The Greek word frequently appears in our New Testament and is pregnant with significant meaning but causes us to think of the power of two powerful words deeply. Follow whom? To where? For what purpose?
The mature Christian understands these words to teach discipleship; others follow a path to an undiscovered country not made with hands eternal in the heavens. Still, others follow creeds, covenants, or philosophies of their own making, hoping to lead them to a place of contentment and purpose. But, why follow?
I wonder what motivates us to follow Christ? What encourages us to do as the Apostles and leave our nets and boats to follow Jesus?
My greatest challenge as a pastor or preacher is to present the Gospel with greater attraction than the amusements of life. The Gospel is wonderfully magnetic, but how can I present it so people will see it as more important than ballgames, mountain trips, ocean cruises? How can I present weekly the Gospel that offers more comfort than a warm bed on Sunday morning? How can I share a Gospel of renewal that will overshadow the drain of weekly labor? How can I effectively communicate so that others will be just as amazed by Jesus as Peter, James, John, or Andrew?
Unfortunately, as a preacher, I have employed the use of fear to motivate others. I grew up on the “hellfire” sermons that would cause hair to stand up on your neck, knuckles to turn white and make me doubt everything about my fledgling, juvenile faith. I may admit, there may be a time and place for it, but it does little to motivate me to follow Christ.
As a parent of boys, it’s impossible to imagine having a daughter. But I wonder, if my daughter were to marry a man who threatened to kill her if she didn’t marry him—I’d have a considerable concern. If I scare people to come to the altar with threats of a God who will obliterate unbelievers, I don’t see how it will produce healthy followership as a disciple. Fear tells me, “I have to, or else,” and that’s not how I see Jesus’ invitation to any of His followers.
I wonder if those of you reading this article recall a time when you followed out a primitive fear of going to Hell? Was the Gospel not more powerfully appealing than fear? I might have to reserve the “hellfire” preaching for those of the faith who know better and live as they wish anyway.
Nonetheless, that opposite is equally as challenging. I have preached Gospel sermons alluring listeners with the promise of heavenly reward. We still stories of mansions and a street of gold. We sing songs about walking by the walls of jasper or gates made of pearls. We once promised believers an estate of their own, right next door to Jesus, where, with loved ones, enjoying the sweet by and by. I feel rapturous even typing those words—but is that it?
Does the reward of heaven appeal to our desire for riches and everlasting life, or does it just ease the pain and fear of realizing that one day our earthly life will end? Do we make the Gospel a means to an end—wealth, life, reunion with others? Is that all the Gospel has become to us? Lord, forgive us for making your path of righteousness into a scheme to receive rewards.
When you think of the Gospel, do you summarize it in terms of heaven? Did you obey the Gospel because you wanted to inherit the riches of glory? My friends, the Gospel is more than this!
It wasn’t until later in life that I followed Jesus, not out of fear or promise of reward, but because I saw that His way was the only way to contentment with myself and others. It was the Gospel that would give me the strength to get through the rough times of Monday’s drudgery and hope for a better day. When I realized that God—Loved—Me, it changed my life.
The Gospel was not a source of fear nor reward; it was a way to safety and security. It was better than anything the world offered, and indeed, it would satisfy “my longing as nothing else could do.” The Gospel story so compelling that I would lay down all other choices to follow an unusual path. A story of Jesus that was more motivating than fear and more magnetic than riches. Follow Jesus because while you were a sinner, he loved you with the cross and the empty tomb—and that is Good News!