If you have decided that you believe in Jesus, how do you begin to follow him? Here is a simple approach, free from rules and cliches, and faithful to Jesus’ own teachings and to the Bible generally.
I look at what we can believe about Jesus and what we can learn from him about his mission on earth and the part he wants us to play in it. We can make a simple response to that, and begin to live a life committed to following him and serving other people.
We don’t know everything all at once, so we’ll make mistakes. But God forgives and gives us help – sometimes directly through his Spirit, sometimes through other followers, mostly (I guess) through both.
Believing Jesus is the ‘son of God’
There are good reasons to believe that Jesus came from God. The historians affirm that the gospels give us good historical information about Jesus (see Jesus in history), and the stories of his life in the Bible (the gospels) give good reason to call him the son of God and to believe that he was resurrected after he was executed.
These facts give good reason to believe in Jesus and to want to learn from him, follow him and receive what he has to offer.
God in charge on earth
The Bible teaches that God created this world, and yet it is clear that something has gone wrong. God has given us freedom, and one problem is that we have abused our freedom and we do not treat each other right – exploitation, greed, abuse and injustice occur in all societies, leaving many people ill-treated or worse.
Jesus came from God to begin to put things right, to provide an opportunity for people to freely put themselves under God’s rule and start to change in themselves, and to make changes in the world. Jesus called this the ‘kingdom of God’, and his program included:
- teaching new truths about God,
- putting things right in people’s lives, especially the poor and outcast, through healing, love and acceptance, and
- establishing a new community of followers (in Jesus’ day, religious teachers gathered a group of followers, or disciples, who were willing to live under the discipline of their teacher).
Finally, Jesus died to defeat evil and provide a way for us to be forgiven, and then was raised from death to demonstrate his victory.
These are strange concepts to us today, but more easily understood by first century Jews:
- Jesus taught and embodied the truth that sacrifical love will win out over evil. We cannot fully understand it, but by his death, Jesus won a victory over evil, personified in the devil. (Fans of Harry Potter will see a parallel with Harry’s willingness to die, following his mother before him, gained a victory over the evil Lord Voldemort.) In this way human beings can be freed from the power of evil.
- The Jewish religion was built around a system of sacrifices to ‘atone’ for sins and gain God’s forgiveness instead of judgment. So when the perfect man Jesus said he was dying like a sacrificial lamb to ‘redeem’ people who believed in him, it made sense. In this way, humans can receive forgiveness from a just God.
You and I can receive this freedom and forgiveness, and be part of this kingdom, if we choose. We need no longer fear evil and death.
Entering the kingdom
We can enter the kingdom by believing what Jesus said, asking for forgiveness for previous wrong attitudes and actions, putting our own agendas aside and resolving to follow the way of Jesus in the way we live.
It’s really as simple as that.
We can do that in our minds and God will know. But sometimes it helps to pray out loud, perhaps with a like-minded friend. It may also help to tell other people that you’ve decided to follow Jesus.
It is that simple – but ….
It really is that simple to start, but living it out takes a lifetime. Jesus sets out a whole new way of living, and expects us to begin to take on those values. Things like:
- Wholeheartedly loving God and his creation, including our fellow humans.
- Being willing to forgive those who hurt us, as God has forgiven us.
- Taking opportunities to help the disadvantaged and put injustices right.
- Putting the work of the kingdom ahead of our own wants and needs.
- Being truthful and sensitive to others.
- Allowing God to develop a new character in us.
- Help others find their way into God’s kingdom.
It is unfortunately true that Christians haven’t always lived up to these high aspirations because of human weakness, self interest and wrong thinking.
We too will fall short of these high aspirations on occasion, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. God’s love isn’t conditional on our good behaviour – rather our attempts at good behaviour are a response to God’s love freely given. So when we fall short, we pick ourselves up, tell God we’re sorry, and get back into it.
Hang on, help is on its way!
But believers don’t go it alone. Jesus promised that God’s Spirit (not just an influence, but as much God as Jesus was himself) would lead and empower his followers. We are encouraged to ask God to guide us each day, to work on our behalf and trust that he will.
So Jesus-followers are part of a new community, with a whole new family of brothers and sisters, and a new way of living. Together we commit ourselves to following his teachings (which we find in the Bible), putting others before ourselves, spreading the good news and allowing God to change us and call the shots.
Learning as we go
I think that’s about as much as we need to get started on this exciting journey of seeing God’s goodness spread throughout the world. But we will learn more as we go, from each other, from the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, from books and websites.
I have listed a few places you might like to look, below.
Best wishes on your journey!