Although the latest statistics indicate that 2.2 of earth’s 6.9 billion inhabitants self-identify as Christian, it is hard to say how many actually follow Jesus. I remember a while back asking a friend’s mother if she was a Christian. She replied, “Of course, I am; I’m American, aren’t I?” I guess in her mind being a Christian was no more or less than being an American, but is this what the Bible teaches?
Jesus said, “And why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord, and you do not do what I say?’” (Luke 6:46). From this concise statement, we find a very helpful definition: if Jesus is my Lord, I will do what he said. Each one of us must decide whether or not we will actually follow Christ. In the end, self-identifying as a Christian is not enough. Our faith must run deeper.
Yet, even for those of us who want to follow Jesus, we find ourselves constantly tempted to fashion a Jesus after our own image. Counterfeit Jesuses abound: there’s “hippie Jesus” who thinks love is all that matters, “one and done Jesus” who merely requires a one-time confession and no actual lifestyle change, “prosperity Jesus” who will make you rich if you just believe in him, and “part-time Jesus” whose followers only look like Christ on Sundays, just to name a few. Even so, the plethora of Jesuses vying for our attention should not surprise us; for, already in the first century of Christianity, the Apostle Paul was combating deviant views about “another Jesus.”
2 Corinthians 11:2-4
2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
Sadly, for the Corinthian Christians, they put up with other Jesuses and other gospels without much of a fight. What I take from this Scripture is that we need to be vigilant. Without even realizing it, we could slowly deceive ourselves into thinking the way we live now is congruous with following Jesus when, in fact, we are way off from what he said. Thankfully, God has not left us guessing about who the real Jesus is. He has miraculously preserved the Scriptures for us, including the Gospels with the very words of Jesus in them. We don’t have to depend on some TV preacher, a best-selling author, or a Wikipedia article—all sources that claim authority but constantly change and contradict themselves. We have the Bible.
We can actually read the words of Jesus for ourselves in our own native tongue without paying a huge fee, traveling to some exotic place, or studying ancient languages for years. There it is on our bookshelves, computers, and phones. But, do we read it? Do we plumb its depths? Do we take the time to turn off the TV, take a break from Facebook, and pause the Netflix movie to read the book? Because the words of Christ are so easy to get, we take them for granted as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Still, I wonder how familiar Jesus’ words really are to us. When I read them, I can’t help but marvel to myself about how radical they are. Jesus calls us to a standard of living that is so far above the “nice guys” and mores of our age. His words go way beyond saying “please” and “thank you,” chewing with your mouth closed, and waving to the neighbors with a smile. He teaches extreme forgiveness, total commitment, and radical love. Just read them for yourself; you’ll see.
But, even if Jesus’ demands may seem like a lot, it is so worth it. In light of the hefty personal sacrifice he underwent, Peter asked Jesus the “what’s in it for me” question, and we have his answer recorded in Scripture:
27 Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" 28 And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.
I’m so thankful that Peter had the chutzpah to ask this question. Not only do we find out the result for Peter, but we also discover that everyone else who has likewise courageously chosen to follow Jesus will receive eternal life. Just imagine living forever. Think about what it would be like if no one died anymore—if there were no more wars, sicknesses, or acts of violence. This is the world Jesus promises to his followers. God will make everything wrong with the world right, and He wants His people to enjoy this paradise forever. Now that is something to look forward to enjoying! Even so, we don’t have to wait until Christ comes back to experience incredible benefits for following Jesus.
Today, in this very moment, we can undergo transformation. Jesus said:
28 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "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. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Would you like rest for your soul? Is your burden heavy? Are you tired of carrying it alone? If so, then go to Jesus, follow him, and though you may find yourself out of step with this present evil age, you will find rest for your soul. This is not some vague promise that we hope might come true. We have countless living witnesses to the awesome life transformation that is happening daily among those who follow. For example, when I recently posted the question on Facebook, “What are your top reasons for following Jesus?” I received over fifty responses. I certainly can’t share them all here, but I did want to include three that I felt encapsulated different aspects of why it makes sense to follow.
“I follow him because I believe he is the messiah and the one who has changed me more than anyone in my life. Transformed me into a whole man and showed me things about myself that I never knew were there. I follow him because he showed me all the possibilities in me and delivered me from depression, loneliness and fears. I follow him because he is more real than any other person I've known and showed me more compassion throughout my life than anyone has ever given me. I follow him because he raised my life from the dead and will do the same for me physically and all that I love one day. I follow him because there is no one that I've ever known who epitomizes all the colors of love, strength, compassion and power like him.” –Len Cicio
“I follow Jesus because lasting social change cannot happen until the naturally-selfish heart of man changes. Jesus causes radical transformation of peoples' hearts, as proven by millions of testimonies. Heart-change causes life-change, which ultimately causes world-change.” –Matthew Elton
“The biblical record strikes me as being true, it's testimony of Jesus the Messiah seems accurate, and the resurrection occurred as evidenced by historical methodologies. I would not follow him if I thought the record were NOT true” —Danny Andre Dixon
In the first of these three, we can see how Len has received deliverance from depression, loneliness, and fears. He has experienced compassion and new life. Furthermore, he points out that Jesus is worthy of following because he “epitomizes as the colors of love, strength, compassion, and power.” In addition, Matthew recognizes that the problem with the world is that people are selfish. In following Christ our naturally-selfish hearts can change, leading to world transformation. My last example, Danny, points out he follows Jesus simply because he is the Messiah. It’s true; therefore, it makes sense to follow him. I chose these three examples because they are so different from one another and they illustrate just how comprehensive the reasons are to follow Christ. If you follow him, you will find purpose, hope, and love. He is such a great example to us of living courageously, overcoming temptation consistently, and reaching out to the needy compassionately. The more I read the gospels, the more I am impressed by how Jesus carried himself, how he depended on God for everything, and how he is such a great leader to follow. Will you choose to follow him today? Will you read his words?