“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NLT).
As I was praying one morning and yet again reciting to the Lord all my shortcomings and should-have-done’s, it occurred to me that though I profess to be a follower of Christ, am I really following Christ?
Just because I’m a follower of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean I’m following Christ!
I follow a lot of people on social media. But, just because I follow them on Twitter doesn’t mean I always read their tweets. Just because I like them on Facebook doesn’t mean I want to be like them.
But, it’s different with following Jesus. He says you can’t just be a follower, you have to follow. And, following requires you to do something–or not do something–depending on how you look at it.
“The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, CEB).
I often take my kids to the skating rink to roller skate. Since they are still learning to skate, I tell them to keep their heads in front of their skates. Then, if they fall, they will fall forward and can catch themselves on their hands and knees and can get back up and continue skating. If they fall backward on their head or back, they risk hurting themselves and not wanting to skate anymore.
I’ve spent much of my career trying to understand how people learn. And one thing I’ve learned about learning is that some of the best learning occurs from failing. For example, it’s easier to learn how to skate when you know how to fall.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me’” (John 6:53-57, CEB).
I’m not so certain that in these verses Jesus is just talking about taking communion. Certainly, communion celebrates the flesh and blood sacrifice of Jesus through the imagery of the bread and the wine. I suppose these verses might even be used to support the notion that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is somehow changed into the body and blood of Christ.
But I don’t think that’s at all what Jesus had in mind here.
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33, NASB).
Sometimes we think that being a member of a local church is the same thing as being a disciple of Jesus. It’s certainly intended to be that way. But there seems to be some variations in the admission requirements between church membership and discipleship.
Now, it’s fairly easy to meet the requirements for church membership. Shake the preacher’s hand and say a little prayer; tell God you’re sorry and promise to believe in Him. And maybe even get baptized! But Jesus had something more comprehensive in mind when he specified the requirements for being His disciple.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven…Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 4, NLT).
When we practice the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting we are cultivating a quality of life that helps us develop an authentic relationship with God.
“Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in August of that year. He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” (Ezra 7:8-10, NLT).
King Cyrus of Persia had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 538 BC. The returning Jews rebuilt the Temple and completed it in 515 BC, approximately 70 years after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (This Second Temple stood for approximately 585 years until the Roman army of Titus destroyed it in 70 AD.)
“But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, HCSB).
There’s a saying we use quite often in religious circles to describe one’s spiritual transformation. We say “I’ve seen the light.”
In this verse the Apostle John clarifies that being a disciple of Jesus is not just a matter of seeing the light but rather walking in the light.