Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
Growing up in the Church, I thought it was most important to be and to be known as a Christian. My family thought it was more important at times to be more than a Christian. It was important to be a Baptist Christian. Most of my life I have bought into the importance of being a believer, or more specifically, a believer in Jesus. For years I have emphasized the term “believer” over “Christian”, thinking this was the best identity to use that separates a person from the religious form of Christianity.
There are two concerns I have with the term believe or believer. FIRST: How do you know you have really believed? Growing up, the strong preaching and the many guest speakers who would come to our Church or youth rallies terrorized me. In their passion to get people to believe, they pressured the audience with, “You may say you believe, but do you really believe? Do you know that your faith (belief) is real? Do you really believe?” Jesus demands more than this, as I’ll demonstrate.
SECOND: What did Jesus demand to be a disciple that was more than being a believer? To make “being a believer” so paramount and final, it is too easy to miss out on what happened with the early disciples and rely on man-made sound bites and clichés. Think about it! The early disciples were not “believers” in the sense that most think of it today. They were followers of Jesus and his teachings, but were a work in progress with respect to becoming believers. By the way, that process took them over three years!
The damage is done when we put such pressure on people to “make a decision” to be a believer in Jesus right now. This is why we ask people to come forward at altar calls and why we praise those who witness to the point that they have actually led someone to pray the sinner’s prayer. It’s all part of our instant approach to life. This wasn’t the norm in the life and ministry of Jesus and it isn’t the norm today!
Being a believer is not enough! James said the demons believe and shudder. Jesus refers to those who would call themselves believers-those who spoke in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and performed miracles in Jesus’ name. Jesus made it clear that their proclamation of being believers was invalid and not enough.
No, believing isn’t enough. There is something more that deals with all of my concerns above. Believing is necessary, for sure. However, you must believe enough to follow after Jesus-hear his words and practice them. So, being a believer is a weak identity tag. It’s so much better, accurate, and Jesus-like to call yourself a “follower of Jesus.” I came to understand that following Jesus is not only the most freeing lifestyle; it is also the toughest thing I’ve ever set out to do.