I follow Jesus.
I don’t follow Him perfectly, but I follow Him sincerely.
I do not follow Christianity. I do not follow Christians. I follow Christ.
Those are important distinctions.
There are some who assume that believers follow Christianity itself- that is, the systems, structures, beliefs, traditions, and teachings of the church throughout history.
Although we should learn from and appreciate those things, there are recognizable and regretful imperfections and failures within “Christianity” – things that were done in the name of Christ but did/do not accurately reflect His character or His heart toward people. So, while I place value in Christianity, I do not follow a set of systems, traditions, or practices, per se.
Others may mistakenly think that believers simply follow other Christians. This caricaturization often views believers either as peons following pied pipers, who themselves are either deceivers or deceived, or as unenlightened simpletons whose insecurities make them vulnerable to misguided truths propagated by equally blinded leaders.
True believers value leadership and honor people in authority, but not without careful consideration and personal responsibility. So, while I recognize the significance of other Christians in my life, they are not who I ultimately follow.
I do not follow Christianity. I do not follow Christians. I follow Christ.
Christianity is imperfect. Christians are imperfect. But Jesus… just look at the historical evidence of His life and ministry. He loved people, no matter their sin. He healed people. He forgave people. He spoke truth. No imperfection was ever found in Him. He was truly good.
Neither the flaws of Christianity nor the failures of Christians disprove or devalue the reality of Jesus Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, or victorious resurrection. You may have issues with Christianity and with particular Christians, but what issue do you have with Christ Himself?
Why do I follow Jesus?
Of the myriad of reasons I follow Jesus, there is one that stands out today: He is a Good Shepherd. A careful reading of John 10 and Psalm 23 reveals these characteristics of the Shepherd of my soul:
- He knows me.
- He walks with me.
- He gives me rest.
- He restores my soul.
- He leads me.
- He protects me.
- He comforts me.
- He provides for me.
- He anoints me.
- He pursues me.
- He never leaves me.
Perhaps Christianity has disappointed you. Perhaps Christians have failed you. I encourage you to consider Jesus Himself – the Person. Don’t allow the imperfections of Christianity or Christians to cause you to disqualify the Christ.
Look to Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of faith, and He is Someone worth following.
Photo by Timothy O’Toole, Galway, Ireland
For 38 years he was unable to walk. As a last resort, desperate for a miracle, he arranged to be taken to the Pool of Bethesda, where it was believed that angels occasionally stirred the waters, bring healing to the infirmed. But it never happened for him.
Waiting can be wearisome. Our high hopes can be eroded by daily disappointments.
But then the man came face to face with Jesus, who looked at the man with compassion and said, “Get up.” Inherent in the command was the capacity. His miracle had come, and the man got up. With one encounter, waiting turned to walking.
Jesus makes all the difference.
Photo: The partially excavated Pool of Bethesda is located beside the Church of Saint Anne (mother of Mary).
I was a 20-year-old college student playing in a city-league softball tournament. I was having a bad game and was becoming more frustrated with myself as each inning passed. In my final at-bat I got out…again. I was so mad that I threw the bat down and yelled in frustration.
Then I remembered that my friends were there, along with their two young sons. I was very close with this family, and the boys were young and impressionable. They were cheering me on and witnessed every bit of my outburst.
Our words and actions have an impact on other people. Sometimes we are irresponsible, saying or doing things with little to no consideration of how we are leading others. Your testimony matters!
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16 NASB
Salt adds flavor, can be a preservative, and can be a healing agent. Are your words and actions adding to the spiritual health and eternal well-being of those around you?
Light dispels darkness, allows for good visibility, and produces warmth. Are your words and actions dispelling darkness or are you hiding your light, trying to fit in to a dark world? Are your words and actions allowing others to see Jesus more clearly, or are you muddying the waters even more by your compromises? Are your words the kind that warm the soul of a person toward the love of Jesus?
After that softball game I went straight over to little Brandon and Kyle. I bent down, looked both of them in their eyes, and apologized for my attitude and actions on the ballfield. I told them what I did was not right and asked them to forgive me. And they did. I never forgot that lesson.
This past weekend I attended the baseball game of a couple kids in our church. Now I’m the guy on the outside of the fence, watching these young guys play ball. But I am aware that they’re still watching me.
I pray that we will let the light of Jesus shine brightly through us today. People are watching, and our testimony matters.
The tri-unity of God is a fundamental truth of Christianity. There is one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Unity amid diversity in the community of the Trinity.
Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
“For God is one, and there is one Mediator between God and the sons of men—the true man, Jesus, the Anointed One.”
1 Timothy 2:5 TPT
It is a mind-boggling concept – one that defies the limited logic of our human understanding.
We shouldn’t be surprised that there are things about God that are beyond us. In fact, that’s what makes God God.
If we think humans are capable of comprehending every characteristic and action of God, we end up dumbing down His divinity to mere humanity. In so doing, we elevate ourselves to being divine. (Not only is that idolatry, it is the very core of sinful humanity to “be like God, defining good and evil for ourselves” (Gen. 3:5).
Let’s cut to the chase. The rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity stems directly from the desire to strip Jesus of His divinity. If Jesus was merely human – albeit a good person, a prophet, even a healer – then He falls short of being any sort of Savior of humanity.
But Jesus is in fact God. He claimed it in His own words, and proved it with His resurrection.
And if Jesus is God, then what He said is true – that humans are sinful and in need of a Savior.
One problem of ours is that we immediately equate the word “sin” with wrong actions. While I don’t want to take anything away from the reality that wrong actions are “sins,” I believe Scripture teaches us more.
The Bible uses two words which help us to gain a better perspective of this concept of sin.
- Transgression can be defined as the outward act(s) of sin. When we transgress we cross over into wrongdoing, we step over the boundary. This is also where the word “trespass” comes into play, because we are crossing over into territory we ought not to be in.
- Iniquity, however, is a word used to describe our motivation to sin. Jesus illuminated this distinction between action and motivation when he said things like, “You say people shouldn’t commit adultery, but I say that lustful thoughts make you just as guilty.”
We often grade ourselves according to our actions, while giving ourselves a pass on our motivations. We declare ourselves as “good” because we didn’t lie, cheat, cuss, or steal; but the fact that we were even tempted to do those things tells us that sin is in us.
The gospel of Jesus is NOT that Jesus helps you transgress less. The gospel of Jesus is that He forgives your iniquity.
The greatest expression of iniquity is refusing to acknowledge your iniquity.
We debate matters and degrees of transgression while avoiding the root issue of iniquity.
Iniquity is ugly and gruesome. It’s awful and terrible. It’s the reality that we don’t want to face, but it is, in fact, reality.
The gospel is first a mirror revealing the reality of your sin. Then, once you face your iniquity, acknowledge your iniquity, and repent of your iniquity, the mirror becomes a window of hope, revealing what your life can become through Jesus.
The gospel brings conviction before it brings redemption. You will only view your salvation as beautiful as you viewed your sin horrible.
God the Father loves you, despite your iniquity.
Jesus died for you, to forgive your iniquity.
The Holy Spirit convicts (convinces) you of your iniquity, so that you will see your need for Jesus.
Through Jesus, then, you have a renewed relationship with the Father.
Isaiah’s prophecy takes on such deep meaning when we look at his choice of words. Let me add in some commentary to highlight what Isaiah said, which was fulfilled by Jesus:
“But He was wounded [wounds are “outward bleeding”] for our transgressions [our outward acts of sin], He was bruised [bruises are “inward bleeding” under the skin] for our iniquities [our hidden, inward motivation to sin]; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5 NKJV
Jesus not only suffered and died to forgive you of your transgressions, He gave His life to deliver and transform you from the bondage of your iniquity.
Stop justifying it and defending it.
Stop ignoring it or redefining it.
Acknowledge it. Repent of it. And be forgiven and set free from it.
That’s the gospel. Jesus came to set the sinner free.
When that is our starting point, the gospel of Jesus can manifest itself in innumerable ways to practically demonstrate the love of God to a lost and hurting world.
Persecution has always been the reality for the people of God. The early church faced intense persecution,
including the death of James the brother of John.
It was in this context that Peter was also arrested and awaited his own death sentence. But the people of God we’re praying and interceding!
“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”
Acts 12:1-5 NASB
There is power in prayer! Circumstances change, miracles occur, and God’s deliverance is experienced through prayer. Prayer is a light that pierces the darkness.
Believers are not exempt from pain or persecution. In fact, believers who passionately follow Jesus and declare His gospel are often specifically targeted by the enemy and face intense persecution. But prayer is a weapon of warfare that brings victory to the believer in spite of the circumstances he or she faces!
One writer said it this way:
Have you trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
The trail you are facing may be the backdrop for the miracle God is bringing! Stay in faith, and keep praying!