“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34.
You have a friend that you invite to attend one of the Northstar services with you. He has a simple question, “why should I follow Jesus?” You tell him, “Because Jesus said, ‘I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.’” You go on to explain that God will give you peace and your life new purpose and meaning.
He finally agrees to attend. He thinks some of what is going on is weird, but he enjoys the music and the friendliness of the people. When the invitation is given, he hesitates, but then puts his questions and inhibitions aside and prays to accept Jesus as his savior. He is excited and anxious at the same time. He feels new and vibrant. But then life begins again. Soon he is struggling with getting out of bed on Sunday mornings. He is struggling with the concept of tithing. But he joins a small group of 20 somethings and things seem okay again. So far being a Christian isn’t all that bad. It is working for him.
But then there is a bump in the road. A close friend has a million-to-one type of leukemia. He prays and he asks his small group to pray. But the friend doesn’t get better. He watches as his 23 year old old friend painfully sinks lower and lower until he dies. He doesn’t understand why God didn’t answer his prayers. About this time, he runs into an old friend who offers him some marijuana. He is reluctant, but gives in. For the first time since hearing about the cancer, he feels really good. Old friends tell him to go out with them. He does and the alcohol also makes him feel good and helps him forget the pain of his friend’s death. His Christian experience fades into the background as his old lifestyle moves back into the center of his life. When you talk to him about his faith, he says, “I tried Jesus and it helped me for a while. If it works for you, that’s great. But right now, it’s just not for me.”
Why did that young man decide to stop following Jesus? What was behind his spiritual defection? In this hypothetical example, the young man saw his commitment to Jesus Christ as a good thing as long as it is advantageous to him. You can almost hear this young man saying, “I’ll stick with it until something else works better. If I find something that works better for me I will try it.” Basically, the test for spiritual truth is how it makes you feel and whether it provides you with perks.
The other reason for falling away is that personal happiness is the most important thing in life. God exists to make me happy. If Jesus can make me feel good, I’ll give Him a try. If following Jesus doesn’t make me feel good or if it seems too hard, then I’ll try something else. Happiness, not serving the risen Savior is what matters most. Before we judge that young man too harshly, I wonder if we are all honest, if we don’t have a little bit of his attitude in all of us. “I follow Jesus because I am hoping that He can heal my broken marriage, or get me that promotion, or help my kids to respect me, or get me into that school, or a thousand other reasons.” God can and He may do those things. But that is not the reason to follow Him.
So why should I follow Jesus? I get that question quite a bit. To me, the answer is pretty straight forward. We should follow Jesus because He is Lord, not just because of what He can do for us.
The main reason to follow Jesus is because He created you for His purpose. And because God loves you and wants a personal relationship with you. He is the gracious Lord of salvation, who gave His life so that all who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
When the apostle Paul faced hardship and suffering, he wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy. 1:12). Paul’s faith was based on the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want a faith that perseveres in the trials of this life, trust in Jesus because of who He is, not just because of what He can do for you.
- Is following Jesus a one-time decision or a daily decision? Why?
- Do we have the tendency to look at God as some cosmic genie that fulfills our wishes? How can we guard against that?
- What are some things that make it difficult for you to follow Jesus?
- What does the phrase “we must follow Jesus because of who He is, not because of what He can do for us” mean to you?
- What is one thing you can do this week to begin to follow Jesus or to follow him more closely?