Several years ago, I made the decision not to refer to myself primarily as a Christian but rather a follower of Jesus. My resolution was not an attempt to re-brand myself into something cool and trendy. Nor was my purpose to disassociate from other believers or separate myself from the history of Christendom.
My motivation was to develop a more authentic journey and expression of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ invitation has always been, “Follow me” (see Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21).
And that is what I seek to do by the mercy and grace of God.
Also, I began to stop asking people if they were a Christian and started asking them if they were a follower of Jesus.
I was not alone in the transition of “I am a Christian” to “I am a follower of Jesus.”
Over the last decade, many people also began to refer to themselves as a follower or disciple of Jesus.
Today we hear the phrase “follower of Jesus” constantly. However, in today’s digital connected culture the word “follower” has taken on the nuance that differs from Jesus’ invitation to be a follower. Being a follower of Jesus is not the same as me following a person on social media and liking their pictures or profile updates.
Sometimes followers of Jesus describe themselves as “a student of Jesus” on the basis that the Greek word mathētēs, which is normally translated as “disciple” means “a student.” Again, being a student of Jesus is not the same as me being a student at the University of Oklahoma in a Master’s program. Unfortunately, being a student in today’s educational system is primarily focused on learning the information and facts about something. A student of Jesus does not merely memorize facts, stories, and creeds about Jesus.
Recently, I came across Bridgetown Church in Portland Oregon through a podcast called “This Cultural Moment” that the teaching pastor John Mark Comer co-host. As I browsed through the church’s website, a phrase captured my heart: “Practicing the way of Jesus.”
For me, that is what being a follower or student of Jesus means – to practice the way of Jesus.
Interestingly, the first name of the new movement of Jesus was referred to as “the Way” in the book of Acts (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
As Paul stood before Governor Felix, the apostle declared, “However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect.” (Acts 24:14, NIV)
By being a follower of Jesus, I seek to live the way of Jesus. However, what exactly is the way of Jesus? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
The way I have answered those questions is by ordering my life around three purposes:
1. Be with God
Jesus chooses the 12 apostles so they would be with him (Mark 3:14). Unfortunately, we cannot be with Jesus exactly the way Matthew, Bartholomew, Philip, Thomas, and the other disciples were. We can’t run up to him physically and give him a high-five, we can’t sit down with him over coffee and ask him to explain more about the creation of the cosmos, nor can we sit next to him, eat some fish with him, and laugh together.
However, we can be with Jesus anytime through prayer, and we can draw near to our Heavenly Father whenever we desire through the spiritual disciplines. Even though Jesus has ascended to the Father in Heaven, he is still with us through the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer.
In John 17:3, Jesus tells us what eternal life is. Eternal life is not merely living forever. Instead, Jesus declared, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” God created us for an intimate, interactive relationship with Him – both now and forever.
As a follower of Jesus, I arrange my life to be with God. Remember, Jesus did not teach his followers how “to do church.” He taught them how to do life with God
2. Become like Jesus
Again, following Jesus is not merely believing facts about Jesus, going to a building on Sundays, and trying to live the best we can. Following Jesus is about embracing the life and teaching of Jesus in every area of our lives.
God has predestined you to be transformed into the very likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is often referred to as the process of spiritual formation.
Dallas Willard states, “Spiritual formation in the Christian traditions is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the character traits [of Jesus] as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher. . . Our aim is to be pervasively possessed by Jesus through constant companionship with him.”
Being a follower of Jesus is becoming like Jesus in our thoughts, words, and actions.
3. Do what Jesus did
Jesus made an astonishing statement in John 14:12 when he tells his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
As his followers, Jesus invites us to partner with him and to continue his work of bringing the Kingdom of God into the earth. Jesus sends us into a dark and hurting world with his mission – to do the works of Jesus
Of course, being a follower of Jesus is a lifetime journey and adventure with God. It cannot be limited to merely going to a meeting on Sunday, listening to a podcast, reading the latest best-selling books, and reciting certain creeds. It will not be accomplished in a few weeks or even a year. Following Jesus is an on-going lifestyle of learning, practice, being in community, and being led by the Holy Spirit.