What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century? Is there a difference between being a Christian and a follower of Jesus? Do we have to reach a particular standard before we can be a disciple? How can we literally follow him when we can’t actually see him?
Reading the Gospel stories we can see that in most cases Jesus invited men and women to follow him.
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.
A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. (Matthew 4:18-22 NLT)
In nearly every case, Jesus didn’t set any pre-conditions, place rules or put obstacles in the way. He didn’t say to Simon the fishermen, “Sell your fishing boat, give the money to the poor, and then you can follow me!” Simon and the other fishermen just left their boats behind, and followed Jesus. He probably still owned his fishing boat because later he temporally reverted to fishing.
Only in one case did he challenge a would-be follower to sell everything and give all the proceeds to relieve poverty, because he knew that the man’s riches were a major obstacle which prevented the man even to start to follow Jesus.
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:21-22)
Following Jesus in the Gospels
What did it mean to follow Jesus while he was on earth:
- It meant being homeless, yet enjoying hospitality when it was available.
- It meant having the security of sharing and having a common purse.
- It meant having the privilege of listening to the greatest teacher ever.
- It meant leaving father and mother but learning to relate to a close-knit community.
- It meant making mistakes but being corrected without condemnation.
Following Jesus, totally and radically, turned their lives upside down. They would never be the same again. But what about afterwards? Did they stop being followers of Jesus? No, following Jesus is a life-time quest, a continuous life-style. The disciples became known as apostles – sent ones – but they were still followers of Jesus, aided by the Holy Spirit at work within their lives.
Being a ‘Christian’ and/or a follower of Jesus
When did following Christ become a religion?
- It became a religion when men put rules and regulations in the way.
- It became a religion when a ‘church’ became a building and not a community.
- It became a religion when making a one-off decision became more important than a life long journey.
- It became a religion when a christian life-style became virtually indistinguishable from the ‘world’ around.
- It became a religion when judging others became more important than love.
- It became a religion when entry meant conforming to standards .
- It became a religion when obedience to priests, pastors or leaders got in the way of following our founder.
Invitation to all!
Anyone can be a follower of Jesus today. The invitation is open to all.
- You don’t need to reach any standard of purity first.
- You don’t need a PhD in theology or know the Bible from cover to cover. You just need a teachable heart.
- You don’t need to be religious.
- You don’t need to adhere to rules, but you need to be willing to make adjustments to your life-style during the journey.
- There are no pre-conditions, but you may need to deal with any obstacles which prevent you following whole-heartedly.
- There is no cost, but down the line it may cost you everything you have.
I have been trying to follow Jesus in an imperfect way for 65 years. As a child I learned to ‘love Jesus’ and that was a step along the way. As a teenager I was baptised which confirmed my decision to follow Jesus for life. I have learned a lot but still have so much to learn. I have made mistakes but am not condemned by my Creator/Father/Saviour. I am challenged when I think of those early followers, and how their lives were radically changed.
If I have learned anything along the journey, it is that loving God, and loving my fellow human beings is more important than following a list of rules. I am rather ashamed at the way I used to judge other people who were different from me, rather than to love them. My goal is to be more like Jesus, not for my own spiritual benefit, but to impact this sad old world of ours.
How about you? I would love to hear your experiences: comment below.