What a strange title huh?
What exactly is the difference between being a Christian and a Jesus follower? Well I think the difference is spawned out of the realization of how it easy it is to get lost in the Christian world without engaging in what it means to be a Christian in its purity, that which is to follow and love Jesus. I have found out, from my own life, that one can be an excellent Christian from the standpoint of others, from even my own, but still be a really poor follower of Jesus.
Religiousness is a spiritual disease that we must always fight as Christians who are surrounded by so much Christian infrastructure. Remember how Jesus fought how the Pharisees clung to the commandments more than they clung to God himself.
Religiousness always replaces genuine relationship with God with spiritual activities. It always values form over power. It emphasizes self instead of the Divine. And it always, albeit slowly, erodes the inner life, instead of filling it.
This season, God has been a work in me in this area (And by work, I mean a work). And I’ll be the first to say that being a Christian for 14+ years, being surrounded by so many Christian things, events, and people in America, I was beginning to be filled with religious pride and religious attitude. And sadly, it began poisoning my relationship with God.
Through a series of lots of repenting (still ongoing), I feel like I’m discovering the first joys of being a Jesus-follower again. Oh.. he’s so beautiful. He’s so awesome. He’s so worth it.
It’s out of a wake-up season that I want to share symptoms that may alert you whether you are indeed a good “Christian” but a bad Jesus-follower-and-lover. This is not meant to be condemning. If you are religious like me, I hope it will wake you up as well into true relationship with Jesus! And it’s filled with joy!
So here it goes…
You know you’re a good Christian but a bad Jesus-follower when…
1. You’re Doing a Lot of Church Activities but You’re not Actually Growing
Do you know that we can go to church for the rest of your life and not grow at all?
We can be the same loveless, grumpy, selfish, wealth-hoarding, lustful, small-minded Christian we were last week at church. Or two weeks. Or two years. Or even worse twenty years. We can sit in that same chair over and over again and not grow at all.
I feel like for the last two years, even though I pretty much went to church all the time, and went to quite a few conferences, I didn’t really grow as much as I should have. I mean it’s not like I didn’t grow at all, I just felt like there wasn’t a marked difference in my love for God, the size of heart towards people, my humility, my selflessness, my boldness. I just kind of .. just got fed without growing.
It turns out that growth is not a matter of how much you’re being fed, it is a matter of the direction of our hearts towards God.
I started to remember that being mature has nothing to do with how much we know (the Pharisees knew a lot). It has nothing to do with how wise we are (Solomon was pretty wise). It has nothing to do how many years we’ve been a Christian (probably the most misleading measure of maturity).
Maturity has everything to do with how well I recognize his voice, how quick I respond, how my life is changed radically from that process, and my worship of him grows all the more great, every week, every month, all the time.
A disciple of Jesus is one who simply hears the voice of God and obeys. And therefore being a mature Christian is just being really, really, incredibly good at hearing and responding correctly to Jesus’ voice.
And if we’re not growing, we are bad Jesus-followers because no one can ever follow Jesus without growing. He said, “Whoever comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” It is in dying that we grow. And so the journey of following Jesus is therefore a journey of continual growth. It is for every season of life, for every decade of life, a walk all the way to our death beds.
That journey doesn’t stop when we’ve learned a certain amount, when we’ve been doing it for so long, when we’ve heard x amount of sermons, when we’ve ministered x number of years, when we’ve led x number of people to Christ, or discipled x number of people–we must always guard the process of hearing and obeying the voice of God because the presence of that process lets us know we are still following Jesus, and not just saying we are.
And no church activity can replace that process. No Christian activity can substitute the raw process every Christian should experience of hearing God’s voice and growing from glory to glory as a result of that.
And if I am doing all these Christian things but not actually growing, funny and sad as it sounds, I’m probably not really following Jesus.
2. You Care More About What Other Christians Think About Your Life Than What God Does
If I can be honest for a bit, I think the thing I struggled a lot in my religiousness was really caring about what Christians thought about me.
From a sociological perspective, and being a Christian for so long, it is somewhat easy to know what it means to be a “good Christian” and to be impressive within the Christian community. You merely have to say all the right things, act the right way, and adhere to some popular Christian beliefs.
The religiousness of my heart shifted to wanting to be valued by other Christians.
I wanted the reputation of being a great Christian. I wanted the renown of being a spiritual authority. I wanted to be known as the guy who loved Jesus. It turns out, impressing other people (or rather, trying to impress other people) was a really vain pursuit. And I didn’t realize how badly I wanted the attention or praises of other people.
In that pursuit of being a “good Christian”, other bad things started happening too. My understanding of sin and righteousness began wavering and I began being influenced by the popularity of opinions of what is an acceptable lifestyle. The convictions I had for righteousness began to dither and the boldness to say them began to soften. This, by the way, is a natural by-product of when one places their identity more on what other people think than what God thinks.
We have to admit, in a culture where there is such an established social Christian infrastructure it is so easy find our identity in popularity contests, being Christian “rock stars”, or knowing “famous” Christians. I know for a fact that that began corrupting the purity of my heart.
But at some point, I rediscovered the beauty of the voice of God. And I rediscovered the importance of having the fear of the Lord.
And when you encounter His presence, and experience him for who he is, as the high and exalted one, from whom angels hide their faces, but cry ‘Holy Holy Holy!’ night after night and day after day, the prospect of caring about what people think, no matter how numerous, popular, or cool they are, becomes all the more undesirable.
And man, I stopped caring whether people knew I struggled with this sin or didn’t struggle with this sin because in my heart of heart, I knew God Almighty knows. And if God Almighty knows and if God Almighty has an opinion about my life, then I need to listen for real. And his opinion matters. Because at the end of my life, I will stand only before him one day. And that sends a holy fear in my heart and that fear needs to be there.
I feel like I constantly need to repent of caring about what people think about me and live boldly for Jesus.
I can’t even begin imagining how close to the book of Acts my life would look if I literally stopped caring about what people thought about me and just obeyed the voice of the Holy Spirit every single day. Can you?
I need to keep being delivered from being impressive, being honored in people’s eyes, being cool, or being even acceptable, even if it means Christians’ eyes, and just take joy in pleasing my Father in heaven.
God help me. God help us all live for only you.
3. You Actually Think There’s Such Thing as Being a Good Christian
The greatest irony in this discussion is realizing that there really is no such thing as a “good Christian”.
The basics of the gospel message begins with the reality that we are sinners who are broken before a holy, holy God. The gospel we believe is a gospel of grace, and by grace, we mean blessings given to an undeserving people.
We never earned salvation, we never earned our relationship with God, we never earned a single blessing from God-all of it is given from above, from the Father of Lights who gives generously and graciously. Contrary to our culture’s message of the nature of humanity, the Bible emphatically declares that we are not good.
When we realize that all that we are as Christians is given by grace, it leaves no room for boasting, and almost certainly leaves out categorical distinctions we make amongst ourselves as to who is “good” or “better”.
The comparison game of who is a good Christian and who isn’t is likened to comparing to two ships on a sea. When we compare how far ahead or behind one ship is from the other, we lose sight of how far we all are from the shore. And the truth is, we are all far from the shore.
It turns out that comparing my position with others hides me from the perspective of seeing how far I am away from a holy and great God, as well as robs me of the joy of realizing that even as far as I am, He still calls me his own.
And so to be a follower of Jesus is to lose our distinctions of goodness as compared with others. It is because he calls out of his grace that we come following with dust on our knees, not with crowns on our heads feigning how great we are. We must lose our identities among our peers, and instead lose ourselves in the greatness of Jesus who calls us.
It is in this position of utter humility that true relationship with the One we follow is fostered. Humility draws us near to God and pride away. And the quality of this relationship is most certainly the strong indicator of how whether we are actually following Jesus.
And so, how is your relationship with Jesus?
Because if it is far, it very well may be that you are actually suffering from being a good Christian, but not thriving as his beloved follower. Instead of being a son or daughter of God, you are a slave of people’s opinions. Instead of being Jesus’ friend, you are popular among people. Instead of being a worshiper, you are a worker.