As I review this series, it strikes me how inadequate it has been. I had hoped to make my ideas clearer than I have, and cover much more ground than I have, perhaps to shed more enlightenment than I have. Throughout this whole series, the content of this post has been my goal. The question, “What is it to follow Christ?”, has always been floating in my mind, and I give some thoughts in response here. I hope that throughout this series I have painted in (very) broad strokes how we, God, and others fit into the big picture of the universe. In response to all of this, I hope the obvious answer to the question “So what do we do about it?” is to follow Christ. Here, I attempt to give a general idea of what following Christ really means. This will be the last post in this series, so I hope you have enjoyed it.
Followers of Christ
Heart – like Christ’s
Christ’s heart was centered on God and others, and not selfish or material things. Love God, and love others – these were the two things He rightly distilled God’s commandments down to. For this loving cause, He lived to help others have more Godly fellowship with each other and God by becoming more Godly. Christ had Godly ambition, rather than selfish motivations, and so should we. Following Jesus has everything to do with our heart, because everything we do is directed by it.
Our heart is like the needle of a compass that tells us which way to go. If the needle has correct magnetization (Godly ambition/desire), it will lead us to the right destination, but if it has the ‘reverse magnetization’ (selfish ambition), it will lead us in the opposite direction. If the needle looses magnetization completely (apathy), it will leave us wandering. In this way, the needle must have the right properties to be faithful to the earth’s magnetic field if it is to lead us in the right direction. Likewise, our heart’s ambition needs to be in the right direction in order to be faithful to God’s guidance and instruction.
Following Jesus is being devoted to the same things He was. In this way, we are also being devoted to God, for Jesus was devoted to God. This devotion is a decision, an allegiance, a commitment, loyalty and dedication to God and what He wants – and far more than a ‘belief’. This devotion is what I talked about in the “faith” section of this series. What we are devoted to is the like the magnetization of the compass needle – we are guided towards whatever our hearts are set on. If our hearts are devoted to the same things Jesus was, we will follow His path and reach the same destination.
Character – like Christ’s
Character is something developed over time by the choices we make. It is like the position we are on a long journey, in that it usually takes a long to time change – and you have to keep going in the same direction for quite some time to notice it changing. If the devotion to God we have in our hearts is like the compass that points towards our destination, then perhaps Christ-like character is our destination. The further we head towards this destination, the more like Christ our character will become. But, Christ-like character itself is not the objective of our faith – it is the state in which we can best enjoy our life’s purpose to have the best possible friendships with God and others. God made us for perfect friendship with himself and others, and this is the real objective.
That said, this should be noted: even if our destination to be like Christ is correct, if the compass of hearts are not devoted to the same things as He was, we will be lost. There have been many times I have realized with dismay why my character is not getting more like Christ’s – because I don’t want to. It’s no good to just want to “be like Christ” if I’m not devoted to thinking and living in a Christ-like way. To have Christ-like character we cannot be devoted to things that are not Christ-like.
Once our hearts are right, and then our character will change accordingly. This change is because our character is molded by the choices we make, and the choices we make are born from the ambitions of our heart. Sometimes it’s a tough road, as the road is not well-trodden and there aren’t many other people walking it. But, there is something to be said for walking on the direction you know is right even when you don’t feel like it. After all, true devotion is not about “feeling” devoted but it’s about being devoted.
So clearly, if we are following Christ, then Christ-like character should increasingly show itself in how we live. The longer we have been following Christ, the more like His our character should be. We should grow to be people of integrity, kindness, compassion, honour, joy, peace, patience, discipline, and above all – love.
Lastly, relationships require two people. So, part of building Godly relationships with others is becoming people with whom Godly relationships will flourish. In other words, we must care for ourselves as much as we care for others – but the focus should lie on building the great friendships God intended with Himself and others, and not greedy and selfish in motivation. So, being self-less is not ignoring ourselves and focusing on others, but it is focusing on our relationships with God and others and doing all that we can to make those relationships good. Godly character is what makes those relationships the best they can be.
Deeds – like Christ’s.
If our hearts point to our destination of Christ-like character so that we live in Godly friendships, then our actions are certainly the steps along the way. Godly deeds are the things we must do to become Godly people. Think of how you imagine saints behaving, and think of their character. If you want to be a saint like them, how else can you do it except by behaving like they do? To follow Christ, our steps must be along the same direction and path that He took, or we will find we are not following Him at all.
The joys and difficulties of life are like the ground we travel – they are part of “life in its fullest”. Our deeds are like the path we take over that ground. Some paths are better than others, some are much the same. Some lead to disaster, and some to blessing. The really important actions are the ones that affect others our relationship with God and the people around us. Actions that don’t involve others aren’t as important as ones that do.
There are many instructions about what we should not do as followers of Christ. But equally important are the instructions about what we should do. If you do not steal then you may not be a criminal, but it doesn’t make you a saint. So, we need to be watchful about both what we do and what we do not. I haven’t the space here, so read a Bible for pointers... but note the importance of making our love measurable by the things we do.
Position - like Christ’s
If we will imitate Christ in the above areas – then it is clear from the bible that we become “brothers and sisters of Christ”, and “co-heirs” with Him. And if we are co-heirs with Him, we will inherit the same eternal life as He did in the resurrection. Surely, this is wonderful news! What could be better than to be the person that God intended us to be, and to be with other similar people having the amazing friendships God intended for humankind? And if we are such a person imagine how pleased God is, and imagine how pleased we will be. But what if we are not Godly?
Jesus was perfect in ways we have already failed to be, but nevertheless, we are called to be on the same overall level as He was – as followers like Him. Though we should aim to be, we do not have to be exactly like Him for God is merciful and forgiving. While we may have displeased Him in the past, God does not hold our bad actions against us after we turn away from them. But note that He is not pleased with our flaws of heart and character of the present, and it would be uncaring of Him to overlook these.
It is possible to have a heart like Christ’s – here and now, otherwise why would Jesus have made it clear to do so? It is this Christ-like condition of our hearts that makes us brothers and sisters of Christ, to be Sons and Daughters of God just like Christ was! This revelation still amazes me, and it is indeed one that is incredibly wonderful. It is possible to be like Christ in our hearts (albeit with some minor flaws), and if we’re like Christ we will have a similar relationship with God. Paul writes in Col 1:19 and
Lastly, God is not a cosmic accountant, measuring his acceptance of us by the sum of our good deeds minus the sum of our evil ones – rather He calls all those who are devoted to Him His Children. But true Children of God act like Children of God. Godly actions may not “earn” a position of God’s favour any more than baby cannot do much to earn its parent’s love, but Godly actions are essential to having God’s favour if we are to grow from being spiritual babies.
Role – like Christ’s
Hand in hand with position is responsibility. If we are to have similar position as Christ, we also have a similar role in the world. As followers of Christ, we are to be devoted to the same things He was, and this devotion should be evidenced by doing similar deeds. Jesus said in John 14:12 that people who are devoted to Him will do the things Christ did, and “they will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.” Greater things! How can this be?
Imagine Jesus being a swordsman going into battle. Many Christians seem to view things like this: we are the poor and defenseless and He is the big strong defender who goes and fights off the evil that threatens us, we just have to “stay close to Jesus” and everything will be great for us. Yet, it seems quite clear to me that this lazy and pathetic view is not one Jesus would have wanted. Instead, imagine us (people devoted to Him) giving Him our allegiance, and taking up our swords with Him. Rather than one soldier, there is an army, and an army can surely be of more effect than a single soldier. In this way we can do greater things, when we devote ourselves to the same cause that He was devoted to (God and Godliness).
To follow Jesus is to be devoted to not just His person, but to His cause. Certainly, like in the previous analogy, we need training before we can start be effective. But, nevertheless, we must mature towards and grow into the responsibilities of being devoted to God and therefore Christ – knowing it is part of the road that takes us to being mature Sons and Daughters of God.
So, the followers of Jesus have similar responsibilities as Jesus. Having Godly ambitions and character is essential to fulfill our role to lead, nurture, care for, help, love, and fulfill loving friendships with God and others. Following Jesus is not about getting God’s favour and a free ticket to heaven, but far more about cultivating the Godly relationships with God and others that I believe are the central meaning of our existence.
Jesus did this, and so should we. If we say we follow Him, let us be like Him. And if our actions evidence that we do not follow Him, let us not bring His name into disrepute by saying that we do.