The Reality of Following Jesus: Introduction

following-jesus_t_nvHe was young, optimistic, and highly ambitious when I met him. His newfound faith was exciting and dramatic, and he seemed to be as exciting about Jesus as he once was about meth. His passion for Christ burned hot, but it burned fast. Eventually the heaviness of life caught up with him. Eventually the Jesus-high wore off. Eventually he found himself disappointed with Christianity. Eventually he found himself bitter and distant. There were many issues surrounding this young man’s departure from the faith, but not least among them was an unrealistic expectation about what it meant to follow Christ. It is important that the church regularly teach on the reality of following Jesus.

There are a lot of people like this young man. Those who are not prepared for the reality of following Jesus, and the church does a great disservice to them by not being frank and upfront about it. Following Christ is hard. It’s hard for several reasons that I am going to unpack in the coming weeks. It’s hard because there is a great cost to following Christ. It’s hard because it can often be mundane. It’s hard because it is accompanied by a great deal of tension in the Christian life. Each of these three points will be stressed in individual posts in the coming weeks. Each needs to be fleshed out and carefully considered and communicated, and not just for the new or potential believer. All Christians, no matter the length of their faith, can succumb to reductionist ideas of Christianity.

The baptism of cultural beliefs can happen so subtly that without even knowing it many of us have adopted a more syncretistic approach to faith. We have taken Jesus, but we have also recast him in the light of the modern American man. We believe the value of obedience to God but we have viewed it through the lens of the American Dream. We are sincere about following Christ, but we domesticate the gospel call such that it feels more comfortable and palatable. All Christians are prone to do this, prone to love a plastic, bobble-head Jesus instead of the real thing. A Jesus who, if you touch his head ever so slightly, will nod in approval at whatever you are doing. We need to regularly revisit the truths of Scripture and remind ourselves of the reality of following Jesus.

By not reflecting on and remind ourselves of the reality of following Jesus we set ourselves up for sever possible disasters:

1. Spiritual Disappointment – Like that young man, if we are not careful we can put unrealistic expectations upon the Christian life. Jesus talks frankly about this in his parable of the seeds (Matt. 13:1-9). He tells of a sower who went out to plant seed in the field and he scattered some of the seed and it fell on shallow soil. Jesus says of this seed:

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. (v. 5-6)

If we are not honest about the hardships of following Christ we will set people up for disappointment. Following Jesus is not always easy, not always fun, not always dramatic. If we don’t remind ourselves we might set us up for our own spiritual disappointment, and spiritual disappointment will always lead either to full-scale abandonment of the faith or a weak response to the reality of being a Christian in the real world.

2. Spiritual Distortion – A lack of honesty about the call to follow Christ will leave us with a false faith. God’s Word describes what the Christian life really looks like, anything short of this is a distortion or even perversion of the faith. Domesticated Christianity, romanticized Christianity, glamorized Christianity may not match up to the real picture of Christianity. When it doesn’t we know that we are not truly following Christ but instead a faith of our own making. As such, this faith will not save us, will not inspire us, will not encourage us, and will not keep us. A distorted faith is not the truth faith Christ calls us to. We need to remind ourselves of the reality of following Jesus that we might prepare ourselves to actually do just that: follow Christ.

With these truths in mind we will enter, over the next few weeks, into the study of the reality of following Christ. We will consider the cost of following Jesus, the mundane routines of following Christ, and the tension involved in following Christ. In each case we will find ourselves challenged, but also better equipped to serve the Lord of the Cross who calls us to follow Him.

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