So if following Jesus was not supposed to look like what is on offer in most of Christian, what was it supposed to look like? While this is a much larger topic, I want to just bring up two of my convictions regarding what following Jesus can and should look like in order to contrast it to Christianity.
First, I think followers of Jesus should live different lives from their non-Christian peers because their life and values have been radically altered by an allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
An allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God should be the first and central priority for every one of Jesus’ followers. This allegiance should come before any allegiance to family, nation, politics, ideology, job, personal bias, opinion, TV shows, news channels, cultural values, level of comfort, sports team, traditional norms, favorite hobbies, personal safety, etc. This allegiance to Jesus should shape how a follower of Jesus sees and understands everything else. Such an allegiance will lead to a life very different from people who do not follow Jesus because the values of the Kingdom are very different from those of the world.
One simple example of what I am talking about came from college years. One of my professors shared with us how he and his wife sold their home to a younger man in their church family far below the market price. This violated many values in culture and I know very few Christians who would have done this. The standard narrative for success in American culture and most Western Christians is to play a never ending game of “bigger and better.” My professor and his wife should have, according to cultural values, sold that house at the highest market cost to make sure their family was well taken care of. Maybe with the additional money, a raise or an additional loan, they could have moved to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, or they would have had more for their upcoming retirement or in case of emergency.
However, shaped by their allegiance to Jesus Christ and the values of the Kingdom, they acted differently. They knew they had a younger brother in the faith who was just starting out in life who could use a leg up from people who were already well established, fantastically wealthy by global standards and had more than they needed. They valued him and the Body of Christ more than the tens of thousands of dollars they could have gotten if they had sold it at market price to him or to someone else.
Far too often I have seen people claim to be followers of Jesus but their behavior and beliefs make it clear that they are actually have divided loyalties. They follow Jesus to a point…the point where it begins to interfere with their other allegiances. Or worse yet, instead of their allegiance to Jesus shaping how they see everything else, they protect, enshrine and give spiritual backing to their other allegiances by tacking on Jesus’ name and some Bible verses to it. This is how you end up with “Christian” support for all kinds of cultural and political agendas, many of which are actually directly contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel.
To be clear, I am not saying that every follower of Jesus needs to do the exact opposite of culture to be different. For example, just because people who do not know God have families, work jobs, and wear clothes, I do not believe every follower of Jesus should take vows of singleness, be homeless, and never wear clothes just to be counter-cultural. Following Jesus is not about needlessly offending non-believers or being counter-cultural for the sake of being counter-cultural. It is about letting and ensuring that our allegiance to God wins out over all other allegiances, a difficult project which can lead to choices that are foolish, costly or incomprehensible to those around us.
I think this is an issue that even many within Christianity are beginning to recognize. Francis Chan and Shane Claiborne are just two examples of popular Western Christian leaders and teachers who advocate for a faith that leads to a life beyond the American Dream. However, while these leaders espouse something that is a dramatic improvement over Christianity, I really think this is only half the solution. While it is admirable and more in line with the Gospel to live in community, work against oppressive economic, religious and political systems, protest ecological destruction and wars, take up the cause of the homeless and live lives without safety and comfort as the ultimate end, non-Christians can do all these things. Also, these things are “sexy” right now. Being socially conscious is in. Have we really been stirred to justice by re-connecting with the heart of God and many of our scriptures or are we just being relevant (a.k.a seeker-sensitive) to a new generation’s tastes? I fear without something else, while these changes are for the better, at the end of the day they may simply boil down to being a new cosmetic layer over the same old rotten core.
I do believe there is something more to following Jesus, and that brings me to my next point.
Second, I believe the supernatural power of God is to be a daily reality in the life of followers of Jesus and their gathered communities. Followers of Jesus are completely dependent upon the supernatural power of God to follow Jesus in all of His commandments and ways.
I think it is impossible for followers of Jesus to obey the commandments of Jesus or follow His ways without the power of God.
Followers of Jesus are commanded to love our enemies, love the less fortunate and love others as ourselves. While this may sound like something that a human can do through their own effort, I think people who have actually tried to do this realize how impossible these things truly are. Considering the command to love the less fortunate alone, I can share a story about how I helped out at a Habitat for Humanity event or helped a homeless person now and then, but how consistent have I been and with what motives have I done these things? How many of the poor have I treated as invisible and worthless, walking by them without a second thought just like everyone else does? How much of my charity was really self-serving, and was motivated more by my need to be a good person, than out of a love for the homeless? Forget about loving people who are actually violently attack me, I routinely fail to love people because just because they are poor, dirty and smell bad.
If this were not enough for us to recognize our need for something beyond ourselves to follow Jesus, followers of Jesus are also commanded to do that which is clearly impossible without supernatural power. We are commanded to heal the sick, cleanse the leper, speak prophecy, speak in tongues, raise the dead, and cast out demons.
Now many Christians ignore these commandments and large swaths of scripture because the supernatural is not regularly experienced in Christian churches. Instead of asking why these things are not seen, Christians develop theologies like cessationism and dispensationalism to explain away why they do not experience these things. These beliefs are very common in Christianity despite the fact that they have no biblical basis. In fact, Jesus said that his followers would do greater works (signs, wonders and miracles) than He did (John 14:12) and Acts appear to bear this out as even Peter’s shadow could heal the sick.
I used to believe in these doctrines as well. Then I began experiencing the supernatural power of God and re-read the Bible as if with new eyes. In 2009, I received an accurate prophetic word concerning the young adult group I was involved in. The central point of the prophetic word I received came to pass within a year and a half. Then, in 2011 I experienced supernatural healing of trauma and deep-seated spiritual and emotional wounds that a year of counseling and three years in recovery had not resolved. These happened even though I was still in Christianity and part of churches that denied that these things happened.
I am so glad that God does not obey Christian theology.
After these experiences I re-read Acts with one goal in mind: I wanted to see how common the supernatural was to be in the life of followers of Jesus and our gathered communities. I saw no reason to differentiate between what was available to the followers of Jesus today and the followers of Jesus in Acts. I highlighted everything that was clearly and undeniably supernatural. This is what I found…
I hope that anyone can see that visions, angelic visitations, people directly being talked to by God, miraculous healings, the resurrection of dead bodies, the casting out of demons and all other kinds of supernatural experiences are common in Acts and I would suggest are to be expected in the life of anyone who follows Jesus.
If you are a follower of Jesus and are not experiencing the supernatural I believe something is wrong. You may need to repent of bad theology, receive healing, spend time with followers of Jesus who do experience the supernatural and learn from them humbly or a variety of other things. I believe every follower of Jesus who has received the Spirit has the power and authority of an adopted son or daughter who is now a co-heir with Christ. I think any follower of Jesus, no matter how new, can heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, speak in tongues, speak prophecy, etc. Only when we realize this can we follow all of Jesus’ commands, live out or destinies and offer the world something no altruistic atheist can.
As I have become increasingly open to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, the supernatural in general and praying with more faith I have been experiencing a lot more of these things in my own life. In a new series, “Signs that Make you Wonder,” I will be recording some of my supernatural experiences on these blogs.
In my next post in this series I want to bring up the issue of Christian spirituality, why it is so sick, and what it was supposed to look like.