Follow Jesus before you believe him

To get through college, I bartended at a local country club. In many ways, it trained me for pastoral ministry. I learned to serve and listen to people. I also felt like it was a master’s class in human nature. But out of all my experiences, there was one conversation that really stuck with me.  

A certain man knew I was studying to be a pastor. So he said to me, “My brother lives in California. He just became a Christian. And he told me it’s the greatest thing. It’s changed his life. He told me that I should become a Christian too. So I’ve tried. I sit in my bed at night and yell at the ceiling, telling God to make me a Christian. But nothing seems to work. So, what am I supposed to be doing to become a believer?”

I don’t remember how I responded. I think I tried to tell him about sin and grace. I do remember feeling disappointed that I didn’t communicate God’s love more clearly.

Over the years I’ve had similar interactions. Usually I respond by encouraging the person who is seeking God to read the Bible and go to church and immediately believe a bunch of deep theological doctrine. 

But I wonder if there’s a better way. 

John Ortberg in his book Eternity Is Now in Session explains how Jesus led people to faith. When he approached his followers, he didn’t front-load a lot of biblical information on sin and grace and faith. He didn’t demand they join a church or read a bunch of Scripture. He just invited, even commanded, them to follow him. 

That’s it. 

He said, “Follow me.”

And they did. They began to follow Jesus wherever he went. As they followed him, Jesus spoke in to every area of their lives. Over a three-year period, Jesus showed them that he was right about everything. 

He was right about relationships, prayer, sin, forgiveness, love, anger, eternity, and everything else. Then, finally, he dropped the big theological question in their laps. He asked his followers, “Who do you say I am?” 

Only after following him for quite some time were they ready to give the answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

So following Jesus’ example, instead of loading on a ton of theological information, instead of demanding people join a church, I want to encourage people to start with Jesus. Just start following Jesus. 

Follow Jesus in everything. Let Jesus speak into every area of your life. Read Jesus’ famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Start to practice what Jesus says about love, patience, forgiveness, and prayer. Just start walking with Jesus and see where he takes you. 

Here’s what I believe will happen. As you and others begin to walk with Jesus, as you begin to see what it looks like to be his follower, you will see that he is right about everything. 

Then, eventually, after following him, you will reach the foot of the cross where he died. You will also peer into the empty tomb where he once lay. You will see that he is the answer to your deepest problems of guilt, shame, and evil. 

Over time, you will be led, as billions of others have been led, to know that this is the Messiah. This is the hero of history. This is the Savior of the world. This is the Son of God. 

That will happen someday. Today, I want to encourage you, and I want you to encourage someone else: Follow Jesus. Take one step to follow Jesus. Who knows where he might take you. 

Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. From 2014 to 2019, he served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. Currently, he is at Victory of the Lamb in Wisconsin. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.

 

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