Believers or Followers?
By Mark and Jennifer Carson
What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Can a person be a Christian who does not actually follow God? Is it merely an intellectual decision? A simple agreement with the right doctrine? Or am I really supposed to be different after coming to know Jesus?
These questions, and others like them, are not some exercise in intellectual futility. Rather they are questions which make us grapple with what our faith actually is. Is my faith something of substance? Will it actually carry me through when I need it to? Is it all about spending eternity in heaven with Jesus? Or is there something to it that can change my life here and now? What is the Christian life supposed to be like? And more importantly--am I actually experiencing it? Or am I-deep down--constantly frustrated with wondering if there is more to the Christian life than what I have experienced so far?
Before we deal with these questions, let's do away with one very common religious belief. Many people who attend church regularly believe that--simply put-life is a balancing act. That is to say, that our standing with God is determined by a scale. Our good works are piled on one side of the fulcrum and our sins on the other. If the balance of our life's works tips to the left, we receive God's eternal rewards. If the balance tips to the right, then we become the object of His punishment. Make no mistake. If a person attempts to earn favor with God by their good deeds and wonderful ready-for-heaven resume, God's Word will deal him a crushing blow (Ephesians 2:8). Relying on our own efforts to bridge the gap with God does nothing more than drive us further away from His grace and into the arms of our own self-righteousness.
As for all those good works, ever wonder how they appear through God's eyes? Isaiah 64:6 says that in God's sight "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." According to Romans 3:10-12 "There is no one righteous not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless: there is no one who does good, not even one." Truthfully speaking, we all need a savior--a sinless sacrifice for our sins. Just as God provided a ram for Abraham when a sacrifice was required, God willingly provides a sacrifice for us: Jesus. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Corinthians 5:21).
Faith in Jesus is the only way to bridge the gap between the Creator and His creation. Jesus confirms this with His own words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). We are separated from God because of our sin. The only way back to God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, both His sinless sacrifice on the cross and His glorious resurrection. Clearly, this is what the Bible teaches.
Many of you will agree with what I have said so far. You're probably thinking: "I believe that. Jesus died for me, and I have put my faith in Him to get me to heaven because He is perfect and I am a sinner. My salvation is secure because I have believed the right things and have put my trust in His sacrifice rather than trusting in my own efforts to get to heaven." But is believing these things enough....or does real faith require an element of something more?
I mean, what is faith really? Is it as simple as believing all the right things? Or is it possible that saving faith in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the call to follow Him? Was Jesus' death on the cross really only about getting us to heaven? Or do we sometimes set up the bull's eye on the wrong target?
If we are aiming for heaven, can we truly bypass the authority of God over our lives in the here and now? In our evangelical church circles, we deeply desire to see the lost saved. In longing to secure people's eternal dwelling place, we are fond of asking people to invite Jesus into their heart so they can spend eternity with God in heaven. But the question remains: Can God actually come into a heart over which He is not allowed to rule? Can we really bypass God's authority and still get in on the good stuff (heaven)? Many people say, "Yes. Absolutely. God's grace will surely get me to heaven, but there's no need for that same grace to change other areas of my life."
We often aim for heaven when sharing the gospel with others, but what was Jesus aiming for when He called people to faith in Himself? In Luke 9:23-24 Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Later, in Luke 14:31-33, Jesus says, "Suppose a king is about to go to war with another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask him for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." Jesus was after far more than making sure we had a good place to spend eternity. He was looking for followers.
Praying a simplistic prayer of salvation is fine with many. But the idea of actually following God, now that is a much harder pill to swallow. Anybody still with me? You may be thinking: Let Him rule over me? Allow Him to be in charge of me? That is something that if I am totally honest, I am just not interested in. Isn't believing enough? I don't want to follow. I don't want to give up control. I like being my own boss and making my own choices. Can't I just believe in what God did at Calvary ? Does the Gospel of Jesus really demand that the life I'm leading should actually change after conversion?
Now we are back to our original question: Am I really supposed to be different after coming to know Jesus?
The answer to that question lies at the heart of the Gospel. You see, God didn't have His Son crucified on a cross solely so we could be delivered from an eternity in hell. Don't believe me? Answer this question. What is hell, anyway? It is a place of eternal separation from God, right? Why are we separated from God? Because of our sin. God's Son hung on a cross so that we could be delivered from sin. Understanding sin is the key to unlocking the heart of the Gospel.
We have all heard of the biblical story of Adam and Eve, how they ate from the tree that God had forbidden them to eat (Genesis 2:16-17). Because of their disobedience they were banished from the presence of God and sent out of the Garden of Eden. This story is often referred to as the fall of mankind (Genesis 3:1-24). Adam and Eve usurped God's authority and made a decision to go their own way. It was the first time a human being asserted his will over God's will.
Since that time, all humans have repeated this cycle without exception (Romans 5:12) . The essence of our problem is that from the time we come out of the womb, we set up our own kingdoms. We create a kingdom of self-will. We construct a realm-namely our own life-where we are the supreme authority. We make ourselves the king of our own lives. We are in charge; we are firmly in control. We make our own choices; we are our own boss. Just like Adam and Eve, our will reigns supreme. This is the essence of our sin problem.
So you see, God came to deliver us from a life of self-rule and bring us back to a life where God rules. After all, isn't the kingdom of heaven the place where His rule reigns supreme? If we are to spend eternity in His presence, don't we have to submit our will to His? Otherwise, heaven wouldn't be heaven, right? In order to reside in God's Kingdom, we must surrender our own will. We must repent of a life of self-rule. The solution to our sin problem is receiving God by grace through faith-real faith-in Jesus Christ. That is a faith that will reorient the compass of our lives. Through real faith, God will forgive us, lead us, reign in us and make a one time enemy of God into a follower of God.
For those who exercise real faith, heaven is a certainty. We exercise real faith when we come under God's reign through faith in Jesus. Real faith always involves an element of surrender. Surrender is not a work. It is a cessation of resistance. It is like the losing king's army surrendering to the winning king's army or the losing wrestler giving up the fight to the winning wrestler. In the same way, when we give up our right to be in control of our own life, we surrender our personal kingdom. This surrender ushers us into the Kingdom of God . This allows God to become our loving leader, which is the way it used to be before Adam and Eve made their fateful choice.
I'm sure all of this leaves you with some questions. Is Jesus actually asking me to let Him be God in my day to day existence? Does the claim God is making on me really involve giving Him my life? I know what you're thinking. I sure hope He's trustworthy. I mean, really trustworthy. If I 'm going to let Him lead my life, I will have to trust Him implicitly without any doubts about His character.
Any reasonable person would have the same kinds of thoughts. It's true: If any of us is going to give God control of our whole life, we must be able to trust Him on a much deeper level than what we have ever experienced before. Next time we will take a closer look at what God is really like and why He is the leader that we can trust. In the meantime, why don't you spend some time in prayer and ask God to reveal His true character to you.
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