Growing as a Follower of Jesus

Throughout my blog I emphasize several important principles:

Grpwomg as a follower of Jesus

So Why Bother?

One might conclude from this that we need not be concerned about our thoughts and behavior. If the Father is not angry with us, and we are not facing punishment, then why make any effort to improve?

I firmly believe that personal (spiritual) growth is important in the life of believers, and we should persistently nurture that growth within us. We should strive to improve in:

  • Aligning our attitudes with the attitudes of the Father who loves everyone
  • Contributing to the good of others instead of causing pain and suffering
  • Looking out for our own best interest by avoiding self-destructive attitudes

When we act with love toward ourselves and others we reduce suffering in the world and we don’t have to carry a load of guilt for our actions. We also build self-respect when we behave well.

None of us can become perfect, but committing ourselves to loving the Father, ourselves, and others is quite worthwhile.

What Does It Mean to Grow as Followers of Jesus?

When we begin to follow Jesus, he accepts us just as we are without preconditions. But then something happens; we begin to change! The more we learn about Jesus and of the Father’s love, the more we will change for the better. And we are not on our own because Jesus helps us change.

A good way to think about this is found in Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and branches reported in John chapter 15. He says,

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Remaining in Jesus means cooperating with the changes in our thoughts and actions that come with following him, which is what it means to be a disciple—we follow him. Otherwise, we are like dry branches that take no nourishment from the vine; we wither away. This metaphor is not a threat but simply describes what happens to branches that don’t participate in the life of the vine.

If we do not cooperate with the changes, we can maintain our old condition for as long as we want and we will not be punished. But we miss out on the benefits of following Jesus. In our stunted state we continue to feel alienated because of the guilt we feel from our behavior, and we will not have the peace, joy, and happiness that should accompany life in Jesus.

Instead we will be dry, withered, and fruitless.

How Do We Cooperate in Our Own Growth?

We grow through the increasing capacity within us to love the Father, ourselves and others. This is our fruit! And we feed that growth by learning more of Jesus and of the Father. We can:

  • Read Jesus’ words and actions found in the Gospels
  • Talk with trusted, more experienced followers of Jesus
  • Read good books about living as a believer
  • Reflect on what it means to love one’s self and others

However, be careful of those who would lead you into legalism. Many believers try to grow by compiling lists to follow of things to do and not do. This is called legalism, but growth does not come through observing rules. Legalism takes the focus off the objective, which is to grow in the love of God, ourselves, and others; and it leads, not to love, but to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and increased guilt.

Focus on loving—not on rules and rituals.

Also do not let others, even long-time believers, dictate what actions are appropriate for you; this is between you and the Father. The Father works with each of us individually and does not need a spokesman or enforcer. No follower has a right to judge another. We are all on our own road.

By cooperating with the love of the Father, we experience personal (spiritual) growth. Growth is sometimes difficult but it is extremely rewarding.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc
Your observations and comments are welcome below.
If you enjoyed this or found it helpful, please sign up for updates in the column to the right (email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter) so that you don’t miss future posts. Also consider sharing this post using the buttons below. Have a great day! ~Tim
This entry was posted in behavior, legalism, love and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Growing as a Follower of Jesus

  1. Phil Johns says:

    Hi Tim, How do you square your statement ‘God does not punish us’ with the Hebrews scripture, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves,and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” Thanks.

  2. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for your question. As you know, this passage comes from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 3), and Proverbs is a book of collected wisdom. Like proverbs everywhere, this wisdom is written to assist people in living a more effective life; it is not a collection of doctrines or promises.

    My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
    because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in (NIV)

    This passage is part of a longer instruction on wisdom. The writer may have understood the consequences of living an un-wise life as punishment from God, but that is not his point here. Following the wisdom of the Father generally leads to a more successful life.

  3. michaeleeast says:

    You are right – God does not punish us.
    Legalism is usually accompanied by punishments and rewards.
    God does not act in this way.
    This is a projection from our earthly father.
    We grow in love.
    This can be done with or without Jesus, however.
    But Jesus is close to God and leads us in His ways.
    Do you think that we can reach God through other religions?

    • Thanks Michael, you said it well!

      Regarding other religions, I believe that all truth is God’s truth; so to whatever extent other religions teach truth it is valid.

      However, I also believe that Jesus secured our eternal, post-mortal life for everyone (unless they do not wish to live forever in the Father’s love) so that people of any religion can reach God, though the religion itself might not lead to God and certainly does not contain the important truth of Jesus’ provision of eternal life.

      I explore this more fully in http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/who-would-reject-the-father/.

  4. Well said Tim. I think there is a universal moral code which is largely covered by law, and secondarily covered by common understanding (like not gossiping). And when we dont abide by these universal laws of love we often find consequences. I agree that “God” is not punishing anyone…it is us who punish ourselves, or selfish people who punish us for whatever reason, or random unfortunate occurances happen that feel like punishment because we often need to rationalize pain to come to accept it.

    To Phil Johns who asked above about the OT, I offer a simple addendum to your answer, that it was just written by humans so we should never look there for definitive evidence of what “God” is or what “God” might think or feel.

    • Hi CE, I like the way you state that the OT was: “Just written by humans so we should never look there for definitive evidence of what “God” is or what “God” might think or feel”

      I think there is a lot of good reading in the OT; some of the portions that speak to me are the story of Abraham, some of the proverbs, and particularly the prophets who spoke against the injustices of oppression against the poor and weak. But this does not mean that they necessarily represents God’s word for us. Inspiring writers can be found in many documents.

      I also like your summary of punishment:

      *We punish ourselves
      *We punish each other
      *We interpret random occurrences as punishment

      Excellent analysis!

  5. Phil Johns says:

    Hi Tim – and others – thanks for your responses, however, I don’t see how you make your conclusions. I attach this link that gives thirty different translations of the same scripture. http://www.biblestudytools.com/hebrews/12-6-compare.html
    The language is strong in all of them. Do we really consider the scripture as mere flowery words and dismiss it. This is not saying anything about self inflicted consequences.
    Paul continues in verse 11, Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11 NKJV)
    Do you still say that God doesn’t punish?

    To Christian Evolution. Do you really believe the final part of your statement? Jesus quoted the OT all the time in order to underpin his teaching!

    Guy’s, I’m longing for you to tell me that I am wrong. Like many, I am a casualty of ‘Church’ and became sick of being exploited and abused by jumped up creeps (pastors) that were always trying to modify my ‘behaviour’ without dealing with their own and yet eager to take every benefit I had to offer. I need all the help I can get in believing that God really is a nice person! Believe me I want to!

    Thanks.

    • Phil, I can identify with your struggle. I also struggled with the issue of whether the Bible was completely the word of God. If you are interested, I wrote about it in My Spiritual Crisis at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/about-tim-chastain/my-spiritual-crisis/.

      I was raised in fundamentalism and I embraced it fully. I have never rebelled against following Jesus but, beginning in the late 1960s, I struggled with many of the things I had been taught to believe. This blog is the result.

      One of the basic problems of fundamentalist-evangelical belief is the idea of biblical inerrancy. I came to understand that the Bible was written by people who felt they had a relationship with God, but often they were limited in their understanding of God. They may have been inspired to some extent by God, but we cannot accept what they wrote as the absolute word of God or the very truth about God.

      Yet it is in the story of Jesus that we find our clearest understanding of what the Father (God) is like. And we discover from Jesus that the Father loves us and does not punish us for misunderstanding things or for messing up–we all mess up. Instead he supports us as we follow Jesus.

      If you have not read them already, you might be interested in the various links in the above article (Growing as a Follower of Jesus) and my posts Is the Bible Inerrant? at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/is-the-bible-inerrant/

      If you wish, I am happy to talk with you about any questions you have either in comments or privately by email. ~Tim Chastain

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  7. Phil Johns says:

    Thanks for this Tim. I certainly will inbox you. I am only to aware of how difficult it is to throw off ingrained/indoctrinated teaching that one has gathered over a period of forty odd years. These comments regarding the OT are entirely new to me and if I might say so – frankly terrifying at the moment. Keeping in mind at the same time that my ‘charismatic’ experiences together with Word of Faith teaching have driven me to abandon church for a number of years now, what the hell, why not step out into the great unknown! Just to go back to Christian Evolution’s comment about the OT, surely we must regard, for example, the Ten Commandments or Levitical Law or the stories in Kings and Chronicles as being definitive. If not, a lot of blood has been shed for nothing.

    • Phil, like you I grew up in church. I’ve also led church ministries and have a masters degree in theology, so I have studied this stuff in great depth and had a lot to lose by coming to these conclusions…but I had to side with the (inconvenient) truth. The Bible is a book of good and bad examples written by humans and nothing more. The 10 commandments is an adaption of earlier law codes like that from King Hammarabi. Jesus didn’t have special powers, for if he did what would make his humanness special? If he quoted OT text it doesn’t mean anything other than that he was a Rabbi, or more likely that the Bible writers added those parts to add credibility to their evangelical story. Yes a lot of blood has been shed for nothing, but the blood of Jesus wasn’t for nothing, just like Dr. MLK Jr’s wasn’t for nothing…

      I’m not trying to be harsh but sometimes the band-aid hurts less when it’s pulled off quick :-). Hang out here with Tim and us others who’ve had similar experiences as we can all learn from each other.

      Eric

    • Phil, I am glad Eric has already responded; I agree with essentially everything he said to you. I was planning to recommend that you subscribe to his blog, but I see that you already have–good choice!

      I certainly understand that it is terrifying to consider that the Bible is not all straight from God as you and I were both taught. But let me assure you that I have found a more secure foundation in which to place my trust than the Bible–it is Jesus. I am drawn to Jesus as described by his earliest followers, and his resurrection makes my trust complete.

      What Jesus reveals in his words and actions give us a much more clear understanding than the efforts of the Old Testament writers. The Levitical law, including the ten commandments, are replaced by Jesus’ teaching and example on loving the Father, ourselves, and others.

      I support you in your quest for truth and I know that this type of change in thinking is painful, but I have found it more than rewarding. My walk with Jesus is far stronger than when I depended on rules and a confused understanding about nature of the Bible.

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  10. Phil Johns says:

    Thanks Eric. I have signed up to your blog too.

  11. You make the statement, “When we act with love toward ourselves and others we reduce suffering in the world and we don’t have to carry a load of guilt for our actions. We also build self-respect when we behave well.” I would ask if such guilt is real or not. Guilt is real if there is something to be guilty of. If there is right and wrong, then guilt is a natural and proper response to doing wrong. In society we have many things we determine to be wrong, such as murder, and we provide proper justice for those who commit murder. Yet you describe God as one who does not judge and apparently makes no distinction between good and evil. I cannot understand how a God who is not judicial can still be good. It would be like a human judge who refuses to sentence a murder or thief regardless of the evidence against them. Such an act would be a deriliction of duty. God is love, but He is also just. David

  12. Hi David,

    Thanks for the excellent questions. I agree that God is love but is also just, but I do not believe that he makes no distinction between good and evil. I certainly do not want to communicate such a thing. The Father does not want us to suffer from our offences against ourselves and each other. Instead, he wants us to have peace, happiness, and a fulfilled life. This is why Jesus came–to provide us with this life and to resolve our alienation from the Father, ourselves, and each other. Of course it is not yet complete, but we look forward to a time of eternal life without offences of any kind.

    I believe the Father handles offenses, not by judgment and punishment, but by causing us to grow in the love Jesus describes. This is a process. I see the Father’s work as developmental rather than punitive. Society, on the other hand, must control certain destructive behaviors and to ignore these behaviors would be, as you say, a dereliction of duty. But this is the role of society and not of the Father. To the Father, who has a larger view, the welfare of the offender is as important as the welfare of the offended.

    You ask if the guilt we feel is real or not. Yes it is real, but not as an infraction of rules. Rather it is because we know intuitively that hurting ourselves and others is not helpful. I certainly feel guilty when I hurt someone, and it is not because of a rule or law.

    Just a head’s up. Based on past comments, I think it unlikely that you will like my post next week on Schadenfreude. If you read it, I would be very interested in your comments.

  13. Thanks for the heads up :)

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