A large gathering of people came to hear a speech. Among the audience were nominal Christians, committed Christians, Sufi-Muslims, and a few others. The main speaker was from a “Christian” denomination known for its ‘God of many understandings.’ Near to the beginning of his talk, Dr. Grinwonder, a local scholar and writer, asked that all ‘followers of Jesus’ would stand up. Everyone in the room rose.
The scenario above, constructed from elements of real life, illustrates that in the present day thinking one can construct their own God from their ‘many understandings’ and do the same with regards to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We will look at four possible types of followers of Jesus in this blog piece.
Four kinds of followers of Jesus:
In considering these four types, we might want to first ask what is a follower, and which Jesus are they following. Suffice it to say, a follower is someone who walks in the footsteps of someone who is leading. Just how close and how carefully they are following is another question. Just how they perceive the nature and character of the person they are following is another question. Conceivably one could be following a Jesus who is a figment of their own imagination and anything but the Biblical Jesus and do so at a distance, and another who is a committed disciple of the Biblical Master obeys both the letter and spirit of the words of Him who is definitely in the lead.
- Followers of the good example: Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi thought that Jesus was a great example of moral uprightness, humility and good character. In 1941 he that Jesus was the “highest example of one who wished to give everything.” The Sufi-Muslim sees his Jesus as a model of poverty and wandering about and who has a bigger than average allotment of the divine mystical breath, making him an ultimate holy man. Dr. Grinwonder sees Jesus as the example of someone with wide-open arms embracing all people regardless of any condition. The denomination of the God of many understandings sees Jesus as humble, kind, gentle and affirming. All of His words are soothing to His followers in this denomination.
- Followers at a distance: When a man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you will go” he replied ‘foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests’ but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Matthew 8:19-20 c.f. Luke 9:57-58). The Son of Man, who has all power and authority according to the picture of Daniel 7, has endured such humiliation as to have his status dropped from master of the universe to someone who does not have his own bed. Little wonder then that many of the wannabee followers distanced themselves when they saw the cost of discipleship. They preferred to be associated with his name—maybe not unlike a nominal Christian—than to have to be close to the man of sorrows. In the Gospel of John these people are referred to as “the crowds” and are often characterized by an unwillingness to put their full trust in Jesus.
- Followers whose Jesus follows them: Among Dr. Grinwonder’s audience were representatives of the local Orillizlamapur chapter of ‘Jesus followers.’ They too stood up when asked if they were ‘followers of Jesus’ but there was a slight wrinkle. They turned the tables ever so carefully and now Jesus was the one who was following them. It went like this: “Jesus we want you to give your approval to something that we think is good. You will bless it won’t you?” “Of course,” Jesus said. “If it makes you feel good then it is great.” They continued, “Jesus, can you tell those mean people out there who don’t like us that you are very happy with us?” “Of course,” Jesus said. “Since they don’t make you feel good then they are not good people.” They continued...”Jesus…”. “Of course, Jesus said….”
- True followers of Jesus: In the book of Revelation we read that the overcomers—that is of the temptations to shrink back in fear and to compromise their faith—were described as those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:4) or “these were followers of the Lamb in all of his ways.” John describes them as virginally pure due to the righteousness of Jesus, as owned by him as his ‘firstfruits’ or devoted servants and “in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (v.5). They, like their Leader the Lamb, are willing to suffer humiliations because they stand for righteousness; they embrace the cross and the death to the old nature; they refuse to tolerate the seductive compromise of the surrounding culture of Rome and they have made themselves pure by His blood-washing. The Jesus of the Book of Revelation is the suffering Lamb who laid down his life for His Church, and at the same time, as its Lord and Master can warn, cajole and rebuke it. He is the one worthy to open the scroll and receive all the praises of heaven, and is known as the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. He is the one who inspires such fear due to his wrath that people would rather be buried alive than to encounter it. He is the one who determines who is and who is not in the New Jerusalem and his criterion are clear, non-negotiable, and have eternal consequences.
Summary: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)
Four groups all stand up and declare that they are ‘followers of Jesus.” In the final analysis, if Jesus turns and says to any one group, “I never knew you” the words will echo for all of eternity in those ears, regardless if they have declared loudly and longly that they were his followers. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31), and the true followers of Jesus have no fear, as they are already in the hands of the living God.
The stakes are high. Definitions matter.
- If it is the Biblical Jesus who determines just who or what are His followers, how is it possible for humans to apply this label as they see fit?
- Is it possible by definition to be a _____________follower of Jesus, when their actions allow them to do what He expressly forbids, both in word and in spirit? For instance, could someone be “an adulterous follower of Jesus?” That is to say they live in a persistent, self-justified, and unrepentant state of committing adultery. Is it even OK to ask the question? What do you think? What does the Bible say?
- How can the church do a better job at “making disciples” who are true followers of the true Jesus?