To My Christian Friends, Do You Really Want To Follow Jesus?

Do you really want to follow Jesus?

The American church has made it too easy for too long to pretend that we're follow Jesus. We have turned following Jesus into something similar to choosing your favorite sports team or television show. It's something you can decide to do and then put into one small compartment of your life. Even in doing that we've got it all wrong because, unfortunately, most sports fans and fans of specific shows are more passionate about their team or their show than they are about following Jesus.

Because of this, we have the church in America (and in a way our local church) in the state that it is in.

Which is a state much different than the state of the early church. When I read about the early church, I can't help but ask, "Why don't we have this?"

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV).

This is what I want to experience. This is the church I want to be part of. This is why I went to college and trained to be a minister. This is why I come here week in and week out, trying to convince you all of the things I preach up and try to motivate you to live them out. This is why I serve. Maybe it's the reason you are part of a church. But why don't we have this?

People coming to the Lord. People sacrificing to meet each other's needs. People passionately studying and praying together. People having real community. This is the type of church that God blessed.

But somewhere along the way, the church has lost this. So I ask again, "Why don't we have this?"

I'm pretty sure that God wants it. He's not the weak link. He's done what is needed to make this happen. He died on the cross, rose again, came as the Holy Spirit, established the Church, gave us the written word, and dwells within us. He is doing what He should be doing. He doesn't need me to encourage Him to do what He should be doing. We are the weak link. And this article, I don't need to convince God to do His part. He's done that. I need to convince us to be determined to pursue the life God is calling us to no matter what the obstacles. We must to be determined and willing to seek and do God's will.

Do you really want to follow Jesus?

Right before the church boomed and arrived as we just read, we see the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And we hear Peter's message to the people of that time. He tries to convince them to believe in Jesus.

At the end of His message, he states:
"Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36 ESV).

The answer to why we don't have the early church that we read about earlier - something that should come about naturally when a group of people are in tune with God - is because we don't really believe that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.

We're quick to accept that He is "Christ." That word can also be translated "The anointed One", or "Messiah." This is the fun word. In using this word, we recognize that Jesus was the king who the Jews of the Old Testament times were waiting for. It's easy to accept and believe that Jesus is the Christ because it really makes no demands on our life. It's the good part. He's bringing about God's will. He took away our sin. He was the long-awaited savior of the world. Good. Good. Easy.

But we're not so quick to accept that He is Lord. Oh, we may state it, but we struggle to live it. The word translated "Lord" here literally means being the owner of something. When we call Jesus "Lord", we are renouncing our freedom and claiming to live for Him. We are giving up our will and desires and saying that we want to have the will and desire of Jesus. Do we really want to surrender our goals and desires and live for His goals and desires? Is Jesus really our Lord? Do you really want to follow Jesus?

Francis Chan wrote,
"Most of us use 'I'm waiting for God to reveal His calling on my life' as a means of avoiding action. Did you hear God calling you to sit in front of the television yesterday? Or to go on your last vacation? Or exercise this morning? Probably not, but you still did it. The point isn't that vacations or exercise are wrong, but that we are quick to rationalize our entertainment and priorities yet are slow to commit to serving God." (169 in Crazy Love)

A while back, we did the First Fruits challenge and focused on giving God our first fruits for two weeks. If that was the first time that you did them, I hope that you have continued. I can tell you that these are things that God wants from your life. Prayer in the morning, giving your day to him, giving him the first of your earnings, encouraging others, and sacrifice your own desires to do His will. If you aren't even able to do these types of things, then you really need to ask yourself, "Am I really following Jesus?"

We like to skip ahead and not even do these minimal things yet expect God to guide us in less clear things, which He will, and give us eternal life. But here's the secret. He will do those things after you have given Him your life and made Him both Lord and Messiah of your life. We must remember that guidance, blessings, and eternal life aren't the goal; they're side effects of the life committed to Jesus as Lord and Messiah.

We turn making Jesus Lord and Messiah into something like agreeing to terms of service before installing some software we want to use. Of course we agree to the terms of service because we want to use the software. And of course we agree to Jesus being Messiah and Lord because we want the blessings of being His followers. We want guidance, protection, and eternal life. Yet we want the blessings of being His follower without actually being His follower.

Jesus shared a parable,

 What do you think? A man had two sons.

And he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." 

And he answered, ‘"I will not," but afterward he changed his mind and went. 

And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, "I go, sir," but did not go. 

Which of the two did the will of his father?

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32 ESV).

Even after they saw it, they didn't change their minds and believe.

Think of it like my kids cleaning their room. Imagine, for some reason, my wife and I were  going to leave the house for two hours and rounded up our children and told them to clean their rooms. A few of the children said they would. The others said they wouldn't. Not that our kids would be allowed to say they wouldn't, but imagine we allowed them this time. - Now you may be thinking, "You let your kids say 'no' to you?" I don't. They know better than that. But the strange thing is that we turn around and say no to God all the time. - Anyway, we leave the house after giving our kids an assignment to clean, go do what we had to do, and come back.

To our surprise the kids that said "no, we're not cleaning our rooms" were in their rooms finishing up cleaning, while the kids that said "yes, we will gladly clean" never picked up a thing and played video games and watched the television the whole time.

Who were the kids that did what I wanted them to do? The ones who told me what I wanted to hear? Or the ones who actually did what I wanted done?

Too often, we're like the disobedient kids who say "yes" but then turn around and just entertain ourselves instead of following God. God doesn't want lip service. He wants changed lives and action. And changed lives are the naturally occurring results of really believing that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Do you really want to follow Jesus?

Let's zoom back to the beginning of the early church again. We left off with seeing the end result. An incredible church where people gathered together to pray, shared what they had in common, had true friendships in the Lord, spent studying the word together, and saw greats signs and miracles. We saw this occurred after Peter taught them that Jesus was both Lord and Christ.

So how did they respond to that teaching. The story continues:
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37 ESV).

Jesus is both Lord and Christ, and we should have the same question. What do we do? Notice "do". "Doing" naturally follows believing.

I want to read Peter's reply to the "What shall we do" question.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”  So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41 ESV).

Repent and be baptized. This promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit was a promise to the and fro all those who are far off. It's a promise for us nearly two thousand years later. What should you do once you believe that Jesus is the Lord and Messiah? Just repent and be baptized.

Baptism is relatively easy. It's kind of like the "Lord and Christ" scenario mentioned earlier. You can choose today to be baptized and it will be done. It's similar to stating Jesus is Christ. It's the fun part. People celebrate it and throw parties. It's a big step, but an easy action. One time and it's done. So if baptism is an action you need to do, find a church to help you take that step.

Repentance, at least living a life of continual repentance, is much more difficult. Repentance means change. It means turning and heading toward God. It really implies, in the context of this passage, to stop making anything other than Jesus the Lord of your life.

Are you repenting? Have you been baptized?

Do you really want to follow Jesus?

Repenting is big. Unlike baptism being a one-time event, repenting has to be something we do for a lifetime. I would much rather have a church full of people who have repented and trying to live a repented life than a church filled with the baptized yet not repented. The first can be worked with. They're willing to grow. They latter are dead and they don't even know it. It's like they died in the waters of baptism and didn't rise to live in a new life.

Repenting means turning away from all the things our culture mistakenly thinks is valuable and turning toward God. Repent and head toward God. Oh, there may still be room for sports and entertainment in your life after becoming a follower of Jesus, but they will take a new place in your priorities. They will no longer be the goal. They will no longer be what we think can bring us happiness. Instead, they will be used toward reaching the real goal of glorifying God.

Francis Chan wrote,
"There is another path, an alternative to the individualism, selfishness, and materialism of the American Dream (even the so-called Christian version)."

Are we living that life? Or have we bought into the individualism, selfishness, and materialism of the culture around us?

The harsh reality is that we don't want to be found straying when Jesus returns. We don't want to be found lost when our time comes. Our lives are fragile. The longer I live the more tragedies that I see where people are unexpectedly gone in the blinking of an eye. Not all of us will die of cancer and have time to put our relationships, emotional state, and spiritual beliefs in order. Paul wrote in Romans, "Each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12 ESV).

What do I want to be doing when Christ comes back or my time here on this earth is over? Am I living that life now? Am I living the life that Jesus wants me to live? Do I really want to follow Jesus?

I worship a Savior who was beaten up and killed for me. He didn't come riding on a horse, a tactical missile, or a drone and take over the world. He came in love, eventually bearing a cross that He was nailed to. If you are willing to surrender yourself to Him and His mission to love others...If you want to be part of a group of people doing the same, then following Jesus and getting involved in a church should be just the thing for you.

In the New Testament we are never called to mimic God's justice; we're called to mimic His love. He reminds us that vengeance is His, not ours. We're called to love our neighbor, enemy, and everyone else. Even when it is not convenient, cultural, or safe.

We, the church - you and me - people in relationship with Jesus and each other - not a building - we, the church are striving to be the people God wants us to be, loving the world the way God wants us to love it.

Are we really doing that? Or do we just say it? Are we striving to be the people God wants us to be, or do we just want to do enough to "get saved?" Are we loving the world the way God wants us to love it, or are we just loving it when it is convenient to us, fits nicely into our schedule, and doesn't really cost us anything?

Last week, I was blessed with the opportunity to be the middleman in delivering a $1000 anonymous gift. God had laid it on another person's heart to give a certain family that money. They were faithful and did it. So I was able to deliver a great gift, a tremendous blessing, at really no cost to myself.

And I enjoyed being used to do that.

Then it struck me. Everything I do is like that. God has given me everything; it's all a blessing from Him. One of the greatest lies that we buy into as Americans is that we actually deserve this. We deserve to wake up every morning and have food available unlike others around the world. We deserve to be in a loving family unlike others around us. We deserve to have all the excess entertainment options we enjoy unlike those less fortunate. We deserve to have a safe home. We deserve this and we deserve that. Because we work hard. Because we're smart. Because of this or that.

But it's all a lie. We don't deserve it.

It's by God's grace. Don't get me wrong. I think we can create fair and just systems that help accommodate His blessing. We can live lives that God's grace can more easily flow into. But we have become prideful. We think we deserve God's blessings because of how great we are. And we don't.

That's the nature grace. It isn't something deserved. All our blessings, We don't deserve them. When we think we are deserving, then we fail to see all the love being poured into us.

We're coasting on the fumes of the faithful who have come before us. If we don't turn back to God soon, those fumes will run out. We'll sputter to a stop and find ourselves left on the side of the road of life - hungry, weak, without a family, without all the entertainment. All the blessings that our prideful selves have taken for granted will be taken from us. But the good truth is that you don't need to hit rock bottom to turn and respond to God's grace.

Instead of building up pride, God's grace should inspire selflessness, service, faithfulness. His grace should inspire in us a desire to draw as close to Him as we possibly can. It should inspire us to work toward His vision of living that we each have been called to. We should start (or continue if you are already) feeding the hungry, loving those who can't give back, helping the poorest of the world, giving unconditionally - repenting from the priorities of this world and turning to God.

We truly love God and live for Him when we love others. Love, in this case, isn't some emotional, fuzzy sort of thing. You can tell a needy person that you love Him and not help Him, but you can't trick God that way. He knows your heart, and He knows your actions. He says that if you love the needy person, then you should help her. If you care for the hungry, then feed him. If you love the homeless, then house them. He says that in doing those things, you are loving Him.

It doesn't matter how emotional you get when you worship God, whether you're spinning around in a wheat field with your arms raised, raising your hands in worship, or you imagine Him wrapping His arms around you in your quiet time. What matters is how you treat the least of these. Strangers. The hurt. The hopeless. That shows whether you truly love God and have made Jesus the Lord of your life.

Because all that we do to love others is like that opportunity I was given this week to be the middleman in giving an anonymous $1000. We don't earn what we are able to bless others with. It was given to us by God. It actually still is God's possession. And we must learn, if we claim to follow Jesus, to use the things that are His in a way that will bring Him glory.

Do you really want to follow Jesus?

God doesn't care about a commitment that you make here today; he cares about you going out and living it. But if there is a decision that you need to make today, now is the time. Every commitment must have a beginning. If you have something you feel you need to publicly confess, now is the time. If you want to take the step of baptism, now is the time. Did you once claim that Jesus was Lord but strayed and want to recommit, now is the time? If you feel led, please do not resist. Do it. We will all be blessed from it.

Do you really want to follow Jesus?