What Does it Mean to Truly Follow Jesus?
I used to be a very good actor. I could show up and perform well in all kinds of Christian settings. I knew the expectations and I could use the right vocabulary, adopt the right expressions, and do all the outward things. It looked like spiritual maturity from the outside, but internally, there was all kinds of selfishness and pride.
When you think of someone who is spiritually mature, what usually comes to mind? Someone who has attended church faithfully for many years? Participates in small group Bible studies? Regularly spends time in personal prayer and devotion?
These practices are important in the life of a believer, but is that all spiritual maturity involves?
What if that person is cold and unkind, bitter and unforgiving, selfish and uncaring? Would you still say that person is spiritually mature?
We are made in the image of a relational God – God’s very nature is an eternal relationship of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God Himself is love. With this as our foundation, we can see that spiritual maturity has do to with becoming more like Jesus – becoming people of love. Jesus’ key teaching in Matthew 22 can offer us valuable insight into this.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He brought it all into relational terms.
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
If all of God’s commands revolve around loving God and loving others – that must be our guidepost for our spiritual growth as well. In order to obey God in this – in loving Him and loving our neighbour as ourselves – we must understand what His love is actually like.
This is How we Know What Love is...
The world says love is an emotion, a feeling that can come and go. But God doesn’t command us to have emotions towards others. His command to love others is much deeper and more active than that. When He commands us to love, it is the kind of love we see in Christ. Scripture describes love this way:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, so we should lay down our lives for one another.” 1 Jn 3:16
Jesus’ love was a sacrificial choice for the highest good of others. God’s command to love others has less to do with our feelings towards them and much more to do with laying our lives down for them – whether or not we think they deserve it. In fact, we can do all kinds of good works, but if our motives are not love, 1 Corinthians 13:13 says our efforts are like a clanging gong – just a lot of noise.
Putting it into Practice
Think of how we could revolutionise the world by loving others well.
What would it look like to love your neighbour of a different faith like Jesus loves them?
What would it look like to love someone who’s politics don’t match yours like Jesus loves them?
What would it look like to love a refugee like Jesus loves them?
What would it look like to love an unreached people group like Jesus loves them?