believer, or follower?

Scripture, specifically the New Testament refers to God’s people in Jesus as believers as well as disciples, meaning learners in the sense of apprenticeship: followers of Jesus. This is not a post to suggest we must choose between the two, because both (and more- e.g., the faithful) are found in scripture.

For most of my lifetime, and years as a Christian, “believer” generally received the emphasis in circles I’ve occupied. But in recent years “follower” has eclipsed and all but passed it.

I have to wonder if the influence of the Enlightenment didn’t dictate that faith was more than less about what one actually believed, specifically propositions, rather than one’s trust in and commitment to a person, namely the person of God, or God in Christ by the Spirit.

This is probably in large measure why my own tendency toward skepticism (hopefully not too much of cynicism) seems to be no threat at all to my faith, overall. Even though I think there are quite sound reasons for accepting intellectually the witness concerning Jesus, and specifically his resurrection. The emphasis of my faith is toward a person,  both in terms of trust and commitment. The crisis for me would most likely be in terms of that trust and commitment being undermined through the hard knocks of life. However scripture gives us plenty of heads up on the dark night of the soul, so that we not only shouldn’t be surprised but generally I think we should expect something of that experience at times. Being a follower of Jesus means doing so not only with one’s mind, but with one’s entire life. We either follow Christ that way, or we’re not true believers in the New Testament, biblical sense.

And so I prefer “follower,” while at the same time being thankful that faith includes assurance in terms of revealed truth, specifically of the truth as it is in the one we follow: Jesus.


19 comments on “believer, or follower?

    [sing it to the tune of “Rapture” by Blondie]

    I’m Boss Paul, the Pharisee
    My hypocrisy’s plain for the world to see
    I travel the land and travel the sea
    to make a convert who is just like ME

    “All have sinned” – we know that’s true
    but it never means ME – it only means YOU
    My sins are all theoretical
    “I’m the worst of sinners”- but don’t ask where

    To be more like Jesus is what some strive
    except for me – I’ve already arrived
    I’m the perfect model since the road to Damascus
    What were Paul’s sins? Don’t ask us!

    I justify everything I do
    If I testify about myself it MUST be true
    I’m the only man in all history
    whose testimony doesn’t need two or three

    If I did something it MUST be right
    Don’t use the Scripture to shed any light
    Don’t do as I say, do as I do
    and then you can be a Pharisee too.

  2. Nice poetry, Matthew. Yes, we need to practice what we preach.

  3. Hi Ted,
    Yes! And Paul the Pharisee often didn’t practice what he preached. (and sometimes what he preached was wrong anyway, and contradicted Jesus.)

    What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? Here are 5 to get the discussion started:

    .1) Paul’s boastful conflicting false testimonies, exaggerating and making things up about his conversion experience in Acts 22 & 26, compared to what actually happened (recorded by Luke in Acts 9).

    .2) Paul lying to the Ephesian elders saying he was “compelled by the Spirit” going to Jerusalem, when in truth he was clearly disobeying God. [Acts 19:21 – 22:21]
    3) Paul exaggerating his ministry in Ephesus claiming it was “3 years night and day with tears” when really it was 3 months in the synagogue and 2 years daily in a lecture hall.
    [Acts 20:31 vs Acts 19:8-10]

    .4) Paul abandoning the Church in Corinth after a year and a half for no obvious reason, and going off on another long trip, mostly on his own, without appointing anyone else in Corinth as overseer, or giving anyone else any specific authority in the Church in Corinth.
    [Acts 18]

    .5) Paul acting as an abusive absentee overseer / pastor to the Church in Corinth years after he abandoned them, and clinging to all power and claim to control of money and all aspects of the church ministry, while he was hundreds of miles away teaching full-time in his own school in Ephesus. [1 & 2 Corinthians.]

    Paul is the “model pastor” for many modern “Pauls” like;

    Bob Coy, who still owns all the assets and controls all the money at his cult known as Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, in spite of his recent resignation as “Senior Pastor” there due to adultery with multiple woman and other major sins that he still has never specifically admitted to personally.

    Greg Laurie, the Boss of a wide-ranging personal cult empire that generally goes by the name of “Harvest.” Greg lives in Newport Beach, commutes by helicopter, and exploits the very large church he founded in Riverside from a distance, while he does his own thing in Orange County and travels around wherever he feels like, building a personal business empire with himself as the center, not Jesus.

    • Again, since this is the same comment you left elsewhere, please beware of condemning others because in so doing you will end up condemning yourself. And again, we simply don’t agree.

      • Hi Ted,
        Can you tell me what specifically we don’t agree on? I’ve backed up my points with specific Bible references.
        Blessings to you.

      • That Jesus and Paul preached a different gospel. And plenty more, but that’s the heart of the matter. And we are so far apart that I don’t see any value in debating it .

        May I ask, Matthew, just what is the gospel?

      • Ted,
        I’ve made 5 specific points and backed them up with Scripture. If you can’t refute any of the 5 points, why not just say that you agree with me?

        I’ve proved from Scripture that Paul and Jesus did not agree about which commandment in the Law is the Most Important.

        Jesus was the complete revelation, and Jesus’ words are superior to Pauls. Paul thought he had the complete revelation, but he didn’t. While I would hesitate to say categorically that Paul preached a “different gospel”, Paul’s gospel was at best incomplete. Paul didn’t know everything, and he didn’t know Jesus during the time of His earthly ministry.

        Your question “what is the Gospel” is sort of begging the question, assuming that we can reduce “The Gospel” to a short summary statement of propositional truth “like Paul did” and anyone who “repeats the magic words” is “saved.”

        This is the common Evangelical “Crusader” “altar call” mindset today, and this is why there are lots of huge churches filled with “goats”, unbelievers who think they are born again simply because they “prayed the sinners prayer.” Many of them don’t know Jesus.

      • Matthew, Although we agree on much, we don’t agree on the assertions you make concerning Paul. I find it impossible to believe that Paul, Jewish as he was and Pharisee, taught by Gamaliel did not know and recite the Shema. To say he did not teach complete love for God is surely to misread his letters. And was Paul disingenuous, he did not mean what he said, or what he said did not mean what he thought it did, when he listed all the credentials of the flesh he gave up for Christ in our third chapter of Philippians? I’m sorry to say that I can’t take you seriously at all in this.

  4. According to Jesus, which Commandment is the Most Important?

    This is a question of fact about the content of the text in the 66 Books of our Bible. It is comparing the words of Jesus with the words of Paul (and other men) regarding which one is the Most Important Commandment and which one is the Second commandment, which together fulfill the Law and the Prophets. (Not The Law the Prophets & the Writings, not “All Scripture,” not “The whole Bible”)

    It isn’t a question of men’s opinions about “what Paul really meant” or “what Paul must have known” or “what Paul was actually referring to here” or “what Paul was clearly implying” or “what we must conclude that Paul was assuming”, etc. etc.

    These lines of reasoning all go back to the false idea that “Paul must have been right and Paul couldn’t possibly be wrong, so whatever Paul was thinking at the time must have been correct, and we just have to figure out what Paul’s intended meaning was and what Paul was really thinking when he wrote these words.” That would mean that your opinion about the unknowable unwritten “mind of Paul” becomes the “Word of God.” No. Wrong.

    Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The words spoken by Jesus, recorded in our Bible by Matthew Mark Luke & John, should be above all other words. This has literally been the Orthodox position for almost 2000 years. Paul is inferior, Jesus is superior. The words of Jesus are superior to the words of everyone else in the Bible and to everyone else in the world. Jesus is in agreement with the Law and the Prophets and came “to fulfill them.” [Matthew 5:17-20]

    What Jesus clearly and specifically said is also superior and more important than your opinions about what you think Jesus meant or implied, but didn’t say elsewhere. For example, when Jesus was speaking about “a new command I give you,” Jesus didn’t say THE new commandment, or the FIRST commandment, or the MOST IMPORTANT commandment, or the ONE commandment, or the GREATEST commandment, or ONE RULE.

    The false teaching about “one rule” is the false teaching of the Pharisees of Paul’s day, and Paul the Pharisee was pushing this false teaching. This contradicts the clear specific teaching of Jesus about the first and greatest commandment and the second. Jesus warned us about the Pharisees in Matthew chapters 15 & 16, and quoted the Prophet Isaiah regarding them:
    “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
    [Isaiah 29:13]

    • The gospel of our Lord Jesus as from Jesus and as given to Paul is what our faith rests on and from where we live in the faith, hope and love which is not only for ourselves in Jesus, bur for the world. Again, we don’t agree. You state what scripture does not say. Your interpretation may be shared by others, but not by the church at large, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, built on the apostles and prophets, the apostolic teaching, with Jesus as the Cornerstone.

      • Hi Ted,
        Here is what the words of Jesus DO say in Scripture – I’ve even typed out the words, along with the references Chapter and Verse..

        Which is the most important?
        Jesus was asked twice, by two different men, the same basic question about which is the most important or greatest commandment in the Law. Here is how Jesus answered that question:

        “One of the teachers of the law… asked him [Jesus],
        ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

        “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than THESE.” [Mark 12:28-31, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18]

        …an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”

        Jesus replied: “’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. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18]

        But in contrast with Jesus, Paul the Pharisee didn’t know the greatest, most important, first commandment according to Jesus. Paul made up his own rule. Paul wrote:
        “The entire law is summed up in a SINGLE command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14, Leviticus 19:18]

        And again, Paul wrote:
        “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this ONE RULE: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18]

        Jesus said it’s TWO commandments, with the greatest, most important, first command to
        .1) first, love God with everything you’ve got, and
        .2) second, love people.
        Paul said no, it ONE commandment- to love people.

        This is very similar to The Beatles- “All you need is love. Love is all you need. Love, Love, Love.” (In other words, the second commandment, the love of man, without the love of God. Love as me, myself and I define love to be, and continuously redefined by sinful men.)

        In essence, it is also the same principle as what Eve did in the Garden of Eden, forgetting about the Tree of Life, which is the first tree in the middle of the Garden, and instead referring to the second tree as “the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” [Genesis 3:3 & 2:9 2:17, 3:24]

        Kind of like the Pharisees with Jesus, who were pushing the false idea that we can consider ONE commandment in the Law, alone in isolation, to be “the greatest commandment in the Law.”

        Or like today, false teachers in the Chrislam – Purpose Driven – Seeker Sensitive – Emergent – Liberal – Ecumenical – New Age – world church movement pushing the false idea that the ONE RULE is “Loving God and Neighbor together.”

        The Lord God Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel, said:
        “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.”
        Not one. TWO.

        Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.

        Here are answers to 2 common objections:
        .a) What about the so-called “Golden Rule”?
        Jesus spoke the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, including 7:12. Jesus didn’t make PART of this one verse out of context into “The Golden Rule” or “one rule.” Jesus did not use the term “Golden Rule,” it’s simply a tradition of men. The sentence begins with “So” in the NIV and Amplified Bibles, and “Therefore’ in the NASB and King James Bibles, which ties 7:12 to the previous sentences. So 7:12 cannot stand alone as One Commandment.

        .b) What about the so-called “Great Commission”?
        Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, including “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus never used the term “Great Commission,” it’s simply a tradition of men. Yes I agree it’s a commandment given by Jesus, it’s not optional, and it applies to us today. We need to carry this out, with our own God-given abilities and talents, using the skills, and circumstances we have. But we don’t need to put words in the mouth of Jesus, we can let Jesus speak for himself, and we can listen to Him – and obey Him.

        Evangelism is part of the Second Commandment given by Jesus, to Love people. Evangelism is not the most important commandment, and it isn’t the entire Second Commandment. So if our priorities are “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment,” we have our priorities upside down and confused, and we are not listening to the voice of Jesus. Never mind what Paul said. Let’s listen to the voice of Jesus first, and get our priorities straight.

        The people who will protest most loudly against this truth are the modern “Pauls:” traveling evangelists, speakers, writers, abusive absentee mega-church pastors, Crusaders, and self-appointed “apostles” like Paul, who find it “profitable” to “be like Paul” rather than follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah.

      • Jesus was preaching The Gospel (recorded in the 4 Gospels,) and the church was established and growing, long before Paul came along. Paul does not belong in the center of our faith. We should be a “Jesus Community” not a Paul community. No it isn’t the same thing.

  5. Ted, you wrote of “the apostles” and “apostolic teaching.” But you did not specify your source regarding the meaning of these words.

    “What is an Apostle?”
    Here is the answer based on the original sources:
    The words and actions of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the text of the New Testament.

    .1) Gospel of Mark – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him…” [Mark 3:13-14]

    Three chapters later,
    “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” [Mark 6:6-7]

    .2) Gospel of Luke – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon…..” [Luke 6:12-14]

    Again three chapters later,
    “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” [Luke 9:1-2]

    .3) Gospel of Matthew – which is organized by theme, not necessarily in chronological order.
    “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon…” [Matthew 10:1]

    Without any clear time reference, continuing on the theme of the Apostles, Matthew does record “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” [Matthew 10:5] Matthew never said that the Apostles were “sent out” immediately after being appointed. If we didn’t also have the clear records in Mark and Luke, it would be a fairly logical assumption that Jesus sent them out right away, but it would still be just an assumption. In this case, that assumption would clearly be wrong. The Twelve Apostles were absolutely NOT sent out right away after being appointed Apostles, according to Mark chapters 3 through 6, and Luke chapters 6 through 9.

    So being an Apostle of Jesus involves being sent by Jesus, yes. But that isn’t the only meaning, or even the first and primary meaning. The first thing was “that they might be with Him” personally, together, for His entire earthly ministry, from the time of John the Baptist until Jesus rose to heaven. Jesus poured his life into the 12 Apostles for 3 ½ years very personally training them to be the leaders of the church, and Jesus chose Peter as first among equals.

    The NIV translation inserts the heading “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas” for the passage Luke wrote in Acts 1:12-26]. The NIV headings were not part of the original text, and sometimes they can be misleading, but in this case I believe the heading is right on.

    Jesus and the Original Apostles knew what an Apostle is better than anyone else in the world. Why is this a strange idea? Why do so many people frequently attack and tear down and dismiss the Original Apostles, particularly Peter, as if they were all incompetent, stupid, and wrong in so many ways, and they didn’t even know what an “Apostle” was? The answer to that question is, they have been listening to the voice of Paul, rather than the voices of Jesus and the Original Apostles.

    As we consider the question “what is an Apostle”, we should carefully listen to the words of the leader that Jesus personally appointed as first among the Apostles, and trained personally for 3 ½ years, Peter.

    “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” [Acts 1:21-22]

    Neither Paul, nor James, nor Luke were with Jesus and the Apostles the whole time, so they were not qualified to be a “witness with the Apostles of Jesus’ resurrection”, which is what it means to be an Apostle. Matthias was qualified, appointed, and later recognized as part of The Twelve. No one except Judas ever lost his apostleship.

    Responding to a question from Peter,
    “Jesus said to them:
    …you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]

    We cannot prove that Judas was present at that time, and we cannot prove that Matthias was absent at that time when Jesus spoke those words. Even if Judas was physically present, as we all realize now, he was not a true follower of Jesus. And even if Matthias was physically absent at that particular occasion, Jesus is still establishing the basic qualification for having one of the twelve thrones as being “you who have followed me,” not someone who will follow Jesus in the future, like Paul, James, Luke or anyone else in the world.

    At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His Apostles:
    “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Luke 22:28-30]

    Was Judas present when Jesus spoke those words? Even if someone wants to be argumentative and say we can’t prove that Judas wasn’t there at the time, we certainly can’t prove that Judas WAS there. Judas obviously didn’t stand by Jesus in his trial, as the whole world knows. But that was the requirement Jesus gave to “sit on thrones:” “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “You”, speaking to His 11 Apostles who had been walking with Him faithfully for 3 ½ years. Not others in the future who will follow the risen Jesus Christ. Notice that at the Last Supper, when Judas lost his throne and Matthias was definitely absent, Jesus chose to speak of “thrones” rather than “twelve thrones” as he had previously.

    The Apostle John recorded about the New Jerusalem,
    “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [Revelation 21:14]

    The Apostles are 12 faithful eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry, and Matthias is the 12th. That’s the short version of my definition of “what is an Apostle.”

  6. The comments are too long, Matthew. I don’t have time to work through all of that. I simply disagree.

  7. Ted,
    Jesus spoke of “the first and greatest commandment. And the second ”
    (Matthew 22 & Mark 12 – I typed out the text above.)

    Which one is the first and greatest commandment according to Jesus?
    (If you are a follower of Jesus in the community of Jesus, it seems this would be most important.)

    • Jesus links the two commands together. Paul implicitly teaches the greatest commandment in Romans 12:1. James does the same thing you seem to be complaining about with reference to Paul. Does that mean James contradicts the Lord? Does Jesus contradict himself when he says that all is summed up in the words do to others what you would have them do to you? Or is that a case where the writer, Matthew gets it wrong? Of course I don’t believe any of that.

  8. Jesus EXPLICITLY made reference to TWO commandments from the Law of Moses in summing up the Law and the Prophets. (Not The Law the Prophets and the Writings, not All Scripture, not the 66 Books of the Bible,)

    As follower of Jesus in a community of Jesus, you want to ignore what Jesus explicitly stated twice? Instead you want to hold your own opinions about what you think Paul or James implicitly stated in their letters?

    Neither Paul nor James were Apostles who personally followed Jesus faithfully during his entire 3 1/2 years of public ministry, so they were not as familiar with the teachings of Jesus as the 12 appointed Apostles. Paul or James or others may have contradicted Jesus, this should not be surprising.

    Jesus does not contradict himself, you are taking PART of one verse out of context.
    Here is the explanation of that.

    What about the so-called “Golden Rule”?
    Jesus spoke the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, including 7:12. Jesus didn’t make PART of this one verse out of context into “The Golden Rule” or “one rule.” Jesus did not use the term “Golden Rule,” it’s simply a tradition of men.

    The sentence begins with “So” in the NIV and Amplified Bibles, and “Therefore’ in the NASB and King James Bibles, which ties 7:12 to the previous sentences. So 7:12 cannot stand alone as One Commandment.

    • We’ll have to disagree on Matthew 7:12. It certainly does not stand alone, but it is not tied to the greatest commandment in that context, either. Either the law and the prophets are summed up in that command or “rule” or else they are not. As to Jesus contradicting James and Paul, I think not. We’ll have to disagree, Matthew.

      • Ted
        Jesus didn’t say “the law and the prophets are summed up in that command or “rule”.
        No He didn’t say that.

        “…how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything… for THIS sums up the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 7:11-12]

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