follow Christ by following those who follow Christ

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:17

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:9

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I’m not well convinced that just a steady diet of being in Scripture and prayer is the most important way to change. I’ve been pretty heavy in the Scripture part, and that’s helped. And I’ve prayed. But what really helps me is to find those people who are humbly following Christ, yes imitating him. And hopefully having their lives rub off on my own.

It’s interesting that so to speak that’s the way Christianity started. Jesus called twelve men to live with him, for him to be their Rabbi. It was not so much a matter of writing things down that Jesus said and did, but it was much more a matter of becoming like their Master. And that dynamic continues on. True spiritual leaders are not those who preach lights out or dazzle people somehow with this or that. No, it’s simply those who learned to follow and imitate Christ from others, so that others could learn to follow and imitate Christ through them. That can make the difference needed. By the Spirit in and through Jesus.

letting the truth sink in and settle

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

John 8:31-32; MSG

The heart of the Christian message is about relationship and truth. The two go together in a number of ways. By faith in Christ we begin to understand not just the truth about God, but God himself, or God’s self (since, strictly speaking, God is neither male nor female, while at the same time, male and female human beings are made in God’s image). But as Jesus I think was suggesting to those who had believed him, it’s not enough just to have the light turned on, and truth dawn on us. We need to let that sink in and settle to make the needed difference in our lives. We need to keep the truth from and of Jesus front and center, and make it central to how we live. Nothing less than that will do.

If we do that, then we’ll begin to experience the freedom God wants to give us, not only from sin, but for what is right, good, of God, and truly human. As disciples/followers of Jesus. In and through Jesus.

to follow Jesus, we must leave all else behind

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Matthew 4:18-22

It is striking here, how the first disciples Jesus called left everything to follow him. Notably that included James and John leaving their father in the boat by himself, to follow Jesus. They left everything, period. I’m not sure that means they could never fish again. It’s just that this would no longer be their occupation and preoccupation. They would now be following Jesus.

I found these words from James as rendered in The Message interesting in relationship to this:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:5-8; MSG

The idea of “keeping all your options open” doesn’t work when one would follow Christ. You must leave all else behind if you’re really to follow the Lord. Or else at best, you won’t be a good follower.

This is much easier said than done. The disciples got it right, at the beginning. They answered Jesus’s call immediately. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for them to stay on track. In a sense, once they started on this journey, there was a commitment and confirmation which went along with it. So it’s not like it was a snap of the fingers to get off that road, either.

Much later, when Peter was the established leader of the early church, we remember that he wasn’t true to the gospel, so was confronted by Paul. In that sense, he meandered from his following of Jesus. No one is immune to this.

I find this helpful in this for me:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

For me to follow Christ I have to turn my back on what comes oh so natural to me: not “letting go, and letting God.” Somehow thinking whatever depends on me. I want to simply follow on, following Jesus with others. In and through Jesus.

the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill = true followers of Jesus

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

In context these words apply to disciples of Jesus, those who are following him. The key here is not some kind of spiritual experience, but simply the needed commitment and follow through.

What Jesus is referring to here is a different kind of people. Marked, indeed changed by their identity with and in him. They used to be called “Jesus people,” “people of the Book” secondary to that. This impacts everything. How they read the Bible. How they live from day to day in their families, and in their places of work. How they spend their time, their money. How they see the world and live in it. Recognized by their good works.

This is the people who alone are the “city* on a hill,” “the salt” and “light” that the world needs. All because of Jesus. But participants in this. In and through him.

*KJV

Jesus’s invitation to all (to be discipled)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I really want to emphasize in this post that this is an invitation to us from Jesus. To all of us who are weary and tired, down and out. This is an invitation to us, open for us, but not forced on us. So the door is unlocked so to speak, but we have to open it. Or like in the image we read in the letter to the church in Laodicea, Jesus knocks on the door, but we have to open it.

This is an invitation to be with Jesus, and to be discipled, that is taught, mentored, directed by him, imbibing his tone, content, something of his very life.

In response we need to take the step and wait. Jesus will begin to take over, but we have to remain committed to this new relationship. It is one of following Jesus. And considering the yoke, doing what he is doing. In and through him.

unlearning our striving

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

In Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, Jesus invites us into “the unforced rhythms of grace,” learning that. It’s in terms of a yoke, like oxen yoked together, Jesus carrying the load. But who also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It is a discipling relationship. We get to learn from the Rabbi, but that kind of learning wasn’t like what we ordinarily think of as education. It was living with Teacher and learning their way of life. Learning to see life as they see it, and act as they act, live as they live.

This is something we choose to accept, but then it depends on the Lord taking us on, and fulfilling the promise he makes here. None of this is anything we can do. And yesterday I heard someone making the point that we have to unlearn our own striving. How we think it all depends on ourselves, our effort. And imagining God rewards that. A big part of the American way, and seemingly what most evangelicals actually believe. And that fits in perfectly with the attitude in all of life that might and success are what matter. But not at all the truth or reality found in Jesus. But hard for us to break away from, so ingrained in us, even from childhood.

No, instead we need to learn straight from the Lord himself the unforced rhythms of grace. Something only he can teach us by the Holy Spirit. And learn to live more and more in that. In and through Jesus.

 

becoming Jesus’s disciple

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

If there’s one thing we need above anything else as Christians, I think it’s to learn to become followers of Christ. It is a false division, the idea that we can be Christians, yet not followers of Christ. That’s actually baked into Christendom, in which Christianity was more or less a part of your cultural heritage. You were Christian because you were born in a certain nation-state, infant baptism the sign of that. Or it was a part of your heritage to go to church every Sunday. It actually would be better if we would see ourselves less in individual terms, and more as individuals who are part of community in Christ. Too often in the United States, we see ourselves as individuals whom God is working on, with our personal devotions, etc.

Be that as it may, we’re faced with things as they are, not as we would like them to be. And besides, if we’re honest, we have our hands full with our own problems, beginning with the one we see in the mirror. So how do we really know what’s best?

Jesus’s invitation was to those of his day and for all generations to come. It is as someone put it, the idea of being yoked with an older experienced cow, and thereby not only beginning to learn the ropes, but being helped along. In fact Jesus calls his yoke easy, and his burden light. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t make this work. Only Jesus can do that.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Jesus first tells everyone who is weary and burdened to come to him for rest. That’s where we must start. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking we can launch right into the serious part. We must start at the beginning. We need to come to him for rest. Yes, with all our agitation, indeed restlessness, burden, worry, whatever it might be. We simply come to him. That’s where we begin in really being his disciple. In and through Jesus.

 

is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

leaving everything to follow Jesus

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:10b-11

I’m not sure our Christianity today has enough of this element in it, the idea of leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. Lest we think that was only something for Jesus’s immediate disciples, we should read further, one good example being Paul’s thoughts to Christians in Philippians 3. Like Paul, in Jesus we see something far greater than anything this world has to offer, indeed, greater than ourselves and our own interests.

This might be especially challenging for us who live in relative freedom and plenty. Like the Laodicean church we might still be carrying on as church, but in reality running on empty ourselves (Revelation 3:14-22). It does seem like the sense of need presses us toward following Jesus, although any such following is always a matter of God’s grace in helping us do so. But we have to be careful as to what expectations we have. Our passion should always be about what our Lord’s agenda is: the heart of that being love for God and for our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). In and through Jesus.

 

 

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.