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Following Jesus

This weekPastor John hands over the TAGD keyboard to Pastor Brent Whitefield, Northpoint’s Pastor of Missions and Outreach.

Following Jesus

Does the worship of God in our generation ever strike you as tame and predictable? Has it ever occurred to you to wonder whether this is what Jesus had in mind when He preached the gospel to His followers? How deeply have the teachings of Jesus sunk into our consciences and changed our lives? If we take a candid look around our community and even our own lives, do we see people who have been deeply influenced and genuinely transformed by the words and example of Christ? If we are honest with ourselves, there are many reasons to be discouraged: Christ offered that radical message that we can be saved through His atoning death and sacrifice alone, and yet many, like the Pharisees, rest in their performance of religious duties and superficial following of the law for their salvation. Jesus had nothing but warnings about the accumulation of wealth, but we have added the pursuit of the American dream of material comfort to the list of Christian virtues. Christ radically redefined the family as the body of Christ, but many Christians believe that the essence of Christian piety is to provide generously for their biological families. Though our Lord taught us to seek first the Kingdom, we raise our children by caring first for their academic or athletic achievement, squeezing in spiritual development where it does not conflict with these higher priorities. Christian discipleship for many is indistinguishable from good citizenship.

If we hold up the mirror of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings to our Christian community, we cannot be flattered by the comparison. It is hard to imagine the Jesus of Scripture coming to earth and traveling from church to church in our land, sitting in the back pew, feet outstretched in front of Him, hands behind His head, whispering to Himself, “This is just what I had in mind.” Rather, I am in reluctant agreement with the words of 20th century theologian Jacques Ellul, who asked in his masterpiece The Subversion of Christianity: “How has it come about that the development of Christianity and the church has given birth to a society, a civilization, a culture that are completely opposite to what we read in the Bible?”

We call ourselves followers of Jesus, but to what extent do we really follow Him? We have institutionalized the “following” of Jesus into an organized religion, stripped of most of the risks or dangers. Even Jesus own disciples hit the road when the going got tough, but we continue to gather at church even though we haven’t followed Christ all the way to Golgotha, there to be crucified with Him so that it is no longer we who live but Christ in us. Having left Jesus behind, our worship of Him is less inspiring, our love of the brethren less authentic, and our obedience to the Great Commission less enthusiastic or successful.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, in their provocative book, Re-Jesus, call us to recapture biblically-faithful Christology:

“(We must) recover the absolute centrality of the person of Jesus in defining who we are as well as what we do. As hard as it is to truly follow him, we assert that we must constantly return to Jesus to authenticate as well as legitimize ourselves as his people. We have no other Archimedean point by which to set our coordinates or any other touchstone by which we can assess the abiding validity of our faith and to see if we are authentically Christian. … It seems to us that a constant, and continual, return to Jesus is absolutely essential for any movement that wishes to call itself by his name.”

Genuinely following Jesus has always been unpopular, risky, bad for your physical and financial health, unrewarding in earthly terms. To follow Jesus is to risk sharing His earthly fate. How decidedly different the Jesus of the Gospels is from the one of our imaginations: the popular, avuncular, and risk-averse small-town mayor, charged with keeping the peace by seeing that the rules and traditions are respected. Jesus has not called us to tame civil religion. Following Jesus is an adventure; it will be unpredictable and dangerous. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross.” When it starts to feel too domesticated and safe, it is time to reconsider. As my friend, Pastor Oscar Muriu, often points out: “If following Jesus doesn’t scare you sometimes, perhaps you need to check and see if you are following Jesus.”

If we take up this call to follow Christ, who knows what the result will be? It may mean that our churches will be smaller but more robust. Then again, courageously following Jesus, just like the handful of men that emerged from Christ’s ministry, could lead to the greatest multiplication movement that the church has ever seen.

Pastor Brent