So how can we follow a person who lived thousands of years ago? The good news, as described in various parts of this book, is that Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus is actually not dead, but living and with us! Because he is God Himself, he can be present with us and has power and wisdom and guidance for today — not just in the past when Jesus walked on the earth.
So how does one actually go about following Jesus? Here are some of my thoughts on what it means and doesn’t mean.
Following Jesus means that we:
Commit & Verbalize Our Belief:
Whether we think the amount of faith we have is small or large, we put that faith into action by committing to a new life with Jesus. While a big part of that happens internally, it’s equally important to tell others about this, as this keeps it from just staying in our heads, or in the realm of abstract ideas.
Become Transformed Internally:
As we do this, we are transformed from the inside out, and are given Jesus’ eyes to see how God sees, and Jesus’ heart to understand what God really cares about.
Live With Renewed Vision:
We begin a journey of renewal as we learn and grow every day to understand the details of God’s heart and kingdom, and how to live that out in our lives. Some of this happens through reading the Bible and praying, some of it happens through talking to other Christians who can help us to grow, and some happens through just living in the world with new eyes to see. This impacts everything from our thinking and values to our priorities, decisions, and actions. It impacts the way we treat people, and the way we look at the world.
Live With Renewed Purpose:
We join in a mission and purpose to restore God’s kingdom, in all the ways listed in the chapters in this book: to advocate for the weak, find strength in suffering, serve other people above ourselves, fight for justice and dignity, live out sacrificial love, and so on.
Join a Community on a Mission:
We join in this mission with countless others who also have been transformed by Jesus. We join in a community that teaches us, refines us, and supports us along the path of life. We learn how we are uniquely different and learn to appreciate and work with those who are different from us. We don’t live our lives isolated or alone.
Following Jesus does NOT mean that we:
Recite a “Magic Prayer” Formula:
We simply say a prayer reciting some magic words, and then don’t have to do anything else, or change anything in our lives. That’s cheap magic, not the kind of spiritual transformation that following Jesus brings!
Go to Church and That’s It:
We go to church, without any kind of inner transformation in our hearts. Christianity isn’t about image or joining a social club; it’s about a new way of living and joining others in that.
Imitate Christians Around Us:
We start acting like all the Christians we see on television or around us. Following Jesus isn’t about just being nice and cordial to others, living a clean-cut life, or aligning ourselves automatically with politically conservative agendas and issues. Following Jesus means becoming closer to his heart and kingdom, as we learn what that means through our lives and in community with others. As we get to know God and His heart better and better, we will learn what matters to Him and what doesn’t.
Gaining the Eyes and Heart of Jesus
From the moment that Jesus transforms us, an amazing thing happens. We care about new and different things because we have the heart of God — not just our own. We see new and different things because we have the eyes of God — not just our own. We don’t need other people to convince us about what’s important in life or how to treat people — because that knowledge and wisdom are now inside of us. (Of course, it takes time for this all to develop and mature!)
It is important to note that this process involves cost and sacrifice. Jesus reminds his followers repeatedly that they must “die to themselves” and “count the cost” of what it means to truly follow him. Part of this is recognizing our flaws and the darker parts of ourselves that need healing — some of which the Bible call “sin.” We must be willing to change and sacrifice some things that are hard to give up. The Bible calls this “repentance” or turning away from old ways of living and embracing a new approach.
For me, I didn’t necessarily think that I was bad or evil at the moment that I decided to follow Jesus. I wasn’t totally desperate. However, I did realize that I knew less than I had thought, and over time, I came to see all the darker and uglier parts of myself that needed to grow and be healed. Fortunately, I wasn’t on my own to figure those out, but was gifted with a God who promised to grow and heal me over the course of my life!
Following Jesus is not a self-improvement step that was intended for us to add to our lives. According to Jesus himself, it’s a commitment that changes our hearts and lives. It’s not easy — it involves internal humility and sacrifice, as well as external hardship. However, we gain a source of strength and vision beyond anything we’ve ever known.