Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do you "follow Jesus"? Or are you "saved by Jesus?"

People today are starting to say "I follow Jesus." Or, "I'm a Jesus follower."  I'm sure you've seen this.

People used to say "I'm saved by Jesus." Or, "Jesus saved me."

I don't like saying 'I follow Jesus'. I'll tell you why.

Saying "I follow Jesus" puts me as the subject. 'Look at meeee, I follow." The verb is about me too. The verb alerts the hearer to something I am doing, following. It puts a picture in the mind of the hearer on two people walking, the second one being the follower, and that is where you're mind's eye rests in forming the picture of the words spoken to you. On the one doing the following and not on the One doing the leading.

EPrata photo

It is also kind of boasting. If one is saved by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, it stands to reason that a person would then follow His commands and abide by His statutes. No one says, "I'm saved by Jesus but I don't follow Him." The following is tacitly understood by one and all.

But one can say "I follow Jesus" and not be saved. Mormons follow Jesus and are not saved. Catholics follow Jesus and are not saved. Judas followed Jesus for three years and he was not saved. I understand that saying "I'm saved by Jesus" doesn't guarantee a person is saved, but at least it includes the acknowledgement of sin and the need for a savior. Following Jesus is something a lot of people do, and saying so only increases the likelihood that what they are doing is simply an activity. When you decide to call yourself a Jesus follower, in my opinion it increases the likelihood that are one of the people DOING things for Christ and not actually saved by Christ.

All these people followed Christ, too:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)


Saying that "Jesus saved me" puts the emphasis on Him. Referencing my salvation by constantly saying "I follow Jesus" puts a boasting aspect to the phrase the speaker may not have intended, but is there nonetheless.

Now, someone could reply that the comment is not about salvation, but is about sanctification. Sanctification is the growth we experience in Christ after we are saved (justified). They could argue that they were saved by Jesus and now they follow Him in His statutes, ever growing in sanctification. After all, Jesus said, "Follow me".

Yes, Jesus said "Follow me" many times. He said it in Matthew 4:19, Matthew 16:24, John 8:12, Luke 5:11, 1 Peter 2:21, John 10:27, etc. It is biblical to say that one is a follower of Jesus. I cannot categorically condemn the phrase.

I can make a statement that it is unwise to speak solely of one's salvation OR sanctification in terms of the self. The growth we experience when we follow Jesus is partly done under our own steam but not fully. The Holy Spirit grows us. Our part is aggressive obedience, fervent pursuit, and a total submission. Therefore saying "I follow" seems just so...anemic.

'Following' as opposed to submitting, pursuing, or obeying is one step away from Jesus. Who are we following? Why? That small shift in emphasis is incremental but dangerous nonetheless. Once the shift is made away from the object of our pursuit, then the following becomes the main theme. And one can easily go astray. One can follow your bliss.
Creative Commons, source
One can follow a leader. Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13, because errant 'following' was causing divisions.

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The members at Corinth were split along doctrinal lines and had shifted their eyes from Jesus and their unity in Him to personal preferences among different teachers and the doctrines these teachers were teaching.

Erin McCrum wrote about the "why" this trend eschews the name 'Christian' in favor of  'Follower of Jesus:
...proponents of the “follower” lingo claim two advantages over the label “Christian” or “evangelical.”  “First, it doesn’t carry baggage.  You can wear it abroad, in Islamic countries, or at home with your Jewish or Buddhist friends, without causing offense.  Second, it distances the bearer from the culture wars that have made American politics so divisive.”
In this scenario, one can envision saying to a Muslim, "I'm a follower of Jesus!" and they reply "I'm a follower of Isa!" Hugs all around. It is precisely the offense which makes a Christian a Christian. Paul said if there is no offense then the cross has been taken away (Galatians 5:11). If claiming Jesus as our Christ doesn't offend, there is something wrong. There should be love in witnessing, but there should be no attempt to cloak, diminish or otherwise distort who we are and who Christ is. Of course the term "Christian" carries baggage. That is the point. The 'baggage' is the cross which offends everyone.

Satan is so subtle and so skillful. Satan managed to convince a third of the holy angels who saw the face of God every day, to follow him instead. He convinced Eve to bite the forbidden fruit just by asking a question. It is unwise to allow incremental creep into our language regarding who we are or what we do. Satan will quickly take advantage of it. Instead, we must be mindful, biblical, and vigilant in our language about Jesus and in our active holy walk. See the difference:

The Jesus Follower: I am a pretty good person who just made some mistakes and so I decided to follow Jesus and I want to live out His plan for me because after all, He loves me.

The Christian Saved by Grace: I am a totally depraved sinner saved by unmerited grace of the Son of Man who came to live a sinless life, die as the atoning sacrifice for my sin, and endure all God's wrath for it. I pursue the resurrected Jesus who has holy standards for the ones He has saved, and am living by those standards to the best of my craven ability, by submission to and obedience in the Holy Spirit. I rest on the promises Jesus the Christ has made to His chosen ones to both activate the faith He has given me, and to empower me to live in ever-growing sanctification. I'm looking forward to obeying him all the days of my life until He deems it the time to bring me home.

I have a very small leak in the tub faucet. A tiny drop comes out every few seconds. One day, the cat had tripped the drain shut. I went into the bathroom a few hours later and there was an inch of water on the bottom of the tub. The litter box was floating. Small doctrinal leaks add up. Explosively wrong doctrine can pop a balloon or a tiny leak of slowly shifting language can drain it. The result is the same.

I'm not a Christian. I'm a Jesus follower.

The terms Christian, sinner, salvation, justification, sanctification etc have lasted so long and been so understandable to everyone for centuries is because they are biblical. These terms transcend time. Be mindful of falling into a trap of exchanging words attached to known and commonly understood concepts with new terms that are nebulous, temporary, cultural and lack Spirit power. Sometimes synonyms aren't synonyms, but a subtle trick of satan to drain power from our witness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Further Reading:

Liberals change word meanings with intent to deceive
The cults are infamous for perverting historically accepted biblical terms. “Is it any wonder then,” said the late Christian apologist/polemicist Dr. Walter Martin in The Riddle of Semantics, “that orthodox Christians feel called upon to openly denounce such perversions of clearly defined and historically accepted biblical terminology, and claim that the cults have no rights — scholastically, biblically, or linguistically — to redefine biblical terms as they do?” (Source)

14 comments :

  1. Excellent post Elizabeth. I too have been bothered by that phrase "I follow Jesus" put couldn't quite put my finger on why. You have spelled it out perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That one doesn't bother me so much as "I accepted Jesus", as if he has passed your test and you have found Him acceptable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it makes me cringe any time I hear that spoken in casual conversation or on radio.

      Or "make Him Lord of your life," even, which is common, too, and I just heard today on a Focus on the Family broadcast. It suggests that the power of salvation lies with you. It's very Arminian, but subtle.

      Delete
  3. While I appreciate your concern for identifying true believers, irrespective of how one identifies oneself, I am more concerned about seeing genuine evidence of the person being born again.

    "Followers of Christ"
    Mark 9:41NAS "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

    "Accept" being used with respect to Christ and the Gospel:
    Mark 4:20NAS "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

    John 13:20NIV I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

    -Carolyn

    ReplyDelete
  4. " irrespective of how one identifies oneself, I am more concerned about seeing genuine evidence of the person being born again."

    Sometimes the former is a clue to the latter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Sometimes the former is a clue to the latter." ...And sometimes not. Many call themselves Christians, but by their fruits clearly are not. :)

      I personally favor Greg's choice - born again believer (or born again Christian). That's how I refer to myself, most times. I'm not personally too keen on the "Christ follower" label, but if genuine believers choose to use that phrase, that is their choice.

      But as others have noted, yes, sadly today the title "Christian" is thought of in a negative light - not because the cross offends (which it of course does) - but unfortunately because of many atrocities that have been done by people who claimed to be Christian, but again clearly by their actions were not, or because the name is used loosely by unregenerate religious people in a highly ecumenical manner.

      And to think, the world used to think of the title "Christian" as a pejorative. Now religious unbelievers prefer to use the title to be inclusive.

      That's why I tend to put far more weight on evidence of conversion.

      -Carolyn

      Delete
    2. That's good Carolyn. However, this essay isn't an evidentiary essay. It is an essay warning about how language can be manipulated to skew perceptions.

      Delete
  5. Yes. It has bugged me too, and I wasn't quite sure why.

    Now I know.

    Even though I know there are sincere born-again believers who sometimes use this phrase, it still just doesn't sit right.

    You hit on the one thing that I think bugs me the most: If you are a "follower of Jesus," it seems to bring Christianity down to the same level as every other man-made religion on earth. It takes the emphasis away from what He did and puts it on what we do, and voila.

    "We are the world..."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Personally I think people use it to distinguish themselves from "Christian" which is used quite loosely nowadays. I keep on explaining to my Chinese friend that Catholic are different to Protestant Christians and he keeps saying they are all the same since Catholics are also considered Christians. Christ follower does not bother me and I would personally use it because The Lord knows my heart and he knows what I mean if and when I say it.

    In Christ
    Taylor

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with you that the name “follower of Christ” makes one the subject of the name, which is misleading for a believer. You’ve given me something to think about in that. But I'd like to submit to you the possibility that the baggage "followers of Christ" are attempting to avoid by eschewing the name "Christian" might not be that of the cross and the offense it carries, but rather the offenses of people who take on that precious name without repentance and the indwelling Spirit of God which brings forth fruit in keeping with repentance.

    People who preempt the precious name “Christian” have done much damage in this world. A cursory glance at the comments these folks leave on websites and the ensuing ugliness they get into with “unbelievers” (put in quotes because they themselves are unbelievers) confirm the damage they continue to do.

    It is hard to approach an unbeliever online carrying that baggage. However, perhaps I will start referring to myself as a “sinner saved by grace.” There’s no mistaking that message.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well said, Taylor_E. Elizabeth is right in that the word "Christian" does have baggage, and some of that baggage is the cross of Christ itself. And does it offend? You betcha--more than anything else in history.

    But sadly the word "Christian" has another kind of baggage. Thanks to Satan's tireless efforts and the depravity of man, there are Jews who believe the Nazis were Christians...and, as I am fond of saying, the Nazis were about as Christian as the rats in the sewers of Krakow.

    And speaking of "loosely," there are apparently those who toss the word "Christian" around as if it meant something about as spiritually profound as liking Jesus on Facebook.

    I honestly can't blame sincere Christians for tending to reach for other descriptive words or phrases besides the word "Christian," so I'm not going to get 'em in a wad over it. Personally, I like "born-again believer."

    But I just can't get comfortable with "Christ-follower."

    ReplyDelete
  9. I concur with Elizabeth and the others whom were “bugged” on the issue but could not place their finger on it.
    I do understand you too Taylor, but I think it wise to refrain from terms that are being reinvented.

    Many terms today are being reinvented not only in government, society, but more disturbing in the Church.
    I believe that the staggering amount of evidence shows an ecumenical new age connection! I am not going to take the time to make a point by point documentation of such as it is indeed labor intensive, not to mention that though I do write because it comes with the territory as a saint, I am not too sound in the grammar and structure of writing!

    I knew a fellow that was well traveled that I met at a conservative SBC Baptist Church (so I thought at the time :>( , if anyone was a sweet spirit genuine Christian it surely must be him! We became close friends and was always discussing the things of the Lord God - praying together too! It was not until after ten years that I rather accidentally - humanly speaking, discovered that he denied the deity and trinity of Jesus Christ, as well as a few of his friends that I came to know! Looking back there were MANY subtle practices and things that I now would not only question, but run from! Lastly, he did not like being called a Christian, but preferred the title “follower of Jesus” ( I seriously wonder NOW, which Jesus?). BEWARE of all the MANY SUBTLE TRAPS - these demonic landmines!

    Rick
    Metro Atlanta

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi: when one writes a movie review at www.Christiananswers.net (a site I'm grateful for, BTW... at least as far as movie reviews go...) you have to check which one you are ~ and I check "a follower of Christ" as I feel that best fits me (considering their given choices) ~ yet, I do understand what you all are saying.

    Personally, I'm not so sure I'd use the term, "born again Christian" as even catholics think THEY are born again (by infant sprinkling). So sorry, have trouble not rolling eyes on that'n.... but unless you explain every jot & tittle (and sometimes there's simply not time to...)

    Does anyone like the term, "a Biblical Christian"? Think I might start going with that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Answers in Genesis was promoting that, so if it were to catch on, grass roots style, it would have a connection to a conservative ministry and not easily be distorted by others, very quickly.

      Delete