In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4, Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee when He encountered Simon and his brother Andrew, two common fishermen. Earlier that day, these two brothers had no idea that their lives were about to radically change in an amazing way. Simon and Andrew were about to receive the invitation of a lifetime. God had come to earth, and the Savior of the world looked at them and said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
What was it that made Simon and Andrew leave everything behind and follow Jesus? Was it the authority that He walked in? Was it the way He spoke? Or was it something intangible? Like these two brothers, multitudes have left the past behind to become followers of Christ. But who is this Jesus who says, "Follow Me"? What is it about Him that has convinced so many people to alter the course of their lives, leaving "normal" behind to embrace a new future? In this world of constant reviews, does Jesus carry any credible endorsement, and what is He asking of us?
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' ‘Well,' they replied, ‘some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.' Then he asked them, ‘But who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus replied, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.'"
"As the men watched, Jesus' appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, ‘Lord, it's wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I'll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.' But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.' The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. ‘Get up,' he said. ‘Don't be afraid.' And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus."
An endorsement goes a long way. Before reading a book or purchasing an expensive item, most people want to see an endorsement or read a review. How do people feel about the product? Does it live up to the claims it makes? Before choosing a babysitter for a child, parents will likely ask for references alluding to the character and abilities of the individual to be employed. When it comes to endorsing the Savior of the world, who would be more qualified to do so than God Himself? At Jesus' baptism, God the Father announced to all present that Jesus was His "dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy" (Matt. 3:17 NLT). In Matthew 17:5, God the Father reaffirmed this truth at the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus is God's plan of redemption for mankind. Let there be no doubt—Jesus has the endorsement of endorsements!
What would cause men and women to leave homes, careers, and families to follow after someone they had known for only a short time? Certainly, there were those who questioned the sanity of Christ's disciples in doing so. But within each one of His followers, a shift had taken place that opened their eyes to see Jesus as more than just an ordinary teacher. They recognized that He was more than just a man.
Several scriptures show us how the disciples labeled Jesus. When asked directly who Jesus was, Peter replied, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16 NLT). When asked whether or not the disciples were going to desert Him, Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68 ESV). Upon seeing Jesus risen from the dead, Thomas, who had said he would believe that Jesus was alive only if he saw Him personally, exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28 ESV). The disciples were certain, at the cost of their lives, that Jesus was the Christ.
Even the demons that encountered Christ could not deny who He was. Mark's Gospel records multiple times demon spirits cried out at the sight of Jesus, declaring, "You are the Son of God!" (Mark 3:11 NLT; Luke 4:41 NLT). In Mark 5:7 (NLT), they referred to Him as "Jesus, Son of the Most High God." The fact that they recognized Him may have stemmed from previously witnessing His presence and authority when Satan himself was cast from heaven. As Jesus told His disciples in Luke 10:18 (ESV), "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." The demons could not help but recognize Jesus' spiritual authority. The Word of God had become flesh and was standing right there before them. No other label was appropriate but "Jesus, Son of the Most High God."
Despite the endorsement of the heavenly Father and the evidence of signs and wonders that followed Jesus everywhere, the world at large would not accept Him as the Christ, the Son of God. Even many in His own family would not acknowledge His deity. As news about the miracles He performed spread, huge crowds began to gather wherever He was. Once, members of His own family came to a large gathering and tried to remove Jesus, saying, "He's a madman. He has lost His mind!"
The religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed and told the crowds following Him that this was where He got His power to cast out devils. Others credited Jesus with a level of spiritual influence but stopped short of acknowledging His deity, saying He was a resurrected prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah (Matt. 16:14). In Luke 24, we read an account of two of Jesus' followers who once had believed He was the promised Christ. However, after His crucifixion, they labeled Him merely as a mighty prophet and a good teacher. It was only after Jesus revealed Himself to them that these two, with faith restored, exclaimed "The Lord has really risen!" (v. 34 NLT).
Today, a response to the question of who is Jesus? will garner a variety of answers ranging from "savior" to "myth." The world at large has always wrestled and will continue to struggle with how to label this world-changer named Jesus.
Jesus did not have an identity crisis. He knew exactly who He was. He not only demonstrated His power through signs and wonders, but He also clearly communicated His label to His disciples and even the religious establishment. In John 8:58 (NLT), He proclaimed to the religious hierarchy, "Before Abraham was even born, I AM!" This was the same name God had used to label Himself to Moses at the burning bush. In John 6:35 (NLT), Jesus declared to thousands of followers, "I am the bread of life," meaning He is the one who satisfies spiritual hunger and thirst. In John 8:12 (NLT), He announced, "I am the light of the world," and in John 10:6 (NLT), "I am the gate." He is a light to those who walk in darkness and the gateway to salvation and the Father.
In John 8:11 (NLT), Jesus stated, "I am the good shepherd," who lays down His life for His sheep, and in John 11:25 (NLT), in front of the grave of His friend Lazarus, Jesus proclaimed, "I am the resurrection and the life." This truth was clearly evident as Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus also stated with authority that He had the power not only to lay down His own life, but also to raise it up again (John 10:18). He affirmed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" in John 14:6 (NLT), and "I am the vine" in John 15:5 (NLT). The Scriptures reveal that Jesus knew who He was and why He came.
Now comes the most important question of all . . .
This is an important question that demands a response. The answer to this question will determine whether or not you are ready to answer the call to "follow Me." Some may protest, "I'm not ready to label Him." Even if Jesus lied about who He is, you lose nothing by believing Him. Consider also the issue of the noted miracles and more than 300 prophecies that He directly fulfilled, many of which He had no control over. Finally, if Jesus was a lunatic, how do you explain the more than 2.3 billion people who have decided to follow Him? If, however, He is truly Lord, the question is, Will you follow Him?
Begin to see Jesus, not just as a good teacher or model for a good moral philosophy, but as Lord and Savior. Be prepared with an answer to those who would ask, "Why Jesus?" Your response should be confident, full of conviction and personal experience. Share it with a more mature believer and get feedback. Pray for an opportunity to share your salvation experience with someone who is seeking.
"One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!' And they left their nets at once and followed him."
The decision to follow Jesus means embracing the opportunity of a lifetime: to be discipled by Jesus Christ, the best of the best! However, the term discipleship is not often heard in today's society. Too often it has been associated with cult leaders or others who abuse authority and take advantage of those seeking a spiritual walk with God. True discipleship, however, will never point to a man, but to God. The true meaning of Christian discipleship is to be a pupil of Jesus Christ, allowing oneself to be trained by the teachings of Christ. To be a disciple of Christ carries with it a price, but the benefits are amazing. Following Jesus in discipleship involves four major themes.
At the invitation of Jesus to "follow Me," Peter left his fishing nets and Levi left his tax collector's table. When the Spirit of God begins drawing a person, there must be a willingness to leave it all behind and to accept a new paradigm that places all other relationships and things as secondary to Him. Jesus spoke with complete transparency about the cost of becoming His follower. Scripture gives this account in Luke 14:25–33 (NLT):
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There's the person who started that building and couldn't afford to finish it!'
Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can't, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own."
Believers who pursue discipleship must be willing to leave behind the following:
A scribe once came to Jesus and told Him, "I want to follow You." Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20 NLT). Scripture does not record the scribe's response, but scribes were accustomed to wealth and the finer things of life, so Jesus' words likely left him unsettled. Jesus was basically homeless. He stayed wherever people would take Him in, and He had no possessions. Following Christ may at times require leaving a place of security to step out in faith. Following Him may be uncomfortable and is often inconvenient.
It has been said that it is okay to have possessions as long as those possessions do not own you. An overemphasis on things can be distracting for a believer. The deal-breaker for the rich young ruler was the call to sell everything and give it to the poor. Anything that is a hindrance to living a life of surrender to Christ may need to go.
Jesus asks His disciples to love Him more than they love any other relationship. In some parts of the world today, choosing a relationship with Jesus means the loss of family relationships and sometimes even entails the threat of death. Believers who are pursuing discipleship with Jesus may need to turn away from old boyfriends, girlfriends, or lifestyles that would hinder following Christ.
Certain dreams and plans for the future may not seem as important once a believer becomes a disciple of Christ. After salvation, believers see life from a different perspective. Dreams and future plans take on more significant meaning when life is lived on purpose.
The privilege of being a disciple of Jesus Christ comes at the highest cost. He is the pearl of great price, and following Him is more valuable than anything else.
"Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.'"
Consider this thought: Wisdom personified has offered an open invitation to learn from Him! The Scriptures teach that everything that has been made was made through Him. Talk about wisdom! The Scriptures also teach that to fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Being dedicated to learn from Christ means the following:
"I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."
A believer's relationship with Jesus is relational, not transactional ("I give you something and you give me something in return"). Discipleship with Jesus is based on a loving relationship with Him, not a transactional mentality. Coming to Jesus means embracing deep friendship with Him. The main focus of learning to be His disciple is love: learning how to love God fully and how to love people as God loves them. A true disciple is one who, like Jesus, has learned to love both God and people.
"Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness. . . . ‘Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!'"
Christ empowers true believers to do the works He did.
"Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher."
"I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father."
Jesus did not leave His disciples with just an admiration for what He did, but He also empowered them to do what He did! Likewise, true disciples of Christ should be doing the same works and even greater works than those Jesus did. To follow Jesus is to seize the opportunity of a lifetime to be developed into a disciple of the greatest leader the world has ever known.
Discipleship is leaving, learning, loving, and leading. Throughout your journey with Christ, you will find it helpful to set goals along the way. In each of these four areas, what are some achievable goals that you could set for yourself? Do not forget to put a date on your goal, because a goal without a date is just a dream. Bring each goal before the Lord in prayer, and write down your plan to achieve that goal. Remember that with Jesus you can do great things!
"If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you."
One of the greatest promises Jesus made was the promise of the Holy Spirit. The directive to the disciples in Acts 1 was to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Jesus said that power to be His witnesses would accompany this receiving of the Holy Spirit. In the New American Standard Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Helper; that is, one who comes alongside and helps believers in a variety of ways. When believers are filled with the Spirit of Christ, they are empowered to do what Jesus instructed, speak as He directs, and live a life of purpose.
Among many other commands, the Scriptures teach believers to forgive, be generous, to serve, and to love others without prejudice. All who truly love Jesus will possess a great desire to obey Him. The problem is, however, that many of the commands of Scripture are in direct opposition to what the natural man wants to do. But Jesus never intended for believers to walk this Christian walk without the help of the Holy Spirit. He has given the Holy Spirit to help believers obediently live out the Word of God in everyday life.
The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit inspired those who wrote the Scriptures, and He reveals and confirms the Scriptures. Believers will never grasp the truth of the gospel without the direct assistance of the Holy Spirit. When a passage or promise resonates in the heart of a believer, it is the Holy Spirit who is making that truth clear and understandable.
Jesus prophesied in John 7:38–39 that once He had destroyed the veil of separation, humankind would again be able to enjoy the unhindered fellowship originally experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He promised that out of the innermost part of believers would flow rivers of living water (the Holy Spirit). These rivers look like peace in the midst of trouble, or even a confident hope that no matter what, things are going to be all right. This confident hope is infectious, encouraging others and opening a door to share the gospel.
People will never realize a need for Jesus without conviction of sin. This comes from the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to bring revelation to the hearts of individuals and give understanding of their lost position. The Holy Spirit shines the spotlight on the work of the cross and the depravity of man's fallen condition. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God's standard of holiness (Rom. 3:23). It then illuminates the solution to the sin problem by revealing Jesus as the Redeemer (John 3:16). The final work of the Holy Spirit is to warn of the awful consequences awaiting those who reject Jesus, God's perfect solution (Rom. 6:23).
Believers were never intended to discover the will of God without the aid of the Holy Spirit. Many times known as the "still, small voice," the Holy Spirit gently nudges and cautions Christians in everyday life. He knows the future and can help avert disaster or give direction that brings divine favor. Jesus said that His sheep (believers) know His voice and will not follow a stranger. The more Christians listen to the Holy Spirit and learn the ways of God, the clearer His leading will become.
The Holy Spirit keeps believers up-to-date on the exact heart of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who introduces people to Jesus. He reveals the goodness of God and opens the Scriptures so that hearts can receive the things of God (see Genesis 24.) Someone once described the Holy Spirit as the "best man" in our relationship with Jesus. His job is not to introduce the bride to Himself, but to lead the bride to the Bridegroom (Jesus).
Every miracle, sign, and wonder is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Only by discerning and obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit are believers able to accomplish anything worthy of glory to God. When an act of obedience produces a supernatural result, it happens through the Holy Spirit and brings glory to God. When a lost person is introduced to Jesus, it brings glory to God.
In this verse, in essence Jesus was saying, "I'm going to put my breath and life in you! You will be able to operate as I have on the earth with the very Spirit and breath of God in your physical body. Just as I lived in a body but obeyed the Father perfectly and brought glory to His name, so shall you do and even greater." At creation God breathed into man the breath of life. On the day of Pentecost, Jesus breathed on His disciples and they received the Holy Spirit.
Jesus never entertained the notion that His followers would try to accomplish the Great Commission without the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. This was not the baptism of repentance, but a second baptism—the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The acts of the apostles recorded in Scripture are still being carried out today by those who value the person of the Holy Spirit and yield to His leading. As believers develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit, flowing in a lifestyle of ministry becomes the norm. Can a believer be saved and go to heaven without being baptized with the Holy Spirit? Short answer, yes. But here is something to consider: Why would a person build a beautiful home, furnish it with amazing decor, install beautifully landscaped grounds, but never connect the electricity? Would it be possible to live in the home without it? Of course it would, but why would anyone want to? Jesus made an incredible promise to all believers: "You will receive power." Power for what purpose? To follow Jesus and victoriously walk out this Christian life with a Helper who is leading and guiding along the way!
Have you experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit? If not, ask your B-Group leader or a member of the pastoral staff about this wonderful gift from God. If you have, make fellowship with the Holy Spirit a regular part of your devotional life. Remember that Jesus referred to Him as your Helper who would be with you forever (John 14:16–17).
There is no greater person of prayer than Jesus Christ. When it comes to effectual, relational, passionate prayer, Jesus is the greatest example for a believer to follow. He maintained a prayer routine of early-morning conversations with His Father, prayer throughout the day, and evening prayer. Jesus would often spend all night in prayer, seeking direction and solace (Luke 6:12). But what was Jesus' motivation to pray? Was He not God? What motivated Him to spend so much time alone with the Father in prayer? Jesus' close relationship with the Father made prayer not a duty or difficulty, but a pleasure. Most people have close friends that they enjoy having long hours of conversation with. Jesus knew the Father in such a way. His consistent intimacy with the Father led, directed, and assured Him that the Father was with Him every step of the way. But can believers speak with God like this, as though He is a close friend or family member? The answer is yes. For the believer, a vibrant prayer life is as necessary as breathing air or drinking water, and it is vital to sustaining spiritual life.
As the disciples witnessed Jesus' life of prayer, it created a hunger in them to have that same experience. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11 and verses 1–13, the disciples were observing Jesus as He prayed. As He finished, one of His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. A fruitful prayer life is contagious. Seeing and hearing the passion with which Jesus prayed, and no doubt feeling the presence of God in response to Jesus' communion, compelled the disciples to desire the same experience. It was Jesus' pattern of life to seek direction and comfort from His Father in times of need. As a Jew, He had been taught from His childhood to pray to the Father. As He grew, prayer was a normal, integral part of His life. When Jesus prayed, He often withdrew to a quiet place to pray alone. He understood the difficulty of praying in a place with constant interruptions and distractions. His example showed the disciples the importance of His interaction with the Father and the value He placed on the relationship. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone who keeps looking at their phone or over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting has walked into the room. A quiet place free from interruptions communicates to the Father "this is the most important conversation in my life right now." (See Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35; Luke 9:18, 22:39–41.) As believers become more disciplined to pray and seek communion with God, prayer will become more natural and automatic. The first response in any situation will be to pray and to give God thanks in times of blessing and to seek His face and direction in times of trial.
Jesus was consistent in prayer. Of all the personalities in Scripture, no one exemplifies praying "at all times" and "without ceasing" more than Christ Jesus. The Bible records twenty-five instances when Jesus prayed. He prayed and gave thanks to God before a meal (Luke 24:30), and He prayed for others (John 17:9).
In John 17:20 (NIV, emphasis added), He prayed specifically for believers: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." Jesus still makes intercession (prayers) for the church today (Heb. 7:25).
No matter what the situation, the disciples could count on the fact that Jesus was going to talk to His Father about it. Jesus prayed not just in private, but in public as well. Such was the case at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:41–42). In this situation, Jesus prayed aloud for all to hear.
Jesus also prayed at His baptism and before making important decisions, like choosing His twelve disciples (Luke 3:21–22, 6:12–13).
He prayed before performing miracles (Mark 7:34–35) and after miracles as well, not to revel in what had just happened, but to give glory to His Father in heaven (Luke 5:16).
When facing the trial of His soon-coming death, Jesus prayed (John 12:27–30).
Jesus also led by example in seeking the Father's will in prayer (Matt. 26:36–44).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus anguished all night in prayer to His Father. Even though he knew that the cross was His mission, Jesus wanted to hear from God before moving forward. In the last hours before His death, Jesus talked to the Father and prayed for those who were crucifying Him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"; and with His dying breath, Jesus prayed, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:34, 46 KJV).
After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus continued modeling prayer as He blessed the bread before He ate with others (Luke 24:30) and as He blessed the disciples before His ascension (Luke 24:50–53).
Not only did Jesus model prayer, but He also taught on the importance of prayer and praying in faith (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24-26).
Jesus taught that all things asked for in prayer should be asked for in faith, with the belief that the request has been granted.
In Matthew 7:7–11, He taught the value of persistence, instructing His disciples to ask, seek, and knock, and to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. In John 14:13–14, He taught about asking in His name, and in John 15:7, He taught about abiding in Him and being full of His words and promises.
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus taught believers to pray for those who persecute them and, in Luke 6:27–28, for those who mistreat them.
Jesus also taught His disciples to be genuine in prayer, saying in Matthew 6:5–15 that they were not to be like the hypocrites who loved to pray for show. Rather, they were to go into their prayer closets and pray from the heart, not merely repeating meaningless words. Notice that His instruction was not about posture, place, or time, but the condition of the heart. The heart is where prayer originates.
The Lord's Prayer was Jesus' response to the disciples' request to be taught how to pray (Luke 11:2–4 NIV). In this passage, He taught His disciples five specific areas of prayer to focus on.
Prayer does not start with a request. The multitudes surrounding God's throne are not making requests of Him, but rather giving Him worship. In Psalm 103, Scripture teaches us to "bless His holy name" (v. 1 NKJV). It then goes on to list five benefits (forgiveness, healing, rescue, favor, and blessings), and all of them are tied to a specific covenant name of God.
After a few minutes of worship comes surrender, or consecration. To consecrate something, such as body, mind, spirit, career, finances, family, etc., is to set it apart for God's exclusive use. This surrender releases a believer's entire life to God and His plan. It is what Jesus did in Gethsemane when He prayed, "Not my will, but Yours be done." Believers should pray daily, in consecration and surrender, for God to move the kingdom forward through His church.
Next, Jesus instructs believers to bring their needs before God in supplication. They should worship Him first, surrender to His will, then ask for whatever is necessary to fulfill that purpose. It may be a request for food, clothing, bills, transportation, etc. God provided for three million Israelites in the desert, and He can certainly provide for His people today. He desires believers to have whatever is needed to move the kingdom forward. However, the requests should be very specific, not general; otherwise, the answer may be only general!
Daniel was a great intercessor. In fifteen consecutive verses of Daniel 9, he asked God to forgive Israel. In intercession, a believer stands between an offended God and an offensive person. It is almost impossible to remain bitter at someone when asking God to be merciful to them.
Satan's kingdom is real. All temptations originate with Satan, not God. Every day, believers must put on the whole armor of God to stand firm against every attack of the enemy (see Ephesians 6). It is important to pray daily for our city, state, and nation, as well as against attacks upon our family, business, and health.
Prayer is a discipline that all believers need to establish as they follow Jesus. Continuing to pray as Jesus taught leads into prayer becoming a daily delight rather than a chore, and a vital part of a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Prayer is a vital part of the life of any believer. If you have not been consistent in prayer, begin now to develop a habit of daily prayer. Choose the place and time to meet with God in order to listen as well as speak. Remove any distractions such as cell phones and clutter. Focus on entering into His presence. Bring a journal to write down the things God speaks to your heart in prayer. After 30 days of consistent prayer, you will find that it has become a regular part of your life.
"Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"
The act of forgiveness is not always easy. It is, in fact, sometimes really hard. Nonetheless, for followers of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian walk. The high price of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection made it possible for believers to both receive forgiveness and to extend it to others as well. It is a costly gift that has been given freely to the church by a loving, compassionate Father. Since it has been given so freely, why should believers ever be stingy with offering it to others?
The refusal to forgive has serious consequences. It affects not only the person who caused the offense, but also the person offended. Jesus warned of the consequences of unforgiveness when He said, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:14–15 NIV). The refusal to forgive opens the door for the enemy to come into the life of a believer and bring a plethora of physical and emotional torment. Unforgiveness first begins in the heart. In its infancy, it is a disappointment. Something or someone did not respond in a way that was expected. That disappointment, if allowed to mature, will take root in the mind and heart until it begins to bear the fruit of bitterness. That bitterness will eventually affect other areas in the life of the believer. That is why the Bible speaks so strongly against it: "See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Heb. 12:15 NIV).
Forgiveness is first a decision, and then it is worked out through a process, a process that begins with a conversation. The purpose of the conversation is to win back the other person. This happens through an appeal: "This is the way I perceived the situation." Many people, however, are hesitant to initiate a direct conversation for fear it may become confrontational. Nonetheless, if disagreements are not dealt with, the parties involved may become prisoners of the offense and give a foothold to the enemy to destroy the relationship. Remember, Satan is all about destroying. Sadly, many relationships are lost over the smallest of issues because neither party is willing to take the first step of talking it out. Real love, however, is having those conversations, as difficult as they may be, with the goal of restoring and reconciling. This is following Jesus' example in forgiveness: "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over" (Matt. 18:15 NLT).
Forgiveness is not about feelings; rather, it is about a decision. The word in the Scriptures used for forgiveness is actually a legal term that means to release or discharge. Forgiveness, therefore, is an act of the will to allow the guilty party to go free as if the debt has been paid in full. This aptly describes salvation for Christians: their sins have been forgiven, paid in full (Col. 2:14). In the same way that believers are released of their sin debt, they are instructed to release others who have sinned against them (Matt. 6:12). When believers take a step toward this, God will supply the power to move all the way to forgiveness. At this point in the forgiveness process, some may ask, "What about the memories?" This is one of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness. Just because a person decides to forgive does not mean that the painful memories instantly vanish. Each experience of an individual is recorded and filed away. Attempts may be made to bury certain memories, but they easily come rushing to the surface when triggered by a similar experience or personality. To combat this tendency, the Word of God instructs believers to form new memories to take the place of the old ones. Scripture encourages believers to "think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about" (Phil. 4:8 TLB). Remember, what God instructs believers to do through the Scriptures, He empowers them to do by His Spirit. God will give fresh revelation for the future that births a new perspective for the now. Genesis 18 records the life of a young man named Joseph. Envious of their father's love for him, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. Genesis 38–45 recounts the subsequent hardships Joseph faced through no fault of his own. Ultimately, despite an opportunity to be bitter and hold unforgiveness against his brothers, he chose to see that what they had meant for evil, God intended for good. The process of forgiveness is like ringing a bell. A bell will continue to ring for a few moments after the hand is removed, but eventually it will stop. Once the decision is made to forgive, the feeling of unforgiveness may continue for a bit, but eventually it will stop. Following Jesus in forgiveness means to forgive the offense, release the offender, and ask God to replace the bad memories with thoughts that bring the Father joy.
There is freedom in forgiveness, not only for the person who has committed an offense, but for the offended one as well. Make the decision now to release anyone who has offended or wronged you in the past. Write down the offense and the name of the offender on a piece of paper. Once you have written down anyone who has hurt or wronged you in any way, say out loud, "I choose right now to forgive and release [the person's name] for any wrongs they have committed toward me." Once you have released each person and offense, write across the page in bold letters "Forgiven by me," and then throw the paper away. Refuse to dwell on the offense any more, and walk in your freedom!
Jesus was so full of compassion that it overflowed onto all of those around Him. When the sick, broken, or hurting came to Jesus, His response was one of compassion. To the woman caught in adultery, He spoke words of healing and restoration: "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11 KJV). This is the compassion of Jesus in action. As ambassadors of Christ, believers should have a fountain of compassion flowing out of them as well. This is a huge part of being a follower of Jesus and representing His heart to a hurting world. Unfortunately, some believers want to draw the line at an acknowledgment of who Jesus is and what He has done; however, the call of a believer is to be a disciple of Jesus, not just an admirer of Him. Compassion is not just a moment, but a walk. To be a true disciple of Christ requires a change in response to hurt, disappointment, and interactions with people. Remember, Christianity is not just about our vertical relationship with God, but also about our horizontal relationships with other people. Luke 10:30–37 (NIV) records the account of an expert in religious law who came to Jesus with a question. This man understood the importance of loving God with all his heart, but when it came to loving his neighbor, he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" As He often did, Jesus replied with a story that reveals His heart and shows four stages of compassion. This is the story of the good Samaritan:
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,' he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
Compassion begins with a look. Many times Scripture reveals that Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw a need. The problem with many believers is their inability to see the needs of others because their own personal lives are too busy. Yes, life is full of distractions, and it is easy to be busy with many things that have no real eternal significance. To see through the eyes of Jesus requires slowing down enough to really notice others. Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes and see the ripe harvest all around them (John 4:35). If believers look, they will see many families that are hurting and many who have lost hope that life will ever be better. Another reason that believers do not see the needs of others is that their own personal needs demand their full attention. Those who are sinking seldom have time to help bail out another boat. The truth is, everyone has problems, and as believers reach out to help others, they will often find their own needs met in the process. Making excuses for not seeing the needs of others is easy, but compassionate eyes do just that regardless of their own personal issues.
Compassion moves from the eyes to the heart. Jesus' heart ached for the hurt He encountered in others. He loved people and felt their need. In fact, the Scriptures say, He was "deeply moved." What compassion from the Savior! His charge to His church was to love their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:31). Jesus knew that if His church could view the suffering of others as if it were their own, they could feel with compassion and then move to the next level, the touch of compassion.
At some point, the deep feeling of compassion must move from feeling to action. The touch of compassion often requires getting dirty, and it will likely be inconvenient. It will probably cost time, money, energy, or mental effort (all of which, by the way, are gifts from God). The touch of compassion often brings healing that goes deeper than the external. Once Jesus encountered a leper and placed His hands on the leper's face. Jesus' touch was not necessary to heal the leper, but it was a display of His unconditional love and acceptance of all who are wounded and sick. The Good Samaritan demonstrated this touch of compassion when he ministered to the physical needs of the man and brought him to an inn. In other words, he got into the man's world. Slow down enough to really see the people around you. Let what is seen sink deeply into your heart, and allow what is in your heart to move to your hands. This is following Jesus in compassion, but it does not end there.
Sometimes compassion happens in a moment, but most of the time, it is a continual walk. Compassion is a commitment, an investment in another individual. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he put the man on his own donkey and walked him to a place where he could rest and recover. He took care of him throughout the night and in the morning told the innkeeper to charge his needs to his own personal account. Compassion does not begin and end on Sunday. It consistently walks with people through the circumstances of life until they experience freedom and victory. This is what it means to follow Jesus in compassion toward all of humanity.
"Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Jesus was a king who acted more like a servant. Normal kings not only expect to be served but demand it. However, King Jesus, as was His custom, turned culture on its head and shifted the mentality of His disciples from being served to being a servant, from getting to giving. He taught them to see others as greater than themselves.
Jesus is a giver. He gave miracles freely, He gave teaching freely, He gave deliverance freely. He even gave His own life so that all humankind could be saved. Jesus taught His disciples to see the world through the eyes of a servant. Let's look at four key points in shifting from a life of serving ourselves to one focused on following Jesus in serving.
Servanthood first happens in the heart. It is an approach to life, a perspective through which believers see the world. Sadly, the world today is a "review" culture. For example, people visit a restaurant and critique everything from the atmosphere to the parking. Unlike the world, however, believers must see the world through the eyes of a servant. Much like a waiter watches his guests to respond to their slightest need, believers must be conscious of the world around them and sensitive to the needs of others. It is too easy to become calloused and blind to the opportunities to serve as the hands, the feet, the touch of Jesus. In Luke 22, some of the disciples began to argue about who was the greatest. They needed a paradigm shift. Jesus told them they were to be different from the world, and that the greatest among them should take the lowest rank. Jesus flipped the script and said the one who sits at the table is not the most important, but the one who serves. This should be a shift for the church as well. Believers are not saved and added to the body of Christ to sit, but to serve!
The world's way says that the more insignificant a person is, the greater is that person's responsibility to serve. So many see the main goal of life as improving status, getting a bigger house, buying a more expensive car, or securing an important and prominent job, but status is disregarded in the kingdom of God. Following Jesus in serving means the more important a person is, the greater is that person's responsibility to serve. No matter how much believers grow or how high they climb, they need to find a place to serve. It is good for the heart. Scripture makes this clear in Luke 22:25–27 (NLT): "In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.' But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves."
God has equipped all believers with gifts, talents, and abilities to serve in the body of Christ. Often God will place burdens in the hearts of believers to see ministry take place in specific areas of need. Members may become frustrated if the church does not have an effort directed to those needs, but here is a simple solution: if you can't find your spot, start your spot! In other words, if there is no ministry taking place toward that need, start one. That need has been waiting for someone with a God-given passion to step forward and fill it. The church's job is to equip believers to do the work of the ministry. Jesus wants His church to be actively involved in moving the kingdom of God forward.
Serving the body of Christ brings much satisfaction. A great truth to remember is that when serving others, believers are serving Christ. Jesus said in Matthew's Gospel that when believers feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and those in prison, they have done it to Him (Matt. 25:34–40). When believers pour themselves out to serve others, it may be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and costly, but it will all be worth it to hear Jesus say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." In John 13:12–15 (NLT), the Bible says, "After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, ‘Do you understand what I was doing? You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and you are right, because that's what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.'" This is following Jesus. He is the Christ, the Savior of the world. The Father endorsed Him, the disciples left all to follow Him, demons recognized Him, and the world rejected Him. But Jesus knew who He was, why He came, and where He was going. He invites everyone to leave the past behind and follow Him. The call is to learn from Him, love like Him, and lead with Him. To make that possible, He freely gives His Holy Spirit and teaches us how to pray, how to forgive, and how to walk in compassion and service. His invitation today is the same as the one He offered to His first disciples: "Come, follow Me." But it does not end here. He also said, "And I will make you fishers of men."
Be proactive in serving. Refuse to be satisfied with just attending church services without actively serving in some capacity. Your spot is waiting for you to fill it! Look for opportunities to serve your community through outreach to those who are hurting and need to feel the love of Christ. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit when He puts individuals or groups on your heart, and look for ways to be the hands and feet of Christ. For more information about serving opportunities, contact your campus pastor.