Sunday, September 10, 2006

What it means to follow Jesus Part 1

In this post, we’re going to discuss a topic that I know will be controversial in today’s world. We’re going to discuss what Jesus taught us about following Him. Since Jesus is the only way we have access to God the Father and heaven, we will also discuss how we attain salvation. Most Christian churches today teach that simply ‘believing’ in Jesus or ‘accepting’ Him into your heart is enough to attain salvation. They teach that you are saved at the very moment you ‘believe’ or ‘accept’. Essentially, they are saying that Jesus can be your Savior without being Lord of your life. You will hear this often in most Christian churches today. What you don’t hear often is what Jesus actually told us is required to follow Him. Did Jesus tell us that He can be your Savior without being Lord over your life? Can you continue living the same way after being ‘saved’? Can you accept a Holy God into a sinful heart? Did Jesus tell us that a simple ‘belief’ in Him is all that is required? Is anything else required of us? Are we ignoring much of what Jesus taught us? As always, we’re going to get right to the point in this post. If you would like to read an in-depth study on what Jesus taught us about following Him in addition to reading the Bible, I suggest you read ‘The Gospel According to Jesus’ and ‘Hard to Believe’ by John MacArthur.

The belief that you are saved once you ‘accept’ Jesus, regardless of your spiritual commitment to Him, is very popular in today’s churches. This alone should give us pause. Why? If Jesus tells us that ‘few’ find the narrow path that leads to life, then it stands to reason that ‘few’ actually do find it. Does just saying you believe sound like a narrow path that few find? You might say that this ‘few’ is referring to the ‘few’ millions of people in the Christian church today. The question we must ask ourselves is this – are all of the people in Christian churches today true born again Christians? If you ask any Pastor, they will tell you the answer is no. I firmly believe that there are millions of people today in Christian churches throughout the world who really believe they will go to heaven, when in fact, they are on the broad road that will lead to their eternal destruction. Why? Because they and the leaders of their churches are ignoring what Jesus actually taught us about what it takes to truly follow Him and attain salvation. This is why Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment there will be many who will be shocked to learn that they will not enter His kingdom.

Let’s start with one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible that is used to support this belief – John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) (NIV)

If you read many different Bible translations, they all use some form of ‘belief’ in their translation of this verse. Since so many use this verse to say that you only need to believe in Jesus for salvation, let’s look at a literal translation from the original Greek:

“For in this way God loved the world: that He gave the unique son, so that all the ones trusting in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.”

So, when we’re told in John 3:16 about believing in Jesus Christ, the Lord is telling us that faith and trust is required. The Lord is telling us that true faith in His plan of salvation is required. A faith that is strengthened by Him so that you will trust Him with everything in your life. This is certainly the first step. The problem in many churches today is that this is the only step. Once you proclaim your belief, you’re saved – end of story. The problem with this theology is that Jesus went much further. He did not stop here. He never said that you can proclaim your belief and then lead a worldly life – quite the opposite.

What else are we told about true believers? They overcome the world.

“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5)

Don’t miss this very important message – everyone born of God overcomes the world. Notice that those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God are the only ones who overcome the world. What does it mean to ‘overcome’ the world? Those that see past this world. Those that are focused on God and His plan, not their life in this world. These are the children that do whatever the Lord asks them to do regardless of the cost, because they know that their life and this world are only temporary. They do not fear this world or its ruler because the world cannot touch their souls. If the Lord asks them to give all of their wealth, it is given, if the Lord asks them to endure hardship, it is endured – their focus is not the world, but God. They have followed the Lord and allowed Him to transform them. These are spiritually mature Christians who follow Jesus wherever He leads.

This is something that should cause all of us to do some soul-searching – is my focus on the world or God? Be honest and think about how you’re living your life. Is your pursuit of money, your career, your love of material things, etc. taking the place of following God?

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” (1 John 4:4-5)

Who is ‘them’ mentioned in verse 4 above? Those of the spirit of antichrist. Where is their focus? The world. Everything about them is worldly. They speak from the viewpoint of the world. They do not speak from God’s viewpoint, because they don’t know God. All they know is the world – its power, its pleasures. We hear many political and religious leaders in the U.S. and the world today speaking from the world’s viewpoint. How many times have you heard a leader quote Scripture in response to a question about how to act or what to do? It’s very rare. Verse 5 also gives us a very clear picture of how worldly people respond to these worldly viewpoints – ‘the world listens to them’. The world goes right along with these unbiblical, worldly people and their unbiblical ways. We see and hear it every day on the news.

Does the Bible tell us that you can do whatever you want in this world if you only believe? Absolutely not.

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (2 Peter 19:20)

So, the Bible is clear – a true believer must have faith in Jesus, trust Jesus and overcome the world until the end of their life.

What else does Jesus tell us about those that will enter the kingdom of heaven?

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
"How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.
"You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15)

Jesus tells us that we must be born again of water and the Spirit. Jesus is speaking of spiritual purification and regeneration. We hear a lot today about being born again. We hear many people who say they’ve ‘found Jesus’ and are ‘born again’. Can we simply say we’re born again? Does this make us born again? Is this what Jesus was talking about? No. Many in the world today associate ‘accepting’ Jesus as being born again. This is not what Jesus tells us in the verses above. Notice carefully – ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’. God’s Holy Spirit gives us a new birth. The truth of these words is this – you don’t ‘accept’ God, God chooses you. If you believe with all of your heart that Jesus died for you, you truly see that the world offers you nothing and you seek God and His will for you with everything that you are – then He will give you a new spiritual birth – He will regenerate you spiritually. This birth gives you the ability to hear and see Him and follow Him wherever He leads. All spiritually mature Christians are born again. They are able to discern what the Lord asks them to do – and they do what is asked. True faith is obedient to God.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16)

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14)

When He gives you a new birth, this is what would be considered a supernatural event – an encounter with the Holy Spirit. This is not simply someone saying they are born again. This is a spiritually powerful event that will change your life forever. Also note Jesus’ words – ‘You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going’. Those who are not born again cannot understand who is guiding those who are. The things of God are foolishness to the worldly person.

In the summer of 2005, I didn’t know any of this because I had not read much of the Bible. As I researched 9/11 and other events taking place in the world, all I knew was that the level of deception in the world was much greater than I had realized. I also took a hard look at my life and realized that I was not following God. I was a worldly person focused on worldly things. I listened to other worldly people instead of God for instruction and guidance. I looked at the world from the world’s viewpoint. As a result, the world didn’t really seem all that bad. I never experienced spiritual warfare because I was not listening to God, but the world. It also seemed like I was just like everyone else – spend a little time in church and focus on my career. Was I really on a narrow path? I read Mathew 7:23 where Jesus tells those on the Day of Judgment, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” and I thought about my role in allowing pornography to spread. I looked back on my life and could see exactly where I was focused – myself and the world. All at once, it became clear to me what I had to do if I wanted to inherit eternal life. I had to ask for forgiveness, give up the world and my pursuit of the things in it and follow God’s plan for me. I had always believed Jesus died for me, but the missing piece in my spiritual life was that He was not Lord of my life.

I could see just a faint glimpse of where we were headed, and suddenly the world was no longer important. I could see how our enemy had blinded me and turned my attention to the world. It was a very sobering moment in my life. So, I had a choice to make. Stay on my current path or make a serious change. I decided to take what little faith I had (a mustard seed) and I asked God to change me.

So, one weekend morning I took a walk near my home on a deserted street where a new subdivision was being built. It was located on a hill overlooking a farm and large pasture – a beautiful scene. I got on my knees and asked God to forgive me for going my own way all of these years. I told Him that I believed in His plan of salvation, that I believed He sent His son to die for me. I told Him I didn’t want the things in this world any longer – I wanted to know Him. I told Him that I would follow Him wherever He led me – and I truly meant it. I told Him that I wanted heavenly knowledge and wisdom – and I no longer wanted the world’s wisdom. Did the clouds part? Did the earth shake? No. One thing I know happened – angels rejoiced. Why? Because another lost child of God returned home. There were no religious rituals performed here. Just an ordinary man on a secluded hill in Knoxville, TN asking for forgiveness and willing to give up the world to follow His Creator. Was God there with me on that hill? Absolutely. He searched my heart, and seeing true repentance, chose me to enter the body of Christ.

“for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)

A few days later I had a dream. I dreamt I was praying on the floor of my parent’s house. After a few minutes, something very powerful entered the room where I was praying – it was so powerful that I had to lay completely prostrate on the floor. I couldn’t move. Then it felt as if God touched me and a very powerful feeling radiated within me from the inside out. A warm feeling of love, joy and peace overwhelmed me. It was as if God showed me what heaven will be like. No evil thoughts, no evil could touch me. This experience was so powerful that it woke me up and I sat straight up in bed. The feeling remained with me. I can remember my first thoughts as the feeling faded over the next couple of minutes – I want to go back. Does every born again Christian have a similar experience when they are baptized by the Holy Spirit? I don’t know the answer. I’m sure that some can remember the exact moment, while others may not.

After this event, everything changed. My view of the world and God changed. Everything in my life changed from a world view to a heavenly view. I had a boldness to do what I needed to do that did not exist before. I began to ‘see’ the world as the Lord sees it – sin overtaking the world. I looked at the world and knew that we were nearing the end of this age. Over time, I began to see that the popular Christian views of how end time events would play out were not at all correct. I continued to ask for God’s will for me and for His wisdom. As we discussed in the previous post, only those that do the will of God will enter heaven. To a born again Christian, this is no mystery. Who wouldn’t do what God asked them to do? Who wouldn’t want to fight against the devil by doing what the Lord asks us to do? Who wouldn’t want to destroy the devil’s works and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? Who wouldn’t want to serve the Lord of Lords and King of Kings? It is crystal clear to me now. The only way to overcome the world and sin is to make Jesus Lord over your life and be regenerated by God. It’s not enough to just say you believe, because this only relies on your own power to withstand the world and the devil. You must be willing to give your life entirely to God. God’s power saves and it protects you from Satan’s schemes.

I began to consistently read the Bible and put the Lord’s Word into practice. I began to discern what the Lord asked me to do. It was amazing to me that everything in the Bible came alive in my life. It became clear that the Lord’s promises in His Word are for everyone who repents and seeks Him. Faith and courage slowly replaced all of my fear. The most difficult thing for me was how everyone looked at me so strangely. Are you sure this is God? Are you sure this is what he wants you to do? I had a friend leave me an obscenity laced voicemail message after reading my letters. I remember thinking – why such animosity? I know the truth – why doesn’t everyone else see it? Of course I know now. Jesus gives us many warnings about following Him because most of the world has rejected and will continue to reject His ways. Many more are like the wealthy man who asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. He kept all of the laws since he was a child, what else is required? Jesus saw His heart and asked him to give up his wealth – that which he loved about the world. The man couldn’t do it and walked away. It is hard to give up the world – which is why so few walk through the narrow gate that leads to life. Few overcome the world to see and believe the truth. We’ll continue in the next post with additional warnings Jesus gives to us concerning what it will cost to follow Him.

We consistently hear how high profile people have been born again. Their actions and the fruit of their lives will certainly tell us if they are truly Christians, but there is one clear way to tell if someone has really been born again by God. They want nothing from the world and will accept no praise or glory for themselves. We deserve nothing in this world and we know that the world can’t offer us anything of value. What is the only thing of real value? Inheriting eternal life and spending eternity with God. All children of God will point you to the One who reigns in heaven over all creation. Only He is worthy of our praise and glory.

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