Without intending to cast disparagement on anyone, there is a popular phrase that is often used in “trending Christianity” that needs to be put to the test of Biblical Christianity. As the old quaker soldier said once on the battle field, “Dear sir, I wouldn’t harm thee for the world, but thou art standing where I am about to shoot.” In one variation or another, the phrase or something like it pops up in purpose statements, creeds, and other declarations of faith and ministry intentions. It will say something like this, “Our purpose is to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ,” or some other arrangement of those thoughts. Now while that sounds chic, authentic, organic, relevant, emergent, modern, cool, phat, withit, groovy, truth-o-centric, atmospheric, volcanic and allogenic . . . it may fall short of the work of the gospel.
The fact is that someone can be a “fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ” and still be as lost as a fruit fly in a snow storm. As we understand the scriptures, devoted followers are not the same as converted sinners. No doubt there are those who say it is just a matter of terminology, but terminology affects understanding, and when someone misunderstands the truth, they eventually wind up believing a lie.
Biblically speaking, becoming one of Christ’s followers never saved a soul; being born as one of Christ’s family members never failed to save a soul. That’s why Jesus said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The New Belief that brings a New Birth must precede a New Behavior. Following Jesus without being in the Family of Jesus makes a man no better than Judas, and no different from those “disciples” who walked with Christ no more once He began preaching of the partaking of His sacrifice. “Committment” is not the same as “Conversion;” “Reverence” is not the same as “Repentance.” Getting people to bow their head and obey the “teachings” of Christ is not the same as someone who will bow their knee and become a new creature in Christ. Until there is a transformation in a man’s spiritual DNA, and his spirit is made alive, following the teachings of Christ do him as much good as a flashlight does to a blind man.
The truth is that we cannot make disciples out of lost people, we can only make disciples out of saved people. Teaching someone to be a follower of Christ before they are in the Family of Christ might make ministries feel better in the moment, but the reality is that people wind up living a substitute Christianity. Adrian Rogers once pointed out the difference in “committment/devotion” and “surrender.” Someone who is devoted, or committed is still in charge the decisions that they make in their life. In other words it is their decision to agree with God’s command and then they do it. When someone is surrendered to the Lord, they are no longer in charge of their life, and obedience is not a decision, it is in their spiritual DNA being compelled and led by the Lord.
As William Booth so famously said, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”
Now all of that being said, there is something to be said about being a “follower” of Jesus Christ. – All who are in the Family ought to Follow! Every born again believer should be a full-fledged follower. One can be a follower who is not in the family, but there should never be one in the Family who is not a follower. There is an eternal danger in getting the cart before the horse, or better yet, discipleship before conversion.
We understand that we are commanded to “make disciples”, but disciples can only be made out of saved men. Discipleship is not the same as conversion, and confusing the two is not a change worth making.