I am very blessed to belong to a church that unashamedly and accurately preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our pastor puts many hours into each message he gives us each week, and it shows. Yesterday was no exception. He preached a sermon from Luke 9:56-52 and reminded all of us about the importance of following the "real Jesus."
In our post-modern world so many who call themselves Christians are not following the true Jesus but a Jesus of their own making who is not able to save. I knew that Jesus once upon a time. He is the Jesus of "Pray a prayer and ask Jesus into your heart" and is related to the Jesus many find when then walk an aisle or raise a hand. He is an emotional Jesus who cares about feelings and places a great importance on making a person feel happy, fulfilled in life, and brings health and wealth along with him as a bonus. He is the Jesus as you understand him to be and he is often presented as accepting of everyone and just about everything, as long as you are sincere.
The Jesus of the Bible is not that Jesus and all too often true salvific regeneration does not come about in any of those ways I mentioned above. True regenerative salvation begins when the Holy Spirit of God draws a person to Himself as He reveals enough of the true spiritual condition of that person (Ephesians 2:1-2) to cause him or her to desire something better. The Spirit causes us to see our sin and to understand that we are dead to God because of our sin. He makes us aware that we are unable to help ourselves or save ourselves from either the sin or suffering the penalty for that sin. He gives us the faith to believe that God has provided the eternal sacrifice for our sin (1 Tim. 2:5-6) and He causes us to long for that Sacrifice. Enter Jesus.
Jesus, the Eternal Sacrifice for sin. Jesus the King. Jesus the Redeemer. Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the Righteous Judge of sinners.
Jesus did not die so we could be happy or have peace in this world; He died so we would live. He requires that we turn from living for ourselves, our happiness, our bank account, our children, our jobs, our feelings, and our worldly desires to living to bring Him glory. Having given us life, He requires we die. He requires we die to all the things and pleasures of the world and embrace His way of living (1 John 2:15-16). He made it clear as He interacted with His disciples and followers that our lives would not be easy as Christ-followers, but full of trials, sorrows, hardships, suffering, and separations (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
This might mean require leaving your family behind to follow Him. Many of us are familiar with this kind of separation because our families do not accept the real Jesus and don't understand why we do! This is just another form of suffering and hardship for us, and can be as painful as a physical beating of the heart.
We also come to realize that following the real Jesus means that our hardships and sorrows and even our misery has a purpose and a plan in the tapestry of our lives that God is weaving. He is making something beautiful out of each person who follows the real Jesus (2 Cor. 4:16-17).
Saying "Goodbye" to our old ways of living will be painful and our flesh will cry out for satisfaction and comfort as we deny it the former pleasures we indulged in. We become weary and discouraged as we seemingly fail time and time again, especially as we try to live this life in our own strength. The real Jesus never asked us to live it in our own strength in fact, He told us we are not able to do so! Our task is to persevere and press on toward the goal of becoming more and more like the real Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14) and interestingly enough, He promises that every person who knows and is known by the real Jesus will persevere, and will finish the race, and will be presented faultless before the Father (Jude 24).
I take great comfort in all of this, even though the road behind me has been hard and as I look into the future I suspect it is still a long and difficult trek to my eternal home. By His grace He as enabled me to make the journey. If you know the real Jesus, He has enabled you too. Walk worthy of the calling you have received (Eph. 4:1). No turning back, no turning back...