Imagine you’re a marketer for Christianity. What does being a Christian involve? OK, here we go. You get up early and read your Bible. Pray. Attend small group. Be at church every time the doors are open. Volunteer every time the church gives an opportunity. Give 10% of your income to your church. Try really really hard not to sin. Anyone feeling a tad tired yet?
But there’s more. If you want to be a really good Christian, pray longer. Memorize Scripture. Don’t just attend, but lead a small group. Become a key leader in your church. Take any theological or leadership classes your church offers, or maybe even go to seminary. Go on mission trips. Give more than 10%; how about 20%? You might end up a missionary to some remote part of the world. And you better not sin, and if you slip up, you’ve got to try a whole lot harder.
And what will you get for being such a super-Christian? You might sometimes see miracles, have God answer your prayers, or even have other Christians look up to you wishing they could be more like you. If some people hate you for all that, so much the better. And if you can keep up the pace long enough, you’ll arrive at heaven’s gate for your eternal reward before you completely collapse from exhaustion.
Anyone want to be a Christian now?
I hope you can see that this is a caricature of the Christian life. And it certainly is not what Jesus called His followers to.
Following Jesus, not Religious Activity
No one probably told you explicitly that the above picture is what the Christian life is all about, but you picked up that idea from hanging around church and church people. While they would probably never say so, you get the idea that someone’s Christian maturity and value is measured by how much “good” stuff they do.
That’s not the way of Jesus.
This is not unique to us; it was the way the Jewish people in Jesus’ day had been led to think about their religious lives. And when Jesus saw their exhaustion, He was moved with compassion.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Do you feel like the burden you are carrying is light? Does the yoke you are walking under seem easy? If not, something is misaligned.
When Jesus called people, He didn’t give them a list of religious activities to engage in; He said “Follow Me.”
Do you have a sense that you are following Jesus? How often do you experience Him as going in front of you as you enter each day, checking it out, providing the guidance you need, showing you the path through the challenges that come, as a shepherd walking in front of his sheep leading the way? (See John 10:3-4) “Light” and “easy” doesn’t mean trouble-free, but it does mean without the angst of trying harder to make something happen.
Where is He Leading?
Jesus leads each one of us in a unique way. He created you for a specific purpose, and He’s wise enough and good enough to lead you through all the “stuff” of life to get you to the place He originally designed you to fulfill in His kingdom. And in order for you to be able to fulfill that mission, you have to become the person capable of fulfilling that role.
Most importantly that means becoming like Jesus. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29) When God looks at you He sees not only the you that you are now, but also the you He created you to be. And the first thing to say about that you is that you look like, feel like, talk like, walk like, “smell” like His Son Jesus. The fragrance you give off is like that of His Son.
While that is likely to include doing certain things, it is first and foremost about becoming. And all the things you do will never be enough to make you like Jesus.
Many of the discipleship programs in various churches, while they mean well, are focused primarily on dispensing information, helping people develop habits of doing, and perhaps getting them to fill volunteer slots to do the work of the church. And while not wrong in itself, that type of program too often bypasses the becoming like Jesus foundation.
Becoming Like Jesus
More information, trying harder, and more religious activity may have little to do with becoming like Jesus. It’s very possible to do all that and still be eaten up with anger, hurry, bitterness, fear, selfishness, lust, and more. You’re a prickly person and nobody is drawn to your fragrance.
The only way you develop a fragrance like Jesus is to become like Him – from the inside out.
And that happens by being with Him. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
You become like the One you worship and admire. When you hang out in God’s presence your insides become different. With regular times of stillness in His presence the Holy Spirit has a chance to rummage around in your soul, bring something up into the light, and say, “This right here; it needs to change. Let Me change you here.”
When He does that, your job is to say Yes. And Yes. And Yes.
This kind of Christian life starts with becoming, with slowing down to be with Jesus, to let Him be with you. That’s how the disciples were changed. (Acts 4:13) And it’s how you will be changed too.
Welcome to the journey of transformation, of following Jesus.
Just keep saying Yes.
Your Turn: How well are the religious activities you engage in helping you in your journey of transformation, of following Jesus? Do you need to change your focus? Leave a comment below.
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