By Susan Budensiek
As followers of Jesus Christ we are to be examples above and beyond the average person in kindness, respect, in all areas of life as well as always being obedient to our Redeemer. I thought about that for a long time as I pondered what I see around me in the Christian community.
We are not offered a choice of a ‘basic plan’ or a ‘premium level plan’ for following Him. Too many professing Christians today have chosen nominal Christianity or the nonexistent ‘basic plan’ over the reality of what is required of us. According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word ‘nominal’ is used to indicate that someone or something is supposed to have a particular identity or status, but in reality does not have it. Kyle Idleman gives those who have a nominal Christianity outlook the label of being “fans” rather than “followers” of Jesus Christ. I was like this for way too many years.
Looking back at my life, I can say the way I saw salvation wasn’t my fault; No one discipled me. I was raised in a Lutheran Church, baptized as a baby, and did all the ‘right’ things – went to Sunday School, was confirmed and so forth. Then in 1972, as a young 20-year-old wife with a new baby, I saw the movie, “Thief in the Night” at an Evangelical Church and first heard about Christ’s second coming, the Tribulation, and the “rapture” of Christians. I found the whole thing so frightening that when the movie ended, I ran out of the church crying so hard. I could hardly see, my bewildered husband ran after me and tried calming me. I had no idea that there was such a thing as an “altar call” or that someone would give me at least a little bit of understanding about “accepting Christ” after the movie. So, on that rainy autumn night, while my husband and I sat in our car in the church parking lot, we both accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Yes, I can make the excuse that it wasn’t my fault – in actuality, I am responsible for not pursuing righteousness and working out my salvation as Scripture tells us to do. It took me a long time to get around to reading anything outside the book of Revelation after finding out it was full of prophecies that I had never heard about. I discovered a Christian Book store in our city and even though we didn’t have much money I bought and voraciously read some books explaining the prophecies in Revelation. This dreadfully unbalanced diet of only end times Scripture and commentary eventually became monotonous. I am ashamed to admit I still didn’t hunger for more of God’s Word.
One day, by God’s leading, I bought a book by Corrie Ten Boom called “The Hiding Place.” This was what ignited the desire for more of Jesus in me. I wanted faith like Corrie’s, but it was as if it was like a butterfly that I couldn’t quite catch. I became a dedicated fan of Jesus and read dozens of Christian books, but unbeknownst to me I was far from being a follower. I was no more than an enthusiastic admirer and it was getting more difficult to ignore the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I muddled along for about thirty-five years in that state described in 2 Timothy 3:7 – “…always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (NASB)
Fast forward to 2011 when I retired from the cancer center where I worked. Retirement was wonderful! However, that uneasy feeling soon came back to haunt me again. It was time to catch that elusive butterfly. Over the years, I attended many churches of different denominations and was convinced the way sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a car, sitting in a church doesn’t make you a Christian. Neither does listening to sound biblical sermons and reading God’s Word religiously make you a follower of God. That is no more than the 2 Timothy 3:7 disease. The prescription for this is James 1:22 – “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (NASB). This prescription turned out to be a journey for me. What a journey it has been so far!
To find out if you are a fan or follower of Jesus, serious self-examination is necessary. We look at ourselves and proudly say we don’t do some of the things we used to do but neglect to carry out a truly objective self-examination to make sure we are no longer susceptible to doing some of those “not so bad” things God is not pleased with.
In 1 Samuel 15:22 (NASB) we read: “Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.”
As a fan trying to become a follower, that told me that if I did not obey ALL the Lord required of me, there was no praise song, no working the nursery on Sunday morning, no teaching Sunday School, nothing …that could make up for disobedience no matter what my excuse. And that is the first step – obedience – we must be obedient or nothing else really matters. We will be among those people Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:21-23. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (NASB).
I find that to be the scariest passage of Scripture in the Bible, a warning of how easily we can be deceived by the Adversary who desperately wants us to be only a fan and not a full-fledged follower. As Henry and Richard Blackaby say in their devotional, Being Still With God (July 29): 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (NKJV) “First of all, does God approve of you? Are you sure? Never assume God’s satisfaction with your life and your service for Him…God isn’t satisfied with mere belief; He wants your obedience—and He knows that truth has moved from your head to your heart when He sees you living out His truth before others.”
We do not question God’s love for us or His unending grace that sees beyond our faults (not necessarily sins) but we dare not rely on it as an excuse to cleave to “greasy grace” or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. We whom He redeemed are indebted to Him. After explaining a few of the more common pitfalls that are easy to slip into even for Christians, Paul exhorts Timothy, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11 (NASB)
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, the King’s Cohanim [Priesthood] a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (CJB) We are created to declare the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light, so logic dictates that He didn’t save us to ignore Him; to go through life doing as we think best no matter how “good” a person we think we are. Nor did He save us so we could give lip service and insincere prayers that sound good but lack ‘heart’.
I like The Aramaic English New Testament translation very much where it quotes Jesus in Matthew 16:24 as saying, “He who wishes to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his staff and follow after me.” I used to be able to more or less disregard this particular scripture fairly easily because I didn’t detect God asking me to do anything drastic like what could be considered taking up my ‘cross’ but the staff we see in pictures of people walking everywhere in Bible times is an everyday item, used all day long every day. That is what God wants us to do, all day every day. Go for the ‘premium level plan’ for following Him.
I was raised in church but always felt like I was missing something. Now the Word of God excites me! My curiosity enhances pursuance of discernment. I have often felt discouraged, but not totally defeated knowing that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.