Friday, January 25, 2008

What Is A Christ-follower?

You've seen them, and so have I. They're loud; they're in your face, and they're certain they're right. They picket soldier's funerals because they're convinced that God is judging America by letting its young men die in Iraq. They carry signs that say things like "God hates fags," or "God hates..." whatever they hate. It's all so very sad.
I've been teaching a series lately based on the question what is a Christ-follower? The vast majority of people in North America, surprisingly, call themselves Christians. But there are so many different definitions of that word that it's no wonder there's so much confusion. There are certainly no shortage of people who claim to have a hedge on the truth. But I think if you want to answer that question, the best thing to do is to look at what Jesus actually said and what his first disciples actually did and taught.
An obvious thing we see is a person who was more inclined to relationship than religion. He took great issue with the Pharisees (a sect of Jews who took great pride in their ability to keep all of the rules and regulations and who even expanded them). He called them hypocrites who would be concerned about the smallest detail of the law yet would turn their back on someone in need. Jesus, on the other hand, took pains to step across culture barriers to care for people who were often considered outcasts. Mind you, Jesus did not endorse breaking the law either. He, rather, encouraged us to live out the law by boiling it down to its purest form. He said that all of the law was based on two commandments: (1) Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself.
So let's start with what does not make you a Christ-follower. Obeying the rules does not make you a Christ-follower. Otherwise the Pharisees would have qualified. Neither does going to church make you a Christ-follower, or giving money to charity. Those may be good things, but they don't cut it by themselves.
Neither does praying the right prayer, or saying the right words do it for you. In Matthew 15:8 Jesus said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." He asked a question that anyone calling themself a Christian should look at seriously. He asked, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things that I say?" I believe that to be the question of the day for the North American church. Someone said that the church in North America is growing, yes, it's a mile wide but an inch deep.
Jesus called for surrender. He called his disciples and expected them to leave their nets and follow him - and they did. He also called for obedience. When the rich young ruler came to him and asked what he must do to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus responded that he knew the commandments - do them. The young man was thrilled because, as he said, he had kept them all from his youth. But Jesus looked through his impressive facade into his heart and saw that what ruled his life was money. He told him that for him to enter the kingdom of God he needed to sell all that he had, give to the poor, and come follow him. (Note that he didn't require that of all of his followers). The point was that God will not play second fiddle to anything else in our lives.
So, Jesus also called for obedience - regardless of the cost. The picture we get through the New Testament is that of a community of people who were committed to following Christ, even if it cost them their lives - and for many it did. The world was changed because Jesus' disciples believed with every fiber of their being that Jesus Christ was who said he was and that this world was not their home. They knew that life had meaning because God created each of us for a purpose. And because Christ is with us by his Spirit, there is no challenge too great; no difficulty which can't be overcome.
Society was changed for the good because Christ-followers did just that. They followed Christ. They loved people regardless of who they were or where they were from - or what they'd done. They were a community of sinners saved by grace who lived lives of grateful obedience. Perhaps the greatest leader in the history of the church, apart from Jesus - the Apostle Paul - stated that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Are you a Christ-follower? I don't know. Who's your boss? Who gets to tell you what to do? My boss is a Jewish carpenter who carried his own cross up a hill to his death and who said to us, "Take up your cross and follow me." Any takers?
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