We all follow leaders. The question is, who’s leading?
Most of us follow some combination of our peers, people we admire, advertising, media outlets, and most importantly for Christians, Jesus. As a Christian, my desire is to follow Jesus more closely and to let other influences fade. I don’t kid myself that I can brush off all of the other imprints, but I want Jesus’ influence on me to become irresistible.
How can I follow Jesus more closely?
Follow Jesus by Faith
In Jesus’ day to follow him meant to literally walk with him, to watch how he lived his life, to observe his interactions, to learn from him, and to follow his lead. To follow Jesus today means exactly the same thing, only we can’t do it physically. Today we have God’s Word, truth breathed out for our faith and spiritual benefit (2 Timothy 3:16). We have the four Gospels as a written record of his actions, the rest of the Bible as inspired guidance, and we have the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is enough.
The Jews in Jesus’ day followed God’s Law, sometimes a convenient interpretation of the Law, and many of them had neglected to follow God himself. They proved that an outside-in approach, following the Law to follow God, simply doesn’t work. The Old Testament has numerous examples of Israel promising to follow God’s Law, and I’m sure they meant it, but they failed time after time.
Jesus gave us a far better option, for he works in us from the inside-out. Faith in Jesus Christ means that he takes up residence in our lives, for we have died, and we are new creations. He first changes our hearts, and our behavior will follow.
Three Steps to Follow Jesus in Making Tough Decisions
Step 1: Start with a right heart.
The first thing to do to follow Jesus more closely is to examine our hearts. A right heart is a heart of love for the Lord that is motivated by the gospel. Jesus said that we are to love God and our neighbors, and that “all the Law and the Prophets hang” on those two commandments (Matthew 22:40). When we let self-interest direct our decisions, we have lost track of love and forfeited the influence of Jesus.
A friend recently described a situation that she didn’t know how to handle. Her parents are not well. Her father has dementia, and her mother is in denial. My friend worries about her father’s well-being, and her attempts at conversation with her mother about her father’s state are stymied. She wants to honor her parents, but to serve one of them seems to inflict discomfort on the other. What should she do?
As we talked, it became clear that she should let her actions flow from her heart of love for God and for her parents. With her heart full of love, she will determine what love for her parents looks like in this situation.
It sounds simple; love like God loves. But it’s a little more complicated than that. The love of God is, thankfully, merciful, and he is gracious to offer his love to encourage and strengthen us. But sometimes God’s love is tough. The exile of Israel was a time when God loved his people with steel. My friend’s love will probably look tough to one of her parents. She is no doubt asking Jesus for her next steps.
Step 2: Ask Jesus.
Another friend of mine was providing assistance to someone who needed help. She had helped this individual quite a bit, and she could afford to continue her aid, but she was beginning to wonder if that was the right thing to do.
Questions I’ve brought to Jesus have been similarly difficult to pin down. How should I respond to an individual who hurt me? There are several good options for use of my time; which one would be the most fruitful? How should I best advise a friend or my child?
We have the tremendous privilege of asking Jesus what we should do. It is deceptively simple: just ask.
When I am praying about such an issue, and scouring Scripture for an answer, after a while—a day, a week, or longer—a response eventually settles in my soul. It’s often a slow process, and even if the answer isn’t completely clear to me, I never fail to learn something about God, about prayer, about myself, and my faith invariably grows.
In my friend’s case, she decided to continue giving aid. It was done out of a heart of love, with her Bible and a lot of prayer, and I am sure that she followed Jesus well.
Step 3: Answer to Jesus, and only to Jesus.
Having prepared your heart with love, and prayed for the correct response, you make a God-honoring decision. Will everyone agree with it? Probably not.
When Jesus made breakfast for his disciples after he rose from the dead, he and Peter took a walk. Peter, at one point, looked over his shoulder at another disciple, and said, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22).
Ultimately, we are accountable to no one but Jesus. He often uses other people, such as family, friends, mentors, and the church for wise instruction and advice. Paul, who provided godly guidance to many, wrote this bold statement to the Corinthian church: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Advice and wisdom are one thing; the decision, however, is between ourselves and Jesus.
The fact that I am accountable only to Jesus is a tremendous relief to me. Sometimes I will need to defend my decision to those who disagree, and Jesus will help me do that. Maybe the decision wasn’t the best, but Jesus will redeem the results of that too.
I don’t have to, and I won’t, make every decision perfectly. But Jesus is my Savior—even from unwise decisions. In him I am approved in God’s sight, apart from anything I do.
To follow Jesus more closely, we start with a heart of love, ask the Lord for guidance for specific decisions, and remember that we are accountable only to him.