Surprise, not everyone agrees on how to follow Jesus
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone about how to follow Jesus? They think they know the only right way to do it and try to explain why you’re wrong. But some of the stuff they say just doesn’t make sense.
Jesus said to those who would listen,
Come, follow me… Matthew 4:19 NLT
That seems like a simple and straight forward request.
Jesus also said
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 NIV
How to follow Jesus?
So, what does it really mean to follow Jesus? To deny oneself, to take up your cross daily?
Are we supposed to be fanatic groupies that follow Jesus blindly without really thinking about or taking to heart how he tells us to think and live? I don’t think so.
If we are supposed to follow in his footsteps, does it mean we have to go to the Holy Land and walk in all the places Jesus walked? I must say, I’ve met people who have been to Jerusalem and other places where Jesus went, and they’ve been very inspired by their time there.
But that’s not really what Jesus is asking of us. He wants us to follow his example. To follow in Jesus’s footsteps is not to literally put our feet where his feet were, but to put our hearts where his heart was, to think with his mindset, to live in constant awareness of God, to love the way he did.
Paul knew how to follow Jesus
Paul sums it up when he counsels the Philippians:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5 KJV
And New International Version actually uses the word mindset here.
…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Philippians 2:5 NIV
Following Jesus is about how we live, how we pray, how we treat others. And it’s about understanding the true nature of God and our relationship to Him. Basically, it’s about love.
As I already said, that’s pretty straight forward. Who could argue with that?
But you’d be surprised.
Strong opinions on how to follow Jesus
So here you are, following Jesus the best way you know how, based on what you’ve read in the Bible: trying to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, forgiving your enemies and praying for them, trying not to be judgmental, being a peacemaker, and things like that Jesus told us to do.
And then someone comes along and not only tells you you’re doing it wrong but that you are an abomination to God and will go to hell. And all this from those who think of themselves as Christians.
They have a very specific definition of what it means to be a Christian and base this more on their doctrines than on how you obey Jesus. If this weren’t so serious at times, it would almost be amusing since Jesus said if we want to be his disciples, we have to follow his example, live our lives the way he did. And obey him.
Loving Jesus equals following him
Jesus got right to the point when he said,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
Some translations make it sound like this is a command to obey his commandments, but it’s actually a statement of fact. An “if…then” clause. If you actually love Jesus, then the natural result will be that you’ll be obedient to what he asks us to do.
So, to me it’s odd that some people define being a follower of Jesus based on theology instead of what Jesus said about obeying him and following his example.
Centuries-old disagreements on how to follow Jesus
This happens all to often. And not just in recent times. It’s been going on for centuries. I was reading just the other day about some big theological dispute in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Christian Era.
The disagreement was totally about doctrine. There was violent and hateful language used on both sides lashing out, each condemning the other and accusing them of not being a true Christian. And as I said, it was all based on what they believed, not on what it meant to live your life like Jesus lived.
It was quite obvious neither side was acting very Christlike, given the fact that Jesus said
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you… Matthew 5:44 NKJV
They were doing the exact opposite, basically “sending to hell” those who disagreed with them.
And this has continued down the centuries when people who to whatever degree claim they believe in Jesus, condemn those who believe in Jesus differently than they do.
Have you ever been condemned to hell?
Has this ever happened to you? Has someone ever condemned you because you have a different theology than they do, but you’re both, supposedly trying to follow Jesus?
Have you ever treated anyone else this way when you thought they were wrong in the way they followed Jesus?
Well, you are not alone. Unfortunately this happens way too often.
Back when I was in high school, a long-time friend basically assured me that I’d be going to hell because I did not agree with her on some theological point, which to me, was a man-made doctrine promoted within the Church for centuries but not original to the teachings of Jesus. To her it was one of the pillars of her faith.
At least she approached me in a loving way trying to help me see the error of my ways. She loved me as a friend and was genuinely concerned that I would be going to hell.
Basically, the condemnation came because I was not following Jesus the exact way she was and I was about to join a different church than the one we had both grown up in.
No person can send you to hell
About 10 years ago, before I had this podcast but already had a blog called The Bible Speaks to You on this same website, someone responded on to a particular blog post that challenged a traditional interpretation of a Bible verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul refers to the temple of the Holy Spirit. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it: Your Physical Body is NOT the Temple of the Holy Ghost.
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? 1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT
I also turned this into podcast Episode 33 Your Physical Body is NOT the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
The blog post referred to above has been one of the most commented on that I’ve written. Some people disagreed heartily but in a civil and Christian way, as you can see from reading the comments. Others have appreciated a new way to look at the original meaning of the text. And as a disclaimer, just let me say, I could easily be wrong on the point I make in this post. I am not a Greek scholar. But I have never seen anyone else make the same linguistic observations and how it uncovers the original meaning of what Paul is teaching.
Anyway, several years ago, someone tore into me with poison and hate because of what I wrote in this post that disagreed with what he believed to be the only right way to interpret it. The funny things was, it was obvious from his comments that he really didn’t even grasp the point I was making. But because I wasn’t following in the path exactly the way he was, he felt totally justified to condemn me to hell many times over.
I guess I’ve made a little progress spiritually. When my friend from high school “sent me to hell” many years ago, I was really incensed. Who made her judge over me? With the person commenting on my blog more recently, I was not offended in the slightest.
By the way, I did not approve his response to appear in the comment section because it goes against the tone of this blog, which is to explore the Bible and learn together, even if we don’t agree on every little detail. So yeah, I’m being a bit judgmental of him, but I’m not sending him to hell. Actually, I feel a lot of compassion for him. He’s probably just repeating what someone else taught him. I really don’t know.
What I’ve realized more recently, when having one of those theological discussions where you don’t agree with someone who thinks they are right and you are wrong, is that some people have more faith in their theology than the do it God. They will follow their doctrines more carefully than they do Christ.
Debating theology is not how to follow Jesus
It never really does much good to debate with people about theology. It just entrenches both sides in their own perspectives.
What if we actually listened to each other to try to understand where the other person was coming from? It doesn’t mean you necessarily end up agreeing on everything, but you might understand why someone believes what they do and why. And it’s always right to treat people you disagree with in a Christlike way.
I often like to ask someone who has just stated unequivocally some doctrine they think is essential to their faith: How does that doctrine help you love your neighbor as yourself? How does it help you forgive someone?
I try to steer the conversation back to what it means to actually do what Jesus wants us to.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good theological conversation sometimes. Not a debate. But I am more interested in finding out how someone is obeying Christ in their daily lives. That’s one reason I have interviewed guests on The Bible Speaks to You Podcast who I don’t agree with on every point of theology, but they have something valuable to share about how to follow Jesus.
Even his disciples had to learn how to follow Jesus
All that said, there are still too many people who call themselves Christians who act as if it is their God-ordained duty to condemn to hell everyone who disagrees with them.
Even two of Jesus’ closest disciples sometimes responded with this tendency to condemn those who didn’t follow or treat Jesus the way they thought was right. Once John said,
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49, 50 NIV
Jesus could see that this fellow who was casting out demons in his, Jesus’s, name was, in effect, following Jesus as well, just in a different way from the apostles.
We all need to learn how to follow Jesus
The self-appointed Jesus-Police of today need to drink in the spirit of Jesus’s rebuke to John’s attitude instead of being so self-righteous and condemnatory of anyone doing something they don’t agree with. God is the ultimate Judge of each one of us. We have to answer to Him and not any person on earth.
But even John did not learn the lesson right away.
Not too long after the incident mentioned above, Jesus was heading to Jerusalem and sent someone ahead to prepare a place for him to stay in a Samaritan village. But the Samaritans didn’t want him to come there.
James and John were incensed. Full of bravado they implored Jesus,
And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Luke 9:54 NKJV
They probably thought that would impress Jesus. They were coming to his defense and rebuking those who didn’t agree with how wonderful he was.
But Jesus, once again, rebuked this human tendency to condemn anyone you disagree with. In dismay he said,
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. Luke 9:55, 56 NKJV
Hear Jesus’s rebuke
Let this sink in a minute.
Two of Jesus’ closest, most loved and trusted followers needed to be rebuked for their over-zealous condemnation of those who were not following or accepting Jesus the way they thought was right. This still happens today with those who think they are very close to Jesus.
And Jesus’s simple solution to the need at hand was simply to go somewhere else where he would be welcome. Sometimes we just need to remove ourselves from the controversy and take the next practical, common sense step.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t agree with the way all Christians preach and share the Gospel, or the way they live it in their lives, but I will never condemn them for it. God sees what’s in their hearts and He will be their first and ultimate Judge. If they are doing something “wrong,” God will open their eyes sooner or later. And I pray He will open my eyes to live a more Christ-like life each day.
Have you ever felt condemned?
So back to the question, Have you ever been condemned by others who disagree with the way you follow Jesus? This may sound odd, but don’t take it so personally. It says more about them than it does you. No doubt, we can all do a better job of following Jesus, but you are not trying to please or appease a person. You answer to God alone.
And the next question is just as important, Have you ever condemned someone because they didn’t see and follow Jesus exactly the way you do? If so, Jesus rebukes your approach. Hey, maybe you’re right; they may be doing something “wrong.” But it is not within your authority to send anyone to hell. If you believe they’re following Jesus incorrectly, pray for the opportunity to help them, in a loving way, to see the light more clearly. And maybe they’re just fine. And while you’re at it, pray to follow Jesus more closely and see the light more clearly yourself.
How to help the right way
There’s a great example of how we should respond in the Book of Acts. A Jew named Apollos was preaching the Scriptures and telling of the baptism and repentance of John. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they didn’t condemn him, but took him aside and told him about Jesus. They ministered to him. The result was that Apollos ended up accepting Jesus and showing through the Scriptures that he was indeed the Christ. (See Acts 18:24-28 below)
This is the model we need to follow.
Don’t be surprised
Jesus warned his disciples what the religious authorities would do to his followers.
They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. John 16:2, 3 NIV
Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be surprised when this sort of behavior happened. And remember what he said in the Sermon on the Mount?
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 NIV
As I said, Jesus didn’t want us to be surprised when this happens. Perhaps it’s a sign that you are following Jesus more closely than those who condemn you. Continue to search the Scriptures and pray for guidance. Be true to what God has revealed to you. Be true to the deep spiritual message of the Bible and not just it’s surface, literal meaning or what people say you must believe.
And if you’re one of those folks who thinks you’re doing it right and someone else is totally wrong, be a little more compassionate.
The real question:
Maybe the real question we need to ask is, Why should we follow Jesus? For me, I follow him – some days better than others – because he is the Son of God, the Messiah, who came to show us the Way of Life. He has given us the promise of eternal life by overcoming sickness and sin, disease and death.
Christ has opened my eyes to see that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and not just way off in the future, that God is always present to help us. The more I follow Jesus, the more my life is transformed in a very positive way.
I’d love to know: What does it means to you to follow Jesus?
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Matthew 4:19 NLT
19 Come, follow me…
Luke 9:23 NIV
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Philippians 2:5 KJV
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:5 NIV
5 have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
John 14:15 ESV
15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Matthew 5:44 NKJV
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…
1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT
19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?
Luke 9:49, 50 NIV
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Luke 9:54 NKJV
54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
Luke 9:55, 56 NKJV
55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.
56 “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
Acts 18:24-28 NIV
24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
John 16:2, 3 NIV
2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.
3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.
Matthew 5:10-12 NIV
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.