We are all always being discipled by someone (or something). If we’re not deliberately following Jesus, we’ll follow someone else by default.
One of the most critical things we need in order to follow Jesus is a paradigm shift. We must stop patterning our assumptions, thoughts, and methods after our culture, and pattern them after the way of Jesus instead.
Our urban, post-Christian, progressive society prioritizes individualism and information, and it wants everything instantly. This is the “trellis” upon which our lives will grow if we’re not intentional to grow upon the paradigm of Jesus instead.
Here’s the central theme of that gospel paradigm: Following Jesus is a lifelong, communal journey of living in the reality of your new, received identity.
Let’s break that down.
1. Identity, not information.
When the second Person of the Trinity – God the Son – came in human flesh, he took on the form of a Jewish rabbi. That’s important because the rabbinic model is less about communicating bare information and more about imparting identity.
Following Jesus is not like sitting in a history class, simply memorizing people, places, dates, and events. It’s more like an apprentice learning to weld. There’s information, to be sure; but the emphasis is on applied knowledge and identity. You’re not just learning facts; you’re in the process of becoming a highly-skilled welder.
From the moment Jesus called four fishermen to become fishers of men, it was clear that following Jesus meant accepting a new identity. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, we are “the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world . . . a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:13-14).
We can live contrary to who we are in Christ, or we can live consistently with who we are, but the fact remains: this is who we are in and because of him.
2. Lifestyle, not event.
“Follow me” is an interesting command because it assumes that what follows (no pun intended) is a process, a lifestyle, not an event.
Reread the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It’s not the sort of stuff you can say, “Ok, done. Check!” No, they’re the sort of things you do and keep doing.
When we come to the practices of following Jesus shortly, don’t see these things as a formulaic checklist. Don’t just cross them off so you can get to the next thing. See these practices as facets of a healthy relationship with God – a relationship that you want to go on and on forever!
3. Community, not solo.
Jesus called twelves disciples, not one. He sent them out in groups. And he referred to them by collective nouns. Salt is not a single grain. Light is not a single photon. A city is not a single person. A flock is not a single sheep. All these illustrations are communal.
The disciples understood this communal aspect to following Jesus, and it permeated their later writings. They variously described the church as . . .
- fellow citizens of a new and holy nation
- siblings of a new family or household
- stones of a new temple
- members of a new and chosen race
- sheep of a new flock
- members of a new body
- and much, much more.
So don’t attempt to follow Jesus as a solo sanctification project. Yes, there are habits of following Jesus that no one can do for you – and some that you’re meant to practice personally/individually and even in secret (like fasting or giving generously). But these are nestled into the context of pursuing Jesus with others, so that you might encourage and exhort one another to love and good works.
This is the paradigm, the “trellis,” our lives are meant to be grown upon. And by living out this lifelong, communal journey, our lives continue to look more and more like Jesus.