Bible: Are believers to follow Jesus Christ?
I know that to many that looks like a stupid question. But my question is to do with how that is done today. First, if we’re going to follow Jesus in the absolute sense, we have to be perfect, sinless! Can we ourselves accomplish that? No way! Contrary to the opinion of some, even after salvation we are still sinners. Even the great apostle Paul, after his salvation, acknowledged his own sinfulness.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [THELO—the desire] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would [THELO—the desire (now, as a believer)] I do not [with perfect consistency]: but the evil which I would [desire] not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not [desire not], it is no more I [in my new nature] that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me [in the sinful nature I still have].
21 I find then a law [a principle], that, when I would do good [because of the dictates of my new nature], evil is present with me. [Emphasis added]
Here he tells us he still has his old nature that works to influence him to sin. We can say the same thing about our own life situation.
As believers who have accepted the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as our sole basis for salvation, we now have two natures. We still have the old nature, but we’ve acquired a new one that directs us to work at leading an obedient life to our Lord. As we do this, we are at war daily with the old nature that’s still a part of us.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another [HETEROS—another of a different kind, speaking of his other nature] law in my members [in my body], warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. [Emphasis added]
That last phrase is another admission of his sinfulness. The strategic victory we now have over this has come through Christ’s redemptive work to pay the penalty for our sins. But as ones who have put our faith in what He’s done for us, we still suffer with the problem of still having a sinful nature that from time to time comes to expression through things we think, say, and do. How frustrating this can be for any of us! Like Paul, it can cause us to think just as he does about it.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind [for the time being] I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh [by way of my still present sinful nature] the law of sin. [Emphasis added]
One very important thing we need to learn from this is that as believers we’ve been completely delivered from our sin problem positionally, but experientially it’s a day-to-day battle. We are admonished to live by the influence of the Spirit of God. But the battle goes right on, and sometimes we lose! We’ve won the war, so to speak, but we do lose some battles, meaning sometimes we sin! And that includes ALL believers, not just some. Never let anyone convince you that sin is no longer a part of their life. If things were somehow otherwise, why would we need a command like the one in these next verses?
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Again, there would be no need for this exhortation if because we are saved, we were already consistently walking under the influence of the Spirit.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would [desire]. [Emphasis added]
What could be plainer than that? This one verse sums up the situation for all of us. It tells us there’s a battle going on within us. What he’s saying is that none of us live with perfect consistently in obedience to God’s Word. We wish we did and that we could honestly say we do, but we don’t. And we don’t know ANY Christians who aren’t in this same situation. Please never let some self-righteous person tell you otherwise.
The key to becoming more consistent in our obedience to God is through the intake of God’s Word. It is by learning it and allowing it to influence our decisions that we can steadily build a more obedient life, a more Christlike life.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. [Emphasis added]
This is what Paul’s command to be filled with the Spirit is all about. It is a command to be influenced by the Spirit of God in our decision-making. We are admonished to be filled with the Spirit of God rather than “spirits.”
18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; [Emphasis added]
We are to live [and drive] under that influence of the Spirit of God. There’s a sense in which following Jesus in this manner is something any believer can do. But to do this we must follow Jesus through His heavenly directives, not necessarily His earthly ones. Let me show you what I mean by that. During His earthly ministry Christ commanded all His followers to live by the commands and prohibitions of the Mosaic Law. This is what “knowing Christ after the flesh” is about in this next passage.
II Corinthians 5:15-16
15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. [Emphasis added]
The things we are to obey today from Christ come to us from His heavenly ministry, rather than His earthly one. The things given in His earthly ministry were all directed to Israel, but the things that come to us from His heavenly ministry are to us today in this present age of grace and as members of His Body.
The things Christ presented in His earthly ministry included the Ten Commandments, but much more. It is said there are 613 commands, not just the famous ten. The Decalogue, the big ten, are just a summary of what’s there. But what did Jesus say about this?
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Emphasis added]
The Law remains, but is observing the Mosaic Law what we’re to do today? Is this what we’re to teach believers to do today? Are we to encourage them to live under the teachings of the Law of Moses so they can be great in the coming kingdom of heaven on Earth? No, we are not! We are not under the authority of the Mosaic Law today.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace [a totally new program introduced through the apostle Paul].
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. [Emphasis added]
Today we are to conduct our lives according to the directives given to us through the writings of the apostle Paul. It is there that we find what God expects of us in our time. That’s by no means to say there’s nothing in the “Old Testament” that relates to us. But there are many things there that don’t. Here are three of MANY examples I could give on that. Unlike Israel, we are not commanded to do any of these today.
–Offer animal sacrifices [Exodus 29:38-42].
–Circumcise our sons on the eighth day [Leviticus 12:3].
–Sell everything we own and give the proceeds to the poor [Matthew 19:21].
These were the first three that popped into my head. But there are hundreds of such laws in the Bible that are not for our obedience. I don’t see Christians doing any of these things these days as an expression of their obedience to God. I’ve known of some people who tried, but it never worked out. Why? Because God has us under a different program today. It is the apostle Paul whom God used to introduce this new program. This is a part of why he is called the apostle to the Gentiles. If you’re to follow Christ today, and we are, we don’t do it in this manner. Today this is done through our compliance with Paul’s teaching.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
As I often note, it was the resurrected, ascended Christ who revealed His message to Paul for our understanding and application today.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
All this is in contrast to Christ’s earlier ministry through the apostles to Israel.
5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [Emphasis added]
Gentiles were excluded! Are we to somehow exclude them in our ministry?
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [Emphasis added]
Even Paul speaks of this.
8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: [Emphasis added]
It was Israel that had to be saved first before their message of salvation could go to the Gentiles. But because Israel rejected His message, God chose to go directly to the Gentiles. This process began with the salvation of Saul of Tarsus who became known as the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Most people are left completely ignorant of all this and its significance. But this man Paul was sent forth to be a pattern to all those who would believe after him.
I Timothy 1:15-16
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
Paul was the first [chief] to be saved under this new program of grace.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. [Emphasis added]
This “pattern” was for both salvation and what we would speak of as the Christian way of life.
I Corinthians 11:1
1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. [Emphasis added]
But this wasn’t the same teaching as what Christ had given in His earthly ministry. That’s why the message given to Paul is spoken of as a mystery, a secret held in the mind of God.
8 Unto me [Paul], who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: [Emphasis added]
This is telling us that it is in in Paul’s epistles alone that we find the doctrine, duty, and destiny of the Church, the Body of Christ. Paul is God’s spokesman to us today, just as Moses was to Israel. To reject Paul’s teaching is to reject God’s teaching. To reject Paul’s teaching is to reject Christ’s teaching to us today.
I Corinthians 14:37
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Again, all this adds up to the fact that to follow Christ’s teaching today, we must follow the apostle Paul’s teaching. That today is all one and the same. What God had to say to Israel was quite different from what we’ve been given today. There’s sharp contrast. God’s message to Israel is found in what is called the “Old Testament,” the Four Gospels, and the early part of the book of Acts. We are living today in a time of spiritual blindness for Israel as a whole.
11 I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall [be utterly cast down]? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
When Israel rejected her Messiah, it was then that God turned to the Gentiles.
15 For if the casting away of them [Israel] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be [in a future time], but life from the dead?
Israel today for the most part is in a state of spiritual blindness.
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. [Emphasis added]
Very few Jews are saved today, but now both Jewish and Gentile believers are united into one body.
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile], there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis added]
God’s objective is to mature us all through the apostle Paul’s teaching.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish [mature or stabilize] you according to my gospel, and [even (meaning they are one and the same)] the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
The purpose of the Word of God is the “perfecting,” that is, the maturing of every believer. As with physical life, growth and eventual maturity comes through feeding. Where spiritual growth is concerned, we are to have the daily nourishment of the Word of God. But as we study it, we’re to realize that two distinct programs are set forth in the Bible. There was Christ’s earthly ministry, but there’s now His heavenly one. Sorting the differences out in the Bible is called rightly dividing the Word of God. As I often mention, although all the Bible is FOR us, it is not all TO us or ABOUT us. When this principle is not applied, only confusion and misunderstanding follow. This is why the right division of Scripture must be applied for growth and maturity to be brought about. This is not something optional.
Let me hasten to say that all this doesn’t mean we don’t study the whole Bible, Genesis through Revelation. Again, learning from the whole Bible has value for us.
II Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect [brought to maturity], thoroughly furnished [fully equipped] unto all good works. [Emphasis added]
Only through the consistent intake and application of God’s Word can anyone become fully equipped for every form of application.
As with physical growth, spiritual growth and maturity take time. It doesn’t happen “overnight” for anyone. But through diligence on your part, steady progress can be made quickly. I hope you’ll see the value of such a course for your life. Following Jesus Christ in His heavenly ministry to us through the teaching of the apostle Paul is something you’ll never regret.