As humans we love patterns, we see patterns everywhere. We try to make sense of the world around us, by organizing it into things that we can understand. Sometimes those patterns are just figments of our imagination, a demonstration of our desire for order. But sometimes they give us a glimpse into something that helps us to be more aware of the spiritual reality we live in. You can decide for yourself if what I present is real or imagined, but it has certainly helped me to understand my journey of faith, and it has helped me to encourage others to go deeper in their relationship with Christ.
In my spiritual journey, I have seen three stages of belief and correlated behaviors that go with them. Maybe this will help you to determine where you are and what the next steps are.
Believers: These are people who have heard the truth and have decided that they believe the basic tenets of the gospel. Belief is an essential step, but it is mostly intellectual. It is just deciding if you agree with the revelations of the Christian faith. Believers are answering questions like:
Is Jesus who he said he is?
Was He born of a virgin?
Is He the Son of God?
Did he live a sinless life?
Did He die on the cross for my sins?
Was He resurrected on the third day?
People demonstrate their belief in different ways: Saying a prayer, public profession of faith, being baptized, or being confirmed to name a few. This is the very first step. Unfortunately, most people get stuck in this phase and never move beyond an intellectual understanding of the Gospel. They miss out on what it truly means to be a Christian. I would say that these people are not truly in Christ. Salvation is accomplished by Christ alone, but if your knowledge of Christ does not change you, you have never truly met Him. To encounter Jesus is to be transformed on a fundamental level. Just ask Paul. Everyone who finds Jesus has to make a crucial decision. My will, my plans, my life, my priorities OR His.
Judas was a believer. He thought Jesus was the Messiah. He believed those things to be true, but it never changed his heart. In the end, he was distraught by the True Jesus when He didn’t fit the mold that Judas had formed for him.
Would you be disappointed if you learned that Jesus wasn’t a white, republican with an NRA membership? What about if you discovered that he wasn’t a social justice warrior who only taught peace and love and accepted everyone and tolerated their sin? Is Jesus just a symbol of your own beliefs or do Jesus teachings determine your beliefs?! If Jesus teachings make you feel comfortable and safe, you are probably more like Judas an intellectual believer only, who does not truly know Jesus. But if His commands make you uncomfortable, you are ready for the next step…action.
Followers: Jesus recognizes people with intellectual understanding, and he says two words to them: Follow me.
Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul all of them followed the same calling to take their belief to another level. Taking action. Followers leave their nets behind. They have allowed Jesus teachings to change their behaviors and their beliefs. So they look for ways to obey. They look for more profound truths in the scriptures. They are seeking to know Jesus in a more personal way. Their path is no longer determined by their own will but by the desires of their teacher.
However followers come and go, they are not 100% committed yet. They go to listen than take some time to consider what their response will be. They don’t live with Jesus and have not surrendered to him fully, but they are tinkering with the idea. They are sticking their toe in the water. They ask questions like:
What does this teaching mean?
How can I grow deeper in my understanding of _____?
Am I obeying His teachings?
What is the cost of my obedience? Is it worth it?
Who should I share these exciting new revelations with?
Is there anyone I know who NEEDS to know Jesus? How can I introduce them?
Followers demonstrate their devotion through obedience and carefully considering their belief and what it ultimately means. In doing so, they genuinely encounter Jesus, they meet him and learn that he is not what they expected. It is both comfortable to be in his presence and intensely uncomfortable. He loves you, but he does not accept you as you are. He desires to see you in the state he created you for. He yearns to see you free. Free from the bondage of sin. Free from self-interest and lust. Free from fear of cultural irrelevancy. He will not be satisfied until you are fully His. But you must decide are you okay just being a follower or will you take it to the next step? Will you accept his hard teachings or will you walk away?
Disciples: They are dead men, second born. They no longer live for themselves. As followers, they asked the question: "Is it worth it?" And their answer was a resounding YES! HE is worth everything. This is the purpose of life. Jesus IS their everything. They have died to themselves and found their real life in Christ. They are passionately obedient, and they are compelling to be around. Just being in there presence makes you want to go deeper in your walk with Christ.
However, just like Jesus, they will challenge you in the areas that you are holding back from your Lord. They will ask hard questions hoping to lead you into deeper obedience. But they also ask tough questions of themselves. Questions like:
What commands am I still failing to obey and how do I learn to obey them?
What does the Lord require of me? What is my mission?
Where should I go and what should I do to build His kingdom?
How can I leverage my life in such a way that it brings Glory to God and not myself?
Is there anything in my life that displeases my Lord?
The disciple no longer sees Jesus as a teacher, but He is their Lord, their master. They are fully devoted to obedience of their Lord, and they have determined that their life only has meaning when they are consumed and directed by Jesus and His purposes for them. It is in this new life that they have found what Jesus called abundant life.
Eternal life is a gift, but abundant life is a choice.
If you want to find abundant life in Christ, you must live like you believe it’s all true. If he was who he said he was and you are fully convinced by what the scriptures say, you would live like only the second born can understand. It is foolishness to the rest of the world. But, It is in dying to themselves that they have truly found themselves.
Believers recognize Truth;
Followers demonstrate their belief in the Truth &
Disciples abandon all to be found in the Truth.
Where are you in this journey? How do you think you can move from where you are to the next step? What questions might you have about this?