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Some Words Wear Out

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Based on how you live your life, what you’re passionate about, how you care for others and spend your discretionary time and money, would your spouse, your children, or your closest friends characterize you as a Christian – or a serious follower of Jesus?

Remember the cartoons on TV when you were a kid, when the bad guys were being chased by the police? They always seemed to have a convenient bag of nails to throw out of their car, in hopes of flattening their pursuers’ tires.

Whenever I ask the question which I posed at the beginning of this blog, of someone who knows intuitively they are not a serious follower of Jesus, that’s the feeling I get. They often want me to define, explain and debate with them. I think they sense God getting close – ready to catch them, and transform them into someone they’re not sure they really want to be. Out come the theological tacks.

I know their fear. For the first three decades of my life, I thought I had God right where I wanted him. He was close enough to be a comfort, but distant enough as to not be terribly inconvenient.

Christian, or follower?

“Some words wear out. It’s not they’re wrong, simply that they’ve outlived their original meaning. I think the word Christian could be just such a word. It’s a word that’s many centuries old. In Antioch in the decades after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it was first applied to those who believed in Jesus and followed his teachings.

And in the first few centuries of the church, when obedience was still costly, all Christians were also committed followers of Jesus – the terms were interchangeable. Today, all followers of Jesus are still Christians. But it’s clear that the reverse is not true: Not all who call themselves Christians, even those sitting in church every Sunday, are truly his followers.

The following is from the latest edition of The 10-Second Rule, which addresses this very point.

But exactly how do you define a follower of Jesus?

The answer to that question ought to be self-evident: Followers of Jesus have made it the priority of their lives to love God and be like Jesus.

How much of the time?

Here’s what we all really want to know: “Just how good do I have to be to make God happy?” But my guess is that if we absolutely knew where that line was, we’d be content to be just barely over it.

Well, how about this definition: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). Ah, that’s how we can tell! The problem is, I’ve never yet met a totally fruitless Christian. Even the guy who does little more than show up at church, every Sunday, throws a ten in the offering plate, and volunteers in the children’s department thinks he’s fruitful.

The truth is, it’s impossible to accurately measure our true devotion to God and our love for others. I don’t have a faith-o-meter I can pull out every day and point at myself and others to keep score. Nevertheless, we do keep score, don’t we? And it’s the self-delusional nature of sin that causes us to believe we’re better followers than most other Christians. Aside from the statistical impossibility of that being true, it’s the wrong measure. The only true measure is Jesus.

There’s one final question I’ve asked thousands of people in the past dozen years that blow through these smoke screens of comparison and excuses:

Forget for a moment how your friends behave; do you believe Jesus himself considers you one of his true followers?

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teachings. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:21A, 24

We don’t like the idea of linking obedience to love, do we? We’d like to think of Jesus loving us unconditionally. But that’s not the point of these verses. Jesus is telling us that obedience to him isn’t a condition for his loving us, but it is the evidence of our love for him!”

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I’ve been asking these questions to thousands of people for a decade now. They’re great questions to throw out at a gathering of Christians, and just watch what happens! Trust me; it will start a lively discussion. But more importantly, hopefully it will be the catalysts to help someone dump their religious Christianity and begin the journey of a true follower.

Following Jesus in Real Life

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