By Melissa McLaughlin
“Hola, clase!” called our teacher as we entered the classroom.
“Hola, professor!” was our hearty response.
My faint and intermittent memories of high school Spanish class waft through my mind now and then like a whispery wind. Though I loved learning a second language, my long-term memory is sadly scant. I enjoyed a few precious years with friends who spoke fluent Spanish. What a joy it was trying out my teetering skills. However, without the commitment to keep up with the beautiful Spanish language, my meager vocabulary is reduced to only a few greetings.
If someone asks me, “Do you speak Spanish?”.….What should I say?
As a Christian, sometimes we need to stop and ask ourselves a similar question about our faith. Are we believers or followers? We are caught between two interlocking truths.
No one can ever stand before our Holy God, except in Jesus’ name. For no matter how good someone may think they are, they are not good enough. Our God is absolutely perfect, holy, righteous, true, good, just and altogether pure. We are not. By our own merits, we will never be good enough to enter heaven. It is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone that we are saved and made right before a Holy God. Jesus paid the sin-debt we owed, namely death. In exchange for His sacrifice, those who believe in Him are rescued from hell, forgiven of sin and assured a place with Him in heaven for all eternity. We offered our sin and rebellion. In exchange Jesus offered His perfection, grace, mercy and love.
So what makes someone a believer in Christ? Believing that Jesus was the Son of God, who died for our sins, rose again and is coming again in all power and authority, according to scripture.
That’s it? Yes. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Yet, here is where the interlocking truths intersect. No one knows for sure the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. No one, but God, that is. In the end, God will indeed judge the sincerity of our faith in Christ. In this life, the only way people can identify you as a Christian is that your life reflects His, as you follow His teaching and His example.
Jesus’ parting words shed light on this, spoken as He ascended into heaven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
This powerful passage, known as the Great Commission, makes one thing absolutely clear, Jesus is not calling for believers. He is calling for disciples.
What are disciples? A disciple is one who lives by the teachings of another. A learner, a follower.
Though a believer may give mental assent to the truth of who Jesus is, a disciple, or follower will do as he says.
Many people may say they are Christians. They may claim to believe that Jesus died for their sins. But other than a statement of beliefs, there is absolutely no posture of following, learning, obeying or reflecting the image of Christ.
So then, how can a person move from a believer to a follower?
Here are five simple ways to move from a believer to a follower:
1.Read the Bible – The Bible contains Jesus’ words, from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus studied and knew the scriptures. Jesus was the Word. Matthew 4:4 – Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
2.Pray – Jesus was committed to prayer and was frequently found removing himself from others in the morning, in the evening and through the night, in order to pray. Prayer is our conversation, our personal connection with God and it allows Him to reconfigure the inner workings of our mind and heart. Luke 5:16 – But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
3.Spend time with other Christians – Jesus spent time with his disciples and followers, teaching, healing and living, as recorded in Mark 1:16-45. If we make time for others who are making time for Jesus, together we grow stronger than we ever could alone.
4.Listen to or sing worship songs – Jesus is not only our Savior, but He is also our King and is deserving of our praise. When singing songs of worship, we can experience His presence, as this Bible verse teaches, Psalm 22:3 – But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
5.Seek the leading of the Holy Spirit – The more time we spend knowing and connecting with Christ, the more in-tune we become to His Holy Spirit, sent to indwell the hearts of all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We can feel the conviction in our spirit when we have sinned. We become aware of the tug on our heart to reach out to someone in need. We sense a stirring to pray or sing to the Lord. This precious gift of Christ’s Spirit within is a powerful source of daily strength.
These five Christ-connections allow us to abide in Him and grow in the fruit of His Spirit. As we daily engage in these pursuits, we grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and day by day, we more clearly reflect His image and more closely follow in His footsteps.
We move from believer to follower as we seek Jesus Christ for our daily soul-nourishment.
It may be simple, but it is not always easy. To seek Christ means setting aside other activities to make time for Him. At times we have to put the phone down, turn off the device or TV, wake up early enough on Sundays to attend church, set aside time during the week to participate in a small group Bible study with other Christians, turn off the secular music and instead turn on Christian worship songs.
Though Christ completed all that was necessary for us to enter heaven, the evidence of our transformed heart is demonstrated in a transformed life. This is the difference between a believer and a follower.
When we soberly take stock of the desperate state of our sin-darkened souls and then gaze upon the outpouring of grace, mercy and love by Jesus on the cross… we simply cannot remain the same. No one else can save us. No one. Out of gratitude, a true believer will desire to follow closely after the One who gave them what they cannot earn and do not deserve. A lifetime of devotion is our overflowing thanks.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Jesus is crystal clear. A disciple must do more than believe. A disciple must follow. And Jesus does not describe a walk in the park. But rather He asks us to deny ourselves, pick up the cross of our brokenness, selfishness and sin-driven desires, say “No” to everyone else and say, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you.” The path is narrow that leads to life.
Every so often we should each pause and ask ourselves, “Am I a Christian?” “Am I a believer or a follower?”
In much the same way that I could literally say I speak Spanish, some might literally say they are a Christian. But saving faith in Christ will shine through the broken cracks in our hearts. May Jesus speak the language of hope to a hurting world as His voice of beauty echoes through our lives as we desire to know Him and His Word, as we desire to turn from sin, as we grow in the fruit of His Spirit and as we long for His return.
Please pray with me: Speak Your language of hope through me, Lord Jesus, that others may hear the language of our Savior through the words and deeds of this redeemed sinner. This I humbly pray, for Your name’s sake.