Face it, when we were born we didn’t know diddly squat. Our vital functions ran on autopilot. Our brain’s hard drive was clean but empty. Therefore we had to be taught everything. We learned the ropes from our parents, our siblings, various family members and eventually our peers. Of course, by the time we turned 13 we were sure we knew all there was to know but that’s a separate essay altogether. The toughest lesson we had to learn as adults was we didn’t know everything after all! Truth is, we all needed intelligent, patient and experienced mentors. People to look up to and attempt to mimic. It’s natural we do this. However, if the folks we choose to copy aren’t really looking out for our best interests we’ll develop a lot of bad habits, manners and attitudes. Conversely, if we opt to follow the leadings of men or women who sincerely care for us, who desire that we grow to be wise and healthy humans we’ll be much better off in the long run. 2,000 years ago God sent us the greatest teacher in the history of mankind – Jesus Christ – but, to the detriment of society in general, too many still fail to regard Him as such. And, sadly, that includes a lot of people who think He was just a really nice guy who said profound things.
The credo of today, especially in Western cultures, is to “be your own person”, one who decides for themselves the difference between what’s right and wrong. The reason for this is we’ve been taught to think that way by folks designated by educational institutions as being smart, qualified “teachers”. This secularist trend started in the 60s and quickly expanded. Hordes of us on the far side of 50 bought into the “do your thing” concept lock, stock and barrel only to discover the hardest way possible that our pleasure-hungry minds are our most unreliable guides. We eventually learned through trial and error it’s better to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:8). We’re often forced to admit that those we labeled “clueless old fogeys” when we were younger actually knew what they were talking about and we should’ve paid more attention to them accordingly. Alas, that notion never entered our skulls back then and we paid the price.
On the other hand, many people had to come to the depressing realization that the parents they so trusted made for awful role models because they were just as confused/dysfunctional as anybody. Thus the kiddos had to depend on their teachers and coaches for life direction. However, most of those hard-working individuals had no aspirations to be mentors. They were just trying to make a living, trying to hang on to their job, don’cha know! When the admirer gets let down by the one admired they predictably turn to radical politicians, artists, songwriters, authors or any number of heralded celebrities for guidance regarding morals, integrity and, yes, even what God is like. Those who voluntarily participate in Celebrate Recovery’s Step Study program are asked to write out a personal inventory about halfway through the course, documenting the good and not-so-good things they’ve done so far. They also acknowledge those who taught them and who directly influenced their lifestyle. Then they honestly evaluate the list with the help of their sponsor. Usually they see the human beings they idolized most were nonetheless flawed individuals to one extent or another. It’s at that point it dawns on them there’s only one person who’s deserving of their unrestrained adoration and emulation – Jesus Christ.
Our Lord and Savior taught His disciples explicitly how to live an exemplary life. Those who decide to follow Him need look no further than His Sermon on the Mount for instructions. And they need not seek elsewhere for a better leader to pattern their behavior after because no one even comes close. Jesus is the absolute ideal. Dallas Willard wrote, “He [Christ] is indeed the living head of the community of prayerful love across all time and space.” In other words, if I can’t trust the one who rose from the dead, walked out of His tomb and announced, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20) who can I trust? As one of His adoring apprentices He’s promised to provide me with all I could possibly need for the furtherance of my spiritual education and I can testify that I’ve benefited greatly from the wonderful and highly significant changes He’s made in me over the years. By applying myself toward studying my Bible, praying every day, listening to anointed preachers, reading the books of gifted writers and getting involved in my local branch of the Body of Christ I’m more able to adhere to what Paul told the church in Colossae: “…Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
There’s not an authentic Christian alive who won’t confess there’s no rational reason for not doing what Jesus told us to do. Yet we believers too frequently take the wheel and do things our way. This no doubt frustrates our Savior no end. He once asked the folks in the crowd who showed up to hear Him speak, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Look, Christianity isn’t just a cool club to join or a box to check under “religious affiliation” on a job application, it’s a sacred commitment to sit at Jesus’ feet and digest every word He said. We’re to become His loyal disciples and that connotes total immersion in His teachings and character. If you think that’s asking way too much then you should go back and re-examine this essay’s title. Only the Son of God has all the answers you have but you gotta go “all in” to get them. That’s what Jesus was conveying in the final part of His brilliant hillside sermon wherein He offered four pictorial contrasts to drive home His point of how one goes about gaining the kingdom of God.
He started by telling us not just any pathway will do. He preached, “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus wasn’t hiding the fact that salvation has some serious side effects. He was always brutally honest. Following Him faithfully will be difficult. It could literally cost you your life. Christ certainly didn’t have a sweet and easy time of it here on terra firma so we can’t expect following Him will be any sweeter or easier. Willard wrote, “The narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness. The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it. …The broad gate, by contrast, is simply doing whatever I want to.”
Next Jesus issued a warning about following anybody else. “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 4:15). I can guarantee that if you live long enough you’ll come across plenty of wolves costumed like sheep so Jesus wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie”. He went on to suggest how His apprentices can avoid getting the wool pulled over their eyes: “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?” (7:16). For those who still don’t “get it” He then doled out some old school common sense: “In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit” (7:18-20). In other words, if a well-groomed sheep resides in a million-dollar lakeside mansion and drives a brand new Lexus while at the same time chastising people who don’t gleefully contribute to “their cause”, that’s most likely a giveaway clue there’s a wolf hiding inside that fluffy white outfit. Keep your eyes open, y’all. As the Bible says repeatedly, “Don’t be deceived.”
Next Christ uttered a somewhat condemning comment aimed straight at the aforementioned ravenous wolves. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (7:21-23). In other words, just buying and wearing a team’s jersey doesn’t mean the club’s owner will know you from Adam. In the same way, merely saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one, either. You gotta be willing to walk the long walk and shoulder your own cross just like our Messiah did.
Jesus then finished up His astonishing discourse by answering the question that was on everyone’s lips: “Why should we follow you?” He said to them, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!” (7:24-27). That was it. He didn’t come back for an encore or a Q & A session. He’d said all that needed to be said. Nothing had been left out. The full plan for living a righteous life that’s pleasing to God had been laid out for all time to come.
It’s essential to note that to follow Jesus isn’t to follow someone who’s “left the building” for good. He told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:15-18). The fact of the matter is the apostles wouldn’t have stuck around after the ugly, discouraging events of Good Friday if they didn’t believe Him. And, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, we’re told their steadfast faith was richly rewarded. What Christ predicted happened. He came through with the goods, becoming a palpable presence in the lives of His followers, then and now, through the work of the irrepressible Holy Spirit. I’ll spare you the details for time’s sake, but if you don’t know how it all came about I encourage you to read it yourself. Christians aren’t following a dead man. They follow the very-much-alive, everlasting God who eradicated the sting of death forevermore. He gave us a promise we can bank on. As the fearlessly emboldened Saint Peter proclaimed to the stunned Jerusalem throng that’d gathered for the Feast of Weeks, “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:39).
Yet we who’ve been saved, who’ve been granted full access to the kingdom of God must restrain ourselves from being smug about it. We must have deep compassion and concern for those around us who’ve opted to stay in the dark regarding our Lord. The fate of their eternal souls is our business. We’re not to revel in our banquet of blessings at the expense of honoring the “great commission” we’ve been assigned to carry out. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people” (Romans 14:17-18). If we all consistently conducted our lives in a Christ-like manner many more lost souls would notice our joy and want to know Him as we do. And, when it comes right down to the real nitty gritty, isn’t that the ultimate goal of those who’ve surrendered their lives to following Jesus? After all, He told us, “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
So why follow Jesus to the exclusion of any other mentor? Because love was always at the heart of His amazing Good News. I like what Philip Yancey wrote: “On our own, would any of us come up with the notion of a God who loves and yearns to be loved? Those raised in a Christian tradition may miss the shock of Jesus’ message, but in truth love has never been a normal way of describing what happens between human beings and their God. Not once does the Qur’an apply the word love to God. Aristotle stated bluntly, ‘It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus’ – or that Zeus loved a human being, for that matter. In dazzling contrast, the Christian Bible affirms, ‘God is love,’ and cites love as the main reason Jesus came to earth: ‘This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.’” I can only tell you the best decision I ever made in my life was choosing to stop following my wicked, misdirected heart and to follow my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.