Imagine this. Jesus finds two fishermen casting their nets and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” and they drop their nets and follow Him. Then Jesus runs into another fisherman, John. But instead of following Jesus, John says,”I believe in your ministry, Jesus, but I operate a profitable fishing business and have a life and responsibilities. I’ll stay here, but I’ll serve you by telling all my clients the good news.” Is this John a follower of Jesus? The obvious answer is “of course not.” Staying behind is pretty much the opposite of following no matter how you spin it.
We had a conversation at church recently during a discussion of David Platte’s book, “Follow Me”. The essential message of “Follow Me” is that a salvation prayer is not enough for you to be a follower of Christ. Instead, we should all–every single Christian—set aside our lives in order to know and proclaim Christ, for this is what it means to follow him. However, losing your life does not align well with the demands of our complex, materialistic culture. We believe we must work full-time to make ends meet, so we are drawn to rationalize what Jesus asks us to give.
Our pastor led the discussion with some good questions. Would you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you say that you view Jesus as Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not? What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Nobody jumped up to volunteer answers. These were not shallow questions that you could answer in superficial ways. I could sense a tension building in peoples’ minds, certainly in mine. Of course I’m a follower of Jesus, but I also had a career and family to care for at times in my life.
That tension between thoughts of staying and following led someone to ask, “Can’t we just bloom where we’re planted?” It was said in such a sincere, pleading way that our pastor was lured into the compassionate answer, “You can be a teacher or a construction workers or a janitor, as long as you love the Lord and grow in righteousness.” It was a kind answer meant to deflect the tension among the people, but was tipped excessively toward accommodation rather than truth. Churchgoers seem to believe that they can live a self-absorbed life as long as they adhere to moral standards or feel emotionally connected to Jesus. We call ourselves followers, but we don’t actually move. Plants don’t make good followers.
I can only tell you from my life experience the difference between being merely a believer and being a follower of Christ. When I was a young man and a new believer, I was driven by my responsibility as a husband, father, and provider. I was absorbed with my career as the means to provide for my family, but I was also a believer. I knew that there was more to being a follower of Christ, but I only had time to be a part-time disciple. As my understanding grew, I branched out to teaching in church and other limited ministries. I liken that stage as being an appprentice learning to do things like my master, Jesus. But still I was dissatisfied until the season came when I gave up my career and preoccupation with survival and launched the Orion Center. To my way of thinking, that’s when I became a true follower of Jesus, having taken action to increase His kingdom rather than my own.
The key in my story is that I always had a heart-felt desire to follow Jesus. In contrast, the American church’s emphasis on salvation instead of Jesus’ lordship, gives many people in the church a different understanding. They are saved and striving to live moral lives and enjoying church life, but they have never been taught that there is something more, that Jesus expects them to follow all His commands and not just the moral ones. That attitude has facilitated the rise of casual Christianity, a religious system that bears little fruit and offers little satisfaction even to casual Christians. Some even wonder whether an unfruitful believer is even truly a believer, since Sripture tells us that faith without works is dead.
Fortunately, nobody has to live this way nor live in doubt. Every believer can position their lives to eventually break away from the world system and set a new course under the Lord’s leading. Are you a follower of Jesus? If your answer is no, the solution is something like repentance. Change your course and purpose yourself to a new direction whose primary goal is serving Jesus.