at them.

Be reconciled to one another? Do you know how hard reconciliation can be? There’s a whole counseling industry built on the fact that true reconciliation is difficult and often can’t be done without help from an impartial third party.

Following Jesus is hard, and I’m not very good at it. I’m pretty good at most of the religious stuff—praying, worshiping, studying the Bible, etc.—but I’m still learning how to follow Jesus. And it’s actually less a matter of knowledge or even skill than a matter of willpower. That’s true of most hard things.

Following Jesus means believing in him, trusting him, accepting, receiving and worshiping him, but none of that means a thing if we don’t obey him, because if you don’t obey him you aren’t following him.

And he can’t lead us to life if we don’t follow him.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / alexmillos

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