Perhaps you (or someone you know) have heard of the good news of Jesus and wish to know whether it applies to you—it does. If you are attracted to Jesus, but not to the baggage often attached to his message, you can begin to follow him now. It is not difficult.
If you are attracted to Jesus and want to appropriate his good news to your life, how do you do that? What steps must you take? What commitments must you make?
It is Less Complex than Many People Think
Many believers think that to follow Jesus and have eternal life a person must perform a ritual in which one makes a decision to accept Jesus as their personal savior. Otherwise they will go to hell. Some believers require a formulaic ‘sinners prayer’; they think if a person has not performed this ritual their relationship with Jesus is questionable.
There is nothing wrong with ‘accepting Jesus as personal savior’, but there are difficulties with the typical baggage attached to this approach.
1. To begin with, there is no ‘hell’ or punishment awaiting anyone—and the Bible does not teach that there is.
2. Secondly, one’s relationship to Jesus does not depend on a specific moment of decision. There are many who cannot pinpoint such a decision in their lives, and yet they are believers as much as anyone. It is disrespectful of the Father’s love to question a person’s relationship this way.
3. Another misconception is that one must meet behavioral requirements to be acceptable. The New Testament shows Jesus to be tremendously inclusive; he understands our messed up lives and is eager to remove our burdens. There are NO barriers to overcome or rituals to perform.
If we want to follow Jesus he is there for us. In Matthew chapter 11 he gives this invitation,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
What is the Good News Anyway?
There are several aspects of the good news of Jesus.
- He relieves our fear and alienation. Many think God is angry, strict in his expectations, and ready to punish us at our slightest mistake. Jesus shares with us that this is not so; instead the Father loves us freely and accepts us as we are. There is no reason to fear him or feel alienated from him; any alienation we may feel is on our side–not on the Father’s side.
- He relieves our burden of guilt feelings. Because we are imperfect, we feel guilty for our failures, but Jesus knows our limitations. He is concerned about our shortcomings but is not disappointed in us. We need not improve ourselves to come to him; rather, when we come to him we begin to improve. This is a very rewarding experience.
- He provides eternal life. The most remarkable thing we learn from Jesus is that he provides eternal life for us—we can live forever in happiness. This does not apply only to a select number; this applies to all of us!
Does this sound like good news to you? It is!
What Must We do to Receive this Good News?
Perhaps you wonder what conditions you must meet to make this good news yours. The answer is that there are no such conditions. Read Jesus’ invitation above once more; just come to him and learn of him. As you learn of him, you will begin to change for the better.
What Rules Must I Follow?
Jesus has only one rule: to love others as you love yourself. This is the only standard of behavior. You may feel that you cannot love some people, or perhaps even yourself; but as you begin to comprehend the Father’s unconditional love for you, you will love yourself more.
This will cause you to notice, and begin avoiding, behaviors that are bad for you because you are now concerned for your own well-being. As you learn from Jesus, you will choose better behaviors for yourself, but only you can determine what those are. No one has the authority to give you rules to follow.
As you realize the Father’s love for you and begin to love yourself more, you will also grow in the capacity to love others as you now love yourself. You will not become perfect in this, but you will enjoy a life of greater harmony with the Father, yourself, and others.
If this is all new to you and you want more information about Jesus and his good news, you may contact me personally if you wish by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part 2: Choosing to Identify with Jesus and Learning More about Him
Now that you have heard the good news of Jesus, you will want to identify with him in a concrete way. When we begin to follow Jesus, it is good to follow up with baptism; baptism is a public statement that we have identified with Jesus and is almost universal among followers of Jesus.
Why are Believers Baptized?
There are several reasons why baptism is such a universal practice.
1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist to prepare for the Kingdom of God. We identify with Jesus and follow his example in baptism. The Kingdom of God is just an older special term for those who are aligned with Jesus and the Father.
2. Jesus instructed his followers to baptize new followers. Matthew chapter 28 reports that Jesus said,
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
3. The symbolism of baptism reminds us of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. So, when we are baptized, we identify with Jesus in that way as well. Paul writes in Romans chapter 6,
Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
4. Baptism is a public statement of identity with Jesus. Once we learn about the good news of Jesus and embrace it in our lives, the next logical step is to identify with Jesus in a definite, public way.
Baptism is not a condition for acceptance by God, but it is the way to signal our commitment to following Jesus.
How does Baptism Work?
The practices of baptism vary from group to group. Some baptize infants who are born to followers of Jesus. If this is the case, they will also baptize older children and adults who become followers of Jesus later in life. Other groups baptize only older children and adults.
The method of baptism also varies. Many groups sprinkle or pour water on the heads of the new follower. Others dip the new follower briefly under the water’s surface; this is usually done in a baptistery (water tank) in the church, but some use natural bodies of water or even a swimming pool. Sprinkling, pouring, and dipping are all valid methods of baptism.
Who Will Baptize Me?
Most churches have guidelines about who can baptize others, but this is not always the case. Some groups require membership in their church for baptism, while others will baptize anyone who becomes a follower of Jesus. Check with any church or Christian minister to learn more.
Baptism is a positive and rewarding step for those who begin to follow Jesus.
Part 3: How Should I Behave as a Jesus Follower?
Perhaps you have questions about behavior for Jesus followers–many people do. Does behavior matter? Yes! It does! But not in the way you might think; There are no rules to follow. Jesus came to relieve us of burdens of—not to increase them. To be a follower of Jesus, one need not agree to any list of doctrines or even a list of rules.
But this does not mean we are unrestrained in how we act. Behavior DOES matter. But if behavior matters and there are no rules, then how do we know how to behave? What is the standard?
Jesus himself tells us.
Jesus Talks about Commandments
In the culture that Jesus lived, there were many religious rules. At the very top were the Ten Commandments. In Matthew chapter 22 we read the story of a person who asked Jesus about the commandments.
The Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus did not make up these two principles; he was referring to familiar passages from the Old Testament, but he seems to elevate these principles to a level that supersedes all specific rules of behavior.
The Problems with Living by Rules
The problem with living by a list of rules is that, while rules are easy to apply, keeping a list does not go to the heart of behavior. One can say, ‘I didn’t kill anyone’, even if they destroy someone’s reputation. One can say, ‘I didn’t lie’, even if their misleading comments have damaging results.
Another problem with lists of rules is that they are limited. If you have a list of 50 rules, you can congratulate yourself each day that you have observed all your rules, but what if gossip is not on the list? Perhaps you can add it and have 51 items, but your list will never be long enough to cover all eventualities.
Lists are also stark and inflexible; they do not account for circumstances. There was a time when my list included: ‘Do not lie’. It was not a bad rule, but I was so tied to the list that were I in Hitler’s Germany and soldiers came into the house asking ‘Are there any Jews hiding here?’, I would have responded ‘They are behind that false wall’, because I could not bring myself to lie.
Lists of rigid behavioral rules are always inadequate.
The Principles of Jesus are all We Need
The two principles put forth by Jesus, to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself, go beyond rules and toward motivation. If these principles are your motivation, then you can decide a course of action at any time and circumstance based upon them. They are easy to remember and they apply to everything.
Let us examine the principles more closely.
Loving God with all Your Heart
What does it mean to love God with all your heart? I understand it to mean choosing to be for God. It means identifying with God and being in harmony with him. This is difficult when one is afraid of God and cannot trust him. Many of us cannot love God fully because we feel alienated; we think of God as angry and harsh—and quick to punish.
This is where Jesus helps tremendously by showing that God is like a Father. The Father loves us, and we see that love in Jesus. Our love for the Father is responsive; we love the Father with all our heart as we come to understand that the Father loves us with all his heart.
Loving Others as Ourselves
The second principle is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we discover that this means everyone—including our enemies. This does not mean that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to every person who is out to harm us or exploit us, but we should love even those people as the Father does. Jesus says as much in the sermon on the mountain found in Matthew chapter 5.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Like Father; like son)
This statement combines both principles we are discussing. We love our enemies, and we do so because we choose to act in harmony with the Father’s opinion about them.
I once worked in a Christian organization where my supervisor was extremely and systematically hurtful to me. This was obvious to others and some told me, ‘God will make her pay some day!’ But I said, ‘No. God will forgive her.’ So I forgave her. There is no place for vengeance for those who see people as the Father sees them. The Father is not about vengeance; the Father is about love and healing. I could no longer endure persecution from my supervisor, so I left the organization, but I did not wish her harm or misfortune. In fact, I wished her success, healing, and improvement in relating to others.
God Does not Punish Us
The Father is not interested in punishment. The Father loves us and wants to heal us of our pains and sufferings. He will not punish us—no matter WHAT we do!
But this does not mean there are no consequences to our careless or malicious behavior. There ARE consequences to our behavior. If we murder someone, there are many negative consequences: a person loses their life, their loved ones suffer, the community lives in fear, and the murderer is apprehended by the society and dealt with.
These are all horrible consequences, but they are not punishment from the Father; they are natural consequences of bad behavior.
Murder does not reflect our loving the Father and identifying with his perspective of other people. Neither does it reflect a motivation of loving others as we love ourselves—or does it?
A Delightful Insight into Behavior
We have already talked about loving God with all our heart. This gives us the ability to love others. Hurting someone does not seem to reflect a motivation of loving others as we love ourselves—but perhaps it does!
Here we may discover a third principle of behavior implied by the other two. If we are to love others as ourselves, it is assumed that we love ourselves. I don’t mean that we simply protect our own selfish interests but that we genuinely love ourselves and care about our welfare. Often we do not.
I contend that if we do not love ourselves we cannot truly love others, and many of us do not love ourselves very well. If this is the case, how can we change it? How can we begin to truly love ourselves? Perhaps the best way to begin to love ourselves is in response to love. If we see that others love us, we begin to have the capacity to love ourselves.
An even stronger catalyst is to understand that the Father loves us. This is the heart of Jesus’ message to us. This is the good news! The Father loves us and wishes to heal the alienation we feel toward him/her. We become confident that the Father loves us and desires the best for us.
When we begin to comprehend the love the Father has for us, we begin to love ourselves better. Then we are able to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and desire the best for them because we love ourselves and desire the best for ourselves, just as the Father loves us and desires the best for us.
This affects our behavior. We do not avoid irresponsible sexual relationships because of rules but because of the consequences to ourselves and other people. We do not exploit others because of the consequences to us and to others.
What about personal behavior such as smoking, drinking, and other personal pursuits? The answer is the same, and you must evaluate that. I cannot catalog for you a list of behaviors for you to observe. And neither can anyone else!
If you grasp the Father’s love for you and his desire for your well-being, and you respond to that love by beginning to love yourself and desire your own well-being, and you begin to love others as yourself, then you (and only you) are in the position to determine the propriety of your own behavior.
What is Hell All About?
We are not perfect. We often get things wrong, and when we do there are consequences. Sometimes the consequences entail punishment from society, but the consequences do not include punishment from the Father. The Father loves you no matter how much you fail in your behavior. He does not become angry with you and he will not punish you.
If this is true, then what is hell all about? This is a very important question! The concept of hell is one of the most destructive elements of superstitious baggage often associated with the message of Jesus. It is so serious that I devote a significant resource page to exploring it.
Don’t be concerned about punishment but begin to love yourself as the Father loves you, so that you can love others as yourself!
Part 4: Growing as a Follower of Jesus
I have emphasized several important points:
- There are no requirements for becoming a follower of Jesus except the desire to do so
- There are no rules a believer must follow
- The principle of loving others as ourselves guides our behavior
- The Father does not punish us no matter how badly we mess up
So Why Bother? If God Does not punish us, then why worry about our behavior?
If the Father is not angry with us, and we are not facing punishment, one might conclude that we need not be concerned about our thoughts and behavior. 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 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 and re-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 of things to do and not do. This is 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 travel together, but we are all on our own journey.
By cooperating with the love of the Father, we experience personal (spiritual) growth. Growth is sometimes difficult but it is extremely rewarding.
What is the Good News of Jesus?
Though growing as a follower of Jesus includes a commitment to the kingdom of God, it should never be a drudgery or a burden. You might be interested in a series of articles on the benefits of following Jesus. They begin with What is the Good News of Jesus Anyway?
I hope you have found this article helpful in your wish to follow Jesus. If you want to contact me personally, do not hesitate to email me (Tim Chastain) at: