Throughout my blog I emphasize several important principles:
- There are essentially no requirements to becoming a follower of Jesus
- There are no rules a believer must follow
- Our behavior is guided by the principle of loving others as ourselves
- The Father does not punish us no matter how badly we mess up
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.