So many of the things we believe, are things we don't even think about. We pick them up in our earliest years from our parents, teachers, friends, and the culture at large. Some of them are things deliberately taught, values passed down from the previous generation, like the idea that all people should be treated equally. Others are so ingrained into our culture that we never question them, like the superiority of sliced bread to unsliced.
We have picked up a lot of subtle beliefs about Jesus as well, and what he asks of us. Some of them are wrong, contrary to the Gospel. Often, these misconceptions go untested.
1. Following Jesus is a Religious Thing
“So what do you think of Jesus?”
“I go to church and all that”
Jesus never asked anyone to go to church. His call was simply “follow me.”
The words “religion” and “religious” are only found ten times in the NIV Bible. Most of those clearly refer to the Jewish religion (Amos 5:21, Acts 25:19, Colossians 2:16, and Hebrews 10:11) and many of those show “religion” in a negative light, sometimes directly opposed to God.
Jesus was a member of the Jewish faith. He remained so all his life, faithfully keeping the Law, showing that it was meant to point to himself. But most of the things Jesus talked about had little to do with his religion, other than a general faith in God. Jesus spent a lot of time telling people about the kingdom of God. He talked about loving others, neighbors, enemies, anyone. He talked about how we spend our money, how we treat our children, how we make peace with others. He talked about prayer and fasting, but he specifically criticized those who made a religious show of them. He taught us that prayer and fasting are primarily something between ourselves and God.
Jesus never talked about church buildings, programs, services, pews, or ceremonies. He never told people to be priests, or ministers. He never commanded people tithe to their church. Jesus never discussed forms of worship, and whether we should be contemporary, traditional, or liturgical.
Jesus did not come to earth to start a new religion called Christianity. He came to bring people to God. Following Jesus is not about religion. It is not about promoting religion, or trying to get people to join our particular brand of Christianity. Following Jesus is living life in away that brings people closer to God, wherever they may be on that journey.
2. Following Jesus is a Personal Thing
“I can just worship God in my truck or on the lake.”
One of the distinctives of American culture is our “rugged individualism,” our determination to make it on our own, not influenced, not dependent on others. Our cultural axioms include: “Be your own man,” “Follow your dream,” and “Do it your way.” We have a tendency to read this into the Bible as well.
Jesus never intended us to go at it alone. Faith is a deeply personal thing, but it is also a deeply communal thing. I can not love my neighbor without a neighbor. I can not encourage others if I don't talk to them. I can not confess my sins to others and pray for them (James 5:16) all by myself.
Much of the New Testament is composed of letters written to specific churches. By churches, I do not mean 501(c)3 organizations that meet in a building with pews and stained glass. Rather, the New Testament word “church” simply means “group.” It was written to groups of people together. People who were often diverse, but shared a common connection as disciples of Jesus.
Anytime in my life that I have been growing as a disciple. Anytime I have deepened my understanding of God and the world. Anytime I have become more like Jesus, It was in the context of a group of people encouraging me, teaching me, caring for me. And it almost always happened as I was doing the same thing back to them.
3. Following Jesus is an Easy Thing
“I asked Jesus into my heart once. Did you see my new truck?”
I am not here to judge an individual's temporal or eternal relationship with God. I can say this with certainty, following Jesus is not about praying a prayer, believing a doctrine, or even getting baptized (although those are all often involved in a decision to follow Jesus). Following Jesus is about living life like Jesus. It is saying, “Jesus knows more than me, I am going to trust him and do things his way.” This is not an easy thing to do.
Jesus said it like this,
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he 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 for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:31-33)
So if you want to follow Jesus, to be his disciple, it will cost you everything. Don't do it unless you are ready for trouble.
Here is what I have experienced. Sometimes following Jesus means bucking the trends of society. Society does not always get it right. Sometimes following Jesus means bucking the trends in the church. The church doesn't always get it right either. You will get persecution from all sides. You will be too liberal for your conservative friends, too conservative for your liberal friends. If your highest aim is for people to like you, following Jesus might not be for you.
So why follow Jesus? I do it for the rewards. I am not altruistic. I am not a good enough person to just love everyone for their own sake. But I trust that when I do love people, when I do it like Jesus , it will be worth it.
For every thing I have given up, for every criticism I have endured, I have received a multitude of blessings. I have always been provided for physically. I have witnessed God transform lives. I have seen enemies embrace. I have seen neighborhoods rebuilt. I have an ever increasing family in this life. I have a lot to look forward to in the next.