It has become commonplace to hear believers refer to themselves as Christ-followers. What does following Christ actually entail? For many, following Christ means following those they see as His designated leaders. It’s as though Christ has delegated His authority to others and all one must do to follow Him is follow the direction these other leaders provide. Since Jesus made it clear that His kingdom doesn’t operate that way, why do we let people go on thinking this is right? To be a Christ-follower, one must follow Christ. Seems simple enough doesn’t it? But simple it is not.
Many understand following Jesus to be synonymous with knowing His Word. In many churches the one who knows the most about theology is considered to be the best disciple. The knowledge of the scriptures is a necessary ingredient in the discipleship process but to equate knowledge with discipleship is a huge mistake. When we do this, we forget that Jesus did not command us to teach them all He has commanded us but to teach them to obey all that He has commanded us. Most dedicated Christians are educated way beyond their obedience. Any form of discipleship that doesn’t focus on helping others to live out their faith in real terms is not discipleship at all. Even those who seem to understand this truth, sometimes fall into the trap of acquiring the requisite obedience by using outside pressure. This too results in producing an anemic follower of Jesus.
The temptation is to teach people to look to the scriptures for instructions on how to live a good life. The Bible is the truth, the inerrant and infallible word of God, but when people search the scriptures for rules to live by they settle for a life that is much less than it could be.
It’s clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus lived His life for the will of His Father. You will find Him saying things like, “I only do the things I see the Father doing” and “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak… the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” And again, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.” Jesus lived His life in constant connection with His Father. “I and the Father are one.” He was perpetually obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus came to fulfill a specific mission. How is it that we seem to think that a life of generic good works is all God wants from us?
1 Corinthians 12 further supports this thinking. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. And each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Isn’t it obvious that this infinite variety of gifts, ministries, and results is indicative of an infinite variety of works God intends to accomplish through His children? Leaders often take it upon themselves to prescribe the work to be done by each individual and most individuals are happy to let them? Jesus is the Head of His Body and He must be allowed to direct each member as He sees fit.
The scriptures have much to say about God, life, and the principles they contain. When these principles are observed and practiced can be of infinite value. But to substitute a relationship with the Bible for a relationship with Jesus is a fatal mistake. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the churches of Galatia that to live by an outside standard or set of rules is to seek a gospel other than the grace of Christ. Jesus, in a comment to the religious leaders of His day agrees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life but it’s these that testify of me.” The scriptures are meant to bring us to Jesus so that He can write His words on our hearts.
The essence of discipleship is a vital personal relationship with Christ. This personal ongoing encounter with the Creator is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Commit yourself to following Jesus and helping others to do the same. If you make this the cornerstone of your life, you will find that God will use you to further the fulfillment of the great commission.
©2012 Phil Helfer
Originally posted in the February 2012 edition of The Messenger Newsletter for Los Altos Grace Brethren Church (Long Beach, CA)
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Used with permission. All Scripture quotes from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).