April 15: Following and Sin

Read 1 John 1:1-10

What are some of the characteristics of genuine followers of Jesus? Have we invited Jesus to follow us as a first responder for life’s emergencies or as a resort concierge for life’s amenities? Or are we willing to follow Him no matter the cost? Those are the kinds of questions we are posing in this current devotional series.

The apostle John offers us some good insights to the implications of following Jesus. He helps us to understand how true followers relate to sin. First of all, notice that genuine followers are identified by the path they choose (vv. 6, 7). They are intentional in selecting a lit path rather than a darkened one. In other words, the pattern of their life demonstrates that they strive to please God and to avoid sinful lifestyles. They do not knowingly and intentionally excuse or ignore aspects of their life that displease God.

Which path are you on?

Secondly, genuine followers of Christ are quick to own the reality of their own sinfulness (vv. 8, 10). They are not self-deceived into somehow thinking that they no longer sin. A humble awareness of their own imperfections and vulnerability is essential. They live knowingly in the tension of understanding that they are forgiven from past sin but they have not yet been set free from the presence of sin.

Do you humbly own your sinfulness?

Finally, John points us the fact that genuine Jesus followers are marked by more than their awareness of sin. They go beyond acknowledging to truly engaging in confessing sin (v. 9). This moves us past the public admission “Well, nobody’s perfect.” to the prayerful confession “God, that thought was sin. It was against your will for my life. Cleanse me and forgive me.” Aren’t you glad for the assurance that John gives when we confess. He does faithfully forgive and cleanse. The slate is wiped clean. The sin is not held against us. All of that is due to the fact that the just punishment for our sin was satisfied in Christ.

Is confession a regular practice in your life?

Let me add one final thought. Confession should never be done as a convenient way of dealing with something that we have no intention of forsaking. Paul made that clear in Romans 5 and 6. Don’t use God’s generous grace as a reason to keep sinning.

sbk

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April 14: Following and Your Boasting and Yearning

Read Philippians 3:1-21

In these post-Easter days, we are considering what it looks like to follow Christ. Certainly, the apostle Paul provides for us a great model of following. In this passage, not only does he tell his own story, but he also invites us as readers to “join together in following my example.”

So what were some of the essentials for following that Paul wanted to pass along?

  1. Boast in Christ…not in the flesh. Never lose sight of the fact that the greatest thing about you is not what you have done. Instead it is that which has been done for you. Your resume of accomplishments is of no significance in giving you eternal standing with God. I am sure you noted that Paul had quite an impressive list of things that must have been impressive to others in his day. But did you see what he concluded? Gains were losses in comparison with the surpassing value of knowing Christ. He even went so far as to say that gains were like garbage in comparison with gaining Christ. The great hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” expresses this truth well:

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.”

  1. Yearn to know Christ…both resurrection power and crucifixion suffering. The resurrection power sounds pretty inviting. We have that power and have been raised up with Him (Eph. 2:4-6). That power is at our disposal in life and ministry (Eph. 1:19-21). Are you growing to know that more and more?

But Paul also yearned to become a participant in the sufferings of Christ. That idea is less inviting.The average one of us doesn’t long for pain and suffering. Why yearn for that? Is it possible that we get to know Christ in a different way when we are in the depth of the valley? Is it possible that our appreciation for His suffering grows in adversity? Are you growing to know Christ through suffering?

As you, then, seek to grow in following Christ, you will want to make Him your greatest boast and knowing Him your greatest aspiration.

sbk

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April 13: Following and Vulnerability

Read Luke 10:25-37

If you have been reading along with us in the current series, the lawyer’s question in verse 25 may sound familiar: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It is akin to the rich man’s question we read yesterday in Matthew 19:16. Instead of asking out of a sincere desire to know and respond to the counsel that Jesus gives, it seems that both men had their own ulterior motives. The rich man seemed to be pridefully seeking Christ’s affirmation. As Jesus outlined several Old Testament commands, he claimed to have kept all of them since childhood. When it came right down to it, he was unwilling to deal with his most glaring issue of greed.

Meanwhile, this man in Luke 10 was an expert in Old Testament law. He likely felt as if he knew it inside-out, upside down, and backwards. He too, in asking the question about eternal life, had his own hidden agenda. His question was designed “to test Jesus” (v. 25). Clearly, he had his own answer in mind and wanted to make sure that Jesus came up with the same one. Apparently, Jesus gave the right response. After all, the man didn’t contradict Him.

Then, the lawyer posed a follow-up question. Again, the driving force behind this one was not a sincere desire for further clarity. Instead, he asked “to justify himself” (v. 29). “And who is my neighbor?” he probed.

Rather than go into an extended discussion of the story of the Good Samaritan, let’s summarize a few points about truly following Jesus.

  1. Be truly vulnerable. Following Jesus isn’t about you trying to look good or about justifying a sinful lifestyle. That is where both of these men stumbled. As you seek to follow Him, be willing to address anything and everything He points out.
  2. Love God boundlessly. This kind of love is described in the first part of verse 27 and elsewhere as the “first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:34-40). How do you express love for God? Certainly, it includes praise and worship, but Jesus also defines love for God in terms of obedience to other commands (Jn. 14:21).
  3. Love others compassionately. Jesus points to the importance of that kind of love in the latter part of verse 27, and He goes on to define it in the parable. Those who love like this recognize the needs of others and take concrete steps in meeting them.

sbk

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April 12: Following and Priority

Read Matthew 19:16-30

“…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v. 21b)

That is a big ask! Is that something that Jesus expects of all who aspire to follow him? Well…yes and no. Let’s take a closer look at how the story unfolded.

Of course, the story began with the man’s question of performance requirements for eternal life. That’s right, he specifically asked what he must “do” in order to earn it. How would you have answered that question? I hope that your response would have included truths like those reflected in Ephesians 2:8, 9:

  • Salvation cannot be earned by doing
  • Salvation is a product of God’s gracious giving
  • Salvation is granted on the basis of believing

Now, if Christ’s response caught you by surprise, you are not alone. Directing the man to keep the commandments is a far cry from telling him of the necessity of faith. But Christ’s purpose was not to give the man assurance that he was good enough and worthy. No, it was to expose the man’s sin and need for the Savior.

Unfortunately, the man assessed himself as getting a perfect score, if the test for salvation were on the basis of murder, adultery, theft, and truthfulness. Personally, I rather believe that the man had an inflated view of himself.

Our omniscient Lord knew all about this man. He knew that this man’s wealth made coveting a point of vulnerability. In verse 21, then, rather than asking the man to self-assess, He told the man to take action by selling, giving, and following. Unfortunately, rather than repenting of his covetous tendencies and turning to follow Jesus, the man considered the price too high and left.

Does Christ expect us to sell all and give in order to follow? Not necessarily. But He certainly does want each of us to turn from our own areas of sinfulness. He refuses to take second place in our lives or even to tie for first. Oh…and by way of special encouragement…there is the promise of great reward for all who grant Him that position as they follow.

sbk

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April 11: Following, Family, and Sacrifice

Read Luke 14:25-35

This current series is built around the question: “What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus?” We are trying to address the concern that we are, at least at times, guilty of inviting Jesus to follow us as a first-responder in our emergencies or resort coordinator for our comforts. Instead, He is the one leading. We follow Him…sometimes at great cost and to our own discomfort.

Interestingly enough, Jesus makes this statement as large crowds were traveling with Him. It seems that He wanted to clarify what following really meant. In doing so, He made three “cannot be my disciple” statements.

  1. According to verse 26, a person cannot be His disciple without hating family members. Elsewhere, the Scriptures help us to understand the value of family (cf. Eph. 5:22-6:4). In light of that passages like Matthew 10:37 and Luke 16:13 help to understand that He wants to be our supreme love above any other. Does your love for Jesus make all other relationships pale in comparison?
  2. In verse 27, a person cannot be His disciple without taking up his/her cross and following Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. Those who follow Christ die to self and are alive to God (Rom. 6:1-13). Have you given up your own desires in preference for living for Him?
  3. Finally, verse 33 points out that a person cannot be His disciple unless he/she gives up everything. His followers count the cost of following Jesus and are willing to pay it. As in the parable of the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:44). Upon finding the incredible treasure of life in Christ, His followers find so much joy in Him that no price is too high! Does Christ have that kind of position in your life?

Indeed, there is a price tag attached to following Jesus. In pursuing the Savior, we ascribe greater value to Him than to any other relationship or thing. That is what true disciples do.

sbk

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April 10: Following and Fishing

Read Luke 5:1-11

Peter had devoted much of his life to fishing. This wasn’t the rod and reel, line and lure variety of fishing where one stood on shore and cast the bait into the water. Nor was it the Bass Pro variety with expensive boat and sonar system for locating the fish. No, it was pretty simple really. He and his brother Andrew had a boat and a net. Perhaps they identified some of their favorite spots where it seemed that fish liked to hang out.

Still, fishing was hard work. In fact, as the sun rose over the hills and began to reflect off of the Sea of Galilee, Peter and his brother and fishing partner, Andrew, were likely discouraged and exhausted. After a hard night on the sea, they had returned with nothing to show for it. Zippo. To them, it must have seemed as if they had cast the net in every imaginable direction only to pull it back up empty.

They didn’t often get non-fishing kinds of requests. But when this man, Jesus, asked Peter to take Him out in the boat, it seemed like the right thing to do. He had quite a following, and, from his words, Peter likely identified Him as a Jewish religious expert.

We can understand Peter’s reticence when Jesus gave him instructions on where to try another cast of the net. And we can also understand Peter’s response, when the resultant catch required additional help and nearly caused now two boats to sink. Clearly, this preacher with a following was a righteous man with a vital connection to God.

Then came the call to follow…in statement form…”Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people (v. 10).” What did Peter, James, and John do? “They left everything and follow him (v. 11).” The Master was inviting them to change the focus of their fishing from the finned variety to the ones with arms, legs, and feet.

Sure, much of this story is a narrative description of what happened to Peter, James, and John. But the call is still the same today. All who take up the call to follow Christ must recognize the inherent command to reach others with the life-changing message of the Savior (Matt. 28:18-20). Are you casting the net wide in your circle of relationships and acquaintances in hopes of catching some of them?

To follow is to fish.

sbk

 

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April 9: Following and Abiding

Read John 15:1-17

In this current devotional series, we are attempting to better understand what it is to follow Jesus. The Christian life is not Jesus following us to provide rescue us from the messes of life. Nor is it Him following us to provide all of the comforts and amenities of life. It is defined by Him leading and us following.

In John 15, Jesus compares God’s purposes in our lives to that of a vineyard. Imagine a vineyard without grapes. Wouldn’t that be tragic? Jesus points out two essentials for a fruitful grapevine. First, the gardener does some painful pruning. The pruning shears don’t seem inviting, but the result is greater fruitfulness. Secondly…and this one seems obvious…the branch must stay attached to the vine. Only then can it draw moisture and nutrition from the vine and roots. Only then can it produce juicy clusters of grapes.

God doesn’t want you to be barren. He doesn’t want you to just bear a minimal amount of fruit. He wants you to bear much fruit. That is His plan for you as His follower. This fruit will be manifested in character qualities like the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23). It will include the fruit of good works ( ). It will include the fruit of souls committed to Christ (1 Cor. 3:. But that fruit is only possible as you gladly allow His pruning and faithfully remain in Him.

What does it look like to remain in Him? It includes remaining in His word (v. 7). Do you carve out consistent time to do learn from Him? Remaining in Him includes keeping His commands (v. 10). Having learned from Him, are you obeying what you already know? You remain in Him when you demonstrate His love to other people (vv. 9-17).

Can it be said that you “remained in” Christ yesterday? Will it be said that you “remained in” Christ today? So often, we can find ourselves living on the fumes of a token prayer offered up asking Jesus to “bless our day.” But there is more to the Christian experience. It is found in moment by moment drawing from Him. The result will be fruit that blesses you and others and that brings glory to God.

sbk

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