As followers of Jesus Christ we are to be examples above and beyond the average in kindness, respect, etc., all areas of life as well as always obedient to our Redeemer. I thought about that for a long time as I pondered what I see around me in the Christian community.
We are not offered a choice of a ‘basic plan’ or a ‘premium level plan’ for following Him. Too many professing Christians today have chosen nominal Christianity, or the nonexistent ‘basic plan’ over the reality of what is required of us. According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word ‘nominal’ is used to indicate that someone or something is supposed to have a particular identity or status, but in reality does not have it. Kyle Idleman* gives those who have a nominal Christianity the label of being “fans” rather than “followers” of Jesus Christ, just as I was for way too many years.
Looking back at my life I can say, “It wasn’t my fault that I saw salvation that way” because there was no discipleship by anyone toward me. I was raised in a Lutheran Church, baptized as a baby, and did all the ‘right’ things – went to Sunday School, was confirmed, etc. Then in 1972, when I was a young 20-year-old wife with a new baby, I saw the movie, “Thief in the Night” at an Evangelical Church and first heard about Christ’s second coming, the Tribulation, and the so-called “rapture” of Christians. I found the whole thing so frightening that when the movie ended, I ran out of the church crying so hard I could hardly see, followed by my bewildered husband. I had no idea that there was such a thing as an “altar call” or that someone would give me at least a little bit of understanding about “accepting Christ” after the movie. So, on that rainy autumn night my husband and I both accepted Jesus Christ as Savior as we sat in our car outside the church.
Yes, I can make the excuse that it wasn’t my fault, but in actuality, I alone am responsible for not “pursuing righteousness” and “working out” my salvation, as Scripture tells us to do. It took me a long time to get around to reading anything but the book of Revelation after finding out that it was full of prophecy that I had never heard about. I soon discovered a “Christian Book Store” in our city. Even though we didn’t have much money I did buy some books explaining the prophecies in Revelation and read them as if I were starving. This dreadfully unbalanced diet of only end times Scripture and commentary eventually got monotonous. Yet, I still didn’t hunger for more of God’s Word I am ashamed to admit.
One day I just “happened” (by God’s intention!) to buy “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom and finally the desire for more of Jesus was ignited in me. I wanted faith like Corrie’s, but it was as if it was like a butterfly that I couldn’t quite catch. I became a dedicated fan of Jesus and read dozens of Christian books, but unbeknownst to me I was far from being a follower. I was no more than an “enthusiastic admirer” and it was getting more difficult to ignore the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I muddled along for about thirty-five years in that state described in 2 Timothy 3:7 – “…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (NASB)
Fast forward to 2011 when I retired from the cancer center where I worked. Retirement was wonderful. However, that uneasy feeling soon came back to haunt me again. It was time to catch that elusive butterfly. I had been to many churches of different denominations over the years and was convinced that just like sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a car, sitting in a church doesn’t make you a Christian. Nor does listening to soundly biblical sermons and reading God’s Word religiously make you a follower of God. That is no more than the 2 Timothy 3:7 disease. The prescription for that is James 1:22 – “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (NASB) This prescription turned out to be a sort of journey, and what a journey it has been so far!
To begin with, serious self-examination is necessary. That is often a problem. We look at ourselves and proudly say we don’t do some of the things we used to do but neglect truly objective self-examination to see that we tend to still be susceptible to doing some of those “not so bad” things and unconsciously retain attitudes God is not pleased with. We know that obedience is required, and I thought I was obedient to God…until I studied more carefully. In 1 Samuel 15:22 (NASB) we read: “Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.”
As a fan trying to become a follower, that told me that if I did not obey ALL the Lord required of me, there was no praise song, no working the nursery on Sunday morning, no teaching Sunday School, nothing …that could make up for disobedience no matter what my excuse. And that is the first step – obedience - we must be obedient or nothing else really matters. We will be among those people Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:21-23. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (NASB).
I find that to be the scariest passage of Scripture in the Bible, a warning of how easily we can be deceived by the Adversary who desperately wants us to be only a fan and not a full-fledged follower. As Henry and Richard Blackaby say in their devotional, Being Still With God (July 29): 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (NKJV) “First of all, does God approve of you? Are you sure? Never assume God’s satisfaction with your life and your service for Him…God isn’t satisfied with mere belief; He wants your obedience—and He knows that truth has moved from your head to your heart when He sees you living out His truth before others.”
We do not question God’s love for us or His unending grace that sees beyond our faults (not necessarily sins) but we dare not rely on it as an excuse to cleave to “greasy grace” or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. We whom He redeemed are indebted to Him. After explaining a few of the more common pitfalls that are easy to slip into even for Christians, Paul exhorts Timothy, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11 (NASB)
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, the King’s Cohanim [Priesthood] a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (CJB) We are created to declare the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light, so logic dictates that He didn’t save us to ignore Him; to go through life doing as we think best no matter how “good” a person we think we are. Nor did He save us so we could give lip service and insincere prayers that sound good but lack ‘heart’.
I like The Aramaic English New Testament translation very much where it quotes Jesus in Matthew 16:24 as saying, “He who wishes to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his staff and follow after me.” I used to be able to more or less disregard this particular scripture fairly easily because I didn’t detect God asking me to do anything drastic like what could be considered taking up my ‘cross’ but the staff we see in pictures of people walking everywhere in Bible times is an everyday item, used all day long every day. That is what God wants us to do, all day every day. Go for the ‘premium level plan’ for following Him.
*Not a Fan Updated and Expanded: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman