Do you have to have correct beliefs to be a Jesus follower?
It’s really trendy today to not label yourself a Christian, but call yourself a, “Jesus follower.” Now on the one hand, I understand this. The word Christian might carry a lot of baggage. People might have gone to a church and associate Christianity with legalism, or picketing, and that type of thing.
I understand wanting people to give you a shot by not using a word that maybe somewhat damaged in culture. But often times what people mean when they use this term, “Jesus follower,” is that they’re trying to pull out certain teachings of Jesus. Perhaps only the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to everything else in scripture. They try to model their life after Jesus. This is a good thing, if that’s actually what these people are doing. You know, it seems like the people who go around saying that they’re Jesus followers, at least in some context, have distilled Jesus’ teaching down to just, “Be kind to people,” or, “Be supportive of what they want,” or, “Be loving.” (That word loving is never given a biblical definition.)
There’s one such person who calls himself a Jesus follower, and in his most recent book he has this quote. He says,
”The gospels are a collection of stories about the disciples doubting, believing the wrong thing, or entirely missing the point about what Jesus was saying.” Do I think it’s okay to not know what you believe and still be a part of the church? Heck yeah. In fact, I think that’s exactly what following Jesus is all about. “
What exactly is following Jesus about? Not knowing what you believe. That’s what the language there actually says.
Jesus had one fundamental message on earth, repent because the kingdom of God is at hand. You can’t miss that point, and be an actual Jesus follower. If you miss the most important thing someone comes to say, you’re not following them. Maybe you’re following your idea of them, but you’re certainly not following them. This brings us to the question, “do we have to believe correct or specific things in order to be an actual Jesus follower?”
Well, let’s look at some examples in scripture that back up this quote before we address it fully. Peter denied Jesus. He walked with him, he was one of the disciples, and he denied Jesus three times. We also see the disciples bickering about who’s the greatest among them—who’s going to sit at Jesus’ right hand. They totally miss the point of what Jesus’ role was, and what their roles were going to be.
Here’s an example where Jesus says to the disciples, “Very truly I tell you, it’s not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the word.” They said, “Sir, give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
They didn’t understand what he was talking about there either. They thought he was talking about actual bread. I think of the woman at the well, she thought Jesus was talking about actual running water when he said, “Living water,” Not something in a spiritual context.
In John 2 we’re given an example where the Jews say to Jesus, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all of this?” Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and I’ll raise it again in 3 days.” They replied, “It’s taken 46 years to build this temple and you’re going to raise it in 3 days?” “The temple he had spoken of was his body, “Johns tell us. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said and they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
They didn’t understand it then, they didn’t get it. They missed the point. Well, you might also ask, “Well why is this the case? How come they continually miss the point? Does that mean we should model our lives after them?”
There’s a really key point in understanding scripture. This is extremely important. The Bible does not condone of everything it includes. The Bible does not say something is good just because it includes it. I mean there are examples of people getting tent pegs shoved through their head, accounts of escapades and adultery, and murder. That doesn’t mean the Bible approves of those, it’s recording them as having happened.
When we see the disciples not understand something, that doesn’t mean that’s the standard we should ascribe to, and we’ll get to why the disciples are actually different than us today.
You know it’s interesting, Jesus speaks in parables a lot in the gospels. One time the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak in parables?” They weren’t understanding the parables. He replied, “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have even what he has will be taken away from him. This is why I speak in parables.” He quotes from Isaiah, “Tho seeing they do not see, tho hearing they do not understand.”
Isn’t this interesting that he’s saying, “I speak in parables so people will not understand.” That just blows our minds. We always think, “Jesus was trying to communicate as clearly as possible.” That’s not always true. Yes, sometimes the disciples understand, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the crowd doesn’t understand either, and sometimes Jesus explains things to those disciples, and sometimes he doesn’t. Yes, sometimes the disciples doubt, but we’re left with this question of, “Why didn’t Jesus explain everything in a way people could understand?” His mission was not to be a moral teacher, his mission was to usher in the kingdom of God. In order to do that he needed to be crucified on the cross.
Yes, when he said things like, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he knew that would be incredibly offensive back then, especially with the dietary laws that the Jews had. In a similar way that it would be offensive today to tell someone, “Hey, if you’re going to join this movement,” which is how some people thought of it, “You need to actually drink my blood and eat my flesh.”
He said that knowing it would repulse people. He wasn’t telling them to literally become cannibals, but many people left after that hard teaching. He gives these hard teachings to dwindle away the people who just want him for his power and his gifts, and the ones who are actually seeking righteously the kingdom of God. Which by the way is only something someone can do because of the working of the spirit in them.
This takes us to an important point. We cannot compare our lives today with the lives of the disciples pre-Jesus’ resurrection. What happened at the resurrection? More specifically, at Pentecost? Well, the new covenant was ushered in. Before Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples didn’t have things explained to them. You know we actually see in a few places where Jesus says things like this to the disciples.
He says, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter into glory? Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.”
They did not have a complete revelation of God like we do today. They did not have the New Testament. They didn’t have Jesus even explaining all of the Old Testament to them until this point. Obviously he had been teaching them for a few years, but nonetheless as we see in another passage a little later in Luke 24, “He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” When we compare our lives today, and set the standard as what the disciples were before Jesus did this, we are comparing apples and oranges. These disciples pre-Jesus’ resurrection were not Christians, they weren’t regenerate in the same we are today once we place our trust in Christ, and that the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart of flesh and takes out of a heart of stone.
Christians today, unlike the disciples, actually have this Spirit that helps us understand scripture. More than that, as Christians today we have the full revelation of God’s word in the Old and the New Testament. We can’t just simply say, “The disciples didn’t understand things.” The disciples totally missed the point about what Jesus was here to do.
We can’t define being a Jesus follower in terms of missing the entirety, or at least the most important points of his ministry. We shouldn’t be swayed by this claim that you don’t really need to know anything, you can totally miss the point and be a part of the church. You can’t.
The church is those who have been bought with the price that Jesus paid on the cross. They’ve been saved, he’s paid their sin debt and they’ve been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In order to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, you have to get the big things right. You have to believe that Jesus was a literal man who walked the earth, and died on a cross, and rose again for the forgiveness of sins.
This is replete throughout the whole New Testament, that in order to be a Christian you must call on the name of the lord. You must repent of your sins, you must confess that Jesus is lord and God raised him from the dead, and you’ll have eternal life. You can’t miss that point, you can’t not know what you believe about it. You must affirm it and place your trust in Christ. Otherwise you’re not a Christian, and biblically you’re not a part of the church. You must get some things right.
We can’t redefine being a Jesus follower in terms of just following the moral example of Jesus, which people don’t even often do. Here’s the thing, Jesus’ moral example includes what he said about marriage. In Matthew 19 he said, “That marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that’s the way God created them in the beginning.”
Well, often times these Jesus followers don’t follow that. Indeed the author of this quote we looked at would not affirm that. To be a Jesus follower means to believe all he taught, which means he was right on marriage. He was right on sexuality, he was right on the existence of a singular personal all powerful creator God. Which also means atheism is false, it also means naturalism is false—that there are more things out there than just material things. It also means that there’s a trinity: Jesus affirmed that he was God, he affirmed that the Father was God, which means God is one being in multiple persons.
More than this he affirmed the fallen-ness of man. Sometimes he even says the disciples couldn’t understand because of their hardness of heart. They needed a new heart, which they didn’t have yet because the Holy Spirit hadn’t come, further proving my point from earlier.
It also means we have to accept the Old Testament. Jesus accepted the Old Testament. He explained how everything written in the Law in the prophets ultimately pointed to him. You can’t have an incorrect Old Testament that points to a perfect savior in that way.
More than that, Jesus says in Matthew, “Have you not read what God spoke [in the old testament]?” He actually thought the old testament scriptures were the voice of God breathed out and written in scripture. We have to affirm that if we’re going to be a Jesus follower. Following Jesus means believing what he believed, not just simply not knowing and getting things wrong all over the place.
When Jesus affirms the reliability and authenticity of the Old Testament as God’s word, a Jesus follower must too. A Jesus follower also would believe in objective morality. We can’t just be a relativist and be a Jesus follower. We can’t say, “Society decides for themselves what’s right and wrong,” or, “I decide for myself what’s right and wrong,” because Jesus continually said, “As it is written in the law. As it is written in scripture. As God spoke to you.”
We must affirm that the rightness and wrongness of things are not dependent on what we believe, but on the nature and character of God. Those things are revealed in scripture to us. We can’t just be relativists, we can’t deny that God exists, we can’t just say, “That’s a personal belief, but I don’t really know if it’s true.” We can’t miss the major point of what Jesus came to do, which was to save fallen man, not simply set a good moral example. A Jesus follower is a Christian. They’re someone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit because they’ve placed their trust for salvation in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.
They believe he was a real person, that he was really good, and that scripture is the real Word of God. There’s not a middle ground there. As C.S. Lewis said, “Jesus was either lord, a liar, or a lunatic.” You can’t just say, “He got some things right, and other things not right,” because he claimed to be God. He’s either right in that claim, and hence we should listen to him on everything, or he’s wrong on that claim. In which case, he’s wrong on the biggest claim anyone could ever make. That makes him not a good teacher, not someone we should follow.
I hope this helps you think through the claim that you can just get a bunch of things wrong—big things wrong—and still be a Christian or a Jesus follower.
I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.