“Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers. They were Simon (his other name was Peter) and Andrew, his brother. They were putting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!’
At once they left their nets and followed Him.”
One night recently, Tijge asked me, “How do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus?” Of course, after 3+ decades of being one, I know the answer. But I realized that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it, as posed by a seven-year old. The reason is because, whatever our answer is, it places us somewhere along a precariously balanced continuum. On one end, we can find ourselves conveying a god who is consumed with judgment, to the exclusion of grace. “We know we are followers of Jesus if we obey His commands”—this seems simple, but perhaps too simple. Might it not leave a child (or anyone for that matter) always wondering, with each sin or failure, if they are really a follower of Jesus at all? On the other end of the spectrum, we might inadvertently portray a god whose grace altogether eclipses his sense of righteous judgment. “Say a prayer, accept Jesus as your savior, and that’s it!”—again, this may be too simple. Even Paul warned of the danger that can come when we manage to convince ourselves that we should sin all the more, so that God might have greater occasion to display His grace. In truth, the answer is somewhere between neither and both.
As I tried to think of how I might articulate this truth, I thought about how so many followers of God, and later Jesus, made a decision to follow—but then spent the rest of their lives learning how to do just that. A few examples from the Old Testament that come to mind are Gideon, David, and Jonah. In the Scriptures, we join the story of each at a place where they have pledged allegiance to the God of Israel. And yet, their lives are marked by ups and downs, failures and successes, sins and redemption.
The same can be said of many of our New Testament heroes, but one who holds a special place for me is Peter. Maybe that’s because he was headstrong and stubborn, as I tend to be—who knows? What I do know is this. Jesus called Peter to follow Him, and Peter immediately dropped what he was doing, and followed. But, if anyone was ever “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (thank you, Winston Churchill), it was Peter. I mean, watch what he does throughout the New Testament.
- He freaks out in the storm, walks on the water, doubts Jesus, starts to sink, cries out to Jesus for rescue…and then, much later (in Acts 12:6-7), he sleeps soundly in the face of impending death.
- He’s too proud to let Jesus wash his feet, too tired to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—then cuts off a soldier’s ear, vows his allegiance, denies Christ three times, doubts his own ability to love Jesus sacrificially…then, much later (in 1 Peter 4:8), he tells fellow believers, “Above all, love each other deeply…” (aka, sacrificially!)
- He starts out with brotherly (phileo) love for Jesus, and it gradually becomes an unconditional, sacrificial (agape) love. He starts out by accepting Christ as Savior, then accepting Him as Lord, and then becoming more and more like Him each day, ultimately giving his life for the sake of the Gospel.
It can all be summed up this way—Peter CHOSE to follow Jesus first, then learned HOW along the way. We will each do the same thing. We’ll walk on water, start to sink, call for help, grow in faith, walk on water for longer the next time…with the hope that eventually, we will sleep soundly in the face of death, knowing that an eternity with Jesus awaits us on the other side.
So how do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus? Well, it starts with a decision. But that decision ushers us into a lifelong journey of growing closer and closer to Jesus, ‘til He returns or calls us home.