I was reading some notes from a conference led by Henry Blackaby a few years ago at Ridgecrest and was reminded of a simple yet powerful truth with respect to our relationship with Jesus. As many of you already know, listening to Blackaby is a unique experience. Powerful truths escape from his lips as he shares about how his relationship with Jesus continues to transform his life and shape the ministry to which God has called him.
On that day, he shared many things, but the truth that still strikes me is, “a disciple is one who is following Jesus.” As you look at those words you might say to yourself, “Well, of course.” Was not this the call that Jesus issued to His disciples as He called them to leave the life they knew and join Him on an adventure that their minds could not fully fathom? With two words Jesus changed the lives of twelve men, and is still changing the lives of men and women today. His call to these men was simply, “Follow Me” (Mark 1:17b).
So what does this mean for those of us who seek to follow Jesus in the 21st century? Obviously, we cannot wander around with Jesus and observe the miraculous signs and wonders that He performs as He encounters the multitudes. We will not get to hear him speak the life-changing words that He spoke to Peter, James and John.
However, we do have a distinct advantage over these followers of Jesus prior to Pentecost. We are blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit not only in our midst, but in our lives. His indwelling presence and empowerment enables us to live in a way that is not possible in our own strength.
Blackaby shared something else with us that day. He reminded us of another truth that we often forget. He said, “The power of the cross gives us total victory over sin; and that same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives.”
How many times have I sought to follow Jesus in my own strength? It is easy for us to think that we are alone in this journey toward Christlikeness. This lie of the enemy has left more than one well-meaning follower feeling inept and powerless against his schemes.
Indeed, we are responsible for our faithfulness to the teachings of our Savior. However, one of those key teachings that we often ignore is the promise of our Lord to walk with us at all times. Did He not conclude His earthly ministry with the words, “and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
Why are we so quick to ignore or diminish this promise? While we claim to believe it, we often live out our faith in the context that everything depends upon our gifts, talents, abilities and efforts. It is not my desire to encourage us to kick back and lazily wait for Jesus to show up and save the day. Still, I believe that more often than I care to admit, I err on the side of what I am able to accomplish.
Is not the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in our lives to empower us to fulfill the task to which God has called us? Jesus has given us a task that cannot be achieved through our own efforts and planning. If we are going to be “making disciples of all nations,” then it will only be accomplished by and through the work of God as He works through His faithful followers. Thus, without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, our best efforts and plans are doomed to failure.
So what does following Jesus look like? That is obviously a difficult, if not impossible, picture for a finite creature like me to express. However, I do believe that there are some clear characteristics of a life that is focused upon Jesus.
According to Scripture, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). It makes sense to me that these characteristics should be evident in the lives of those of us who follow Jesus.
If I am willing to submit my life to the leadership of the One Whom I trust as my Savior, then I should want my life to mirror His character. Knowing Jesus should change me. It is hard for me to believe that we can walk with Christ and not be changed by His presence and power.
Over the next few months we will take a closer look at these fruits of the Spirit and how they can become more than words in each of our lives. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School Discipleship.)