“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:23-25, ESV)
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to someone teach from Matthew 5 about the Beatitudes, and the subject about the crowds that followed Jesus came up. The question was posed: “Why did such a large number of people crowd together to listen to him?” This was discussed quite a bit, but it has left me asking the same question of myself. Why, exactly, do I follow Him? For those that call ourselves Christians, this may sound like a ridiculous thing to question. Jesus is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior. He is the One who laid down His life to save the ones He loves. However, I am not hanging on this question because of a lack of knowledge of who He is, but because I have caught myself “following Him” for different reasons at different times. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure yet…maybe some of both. Let’s see if I can come to any conclusions as I keep thinking and typing out of my heart here.
The first, obvious, area that came to mind for me to look into: my sometimes seemingly insatiable desire to know things. For those of you who have read other posts on this blog, you know that I tend to struggle with basing my identity on what I know. I make head knowledge too important at times. With this being a consistent thing that pops up from time to time with me, it’s not a stretch to see that I sometimes follow Jesus to gather more knowledge. I’m convinced some of the crowds that followed Jesus in Matthew 4 did the same. Curiosity drew them in. I can see myself doing the same. I mean, who wants to be in the minority and not know what’s going on with the famous guy that’s traveling around speaking of sometimes mysterious and always enlightening things? If I fell into that group, I would wind up looking stupid or uncool, or both.
Now that I know this happens with me, I must go a little deeper and look at my motivations for wanting to know things pertaining to Jesus. My motivation will determine whether my “following” Him in this way is taking me closer to Him or not. If I simply only want to know more about Him, that’s a red flag for me. More head knowledge does not necessarily translate to a change of heart. I can know that Jesus loved me, but if I don’t experience that love as a reality in my life, it is nothing but a cold fact that I know (and can share with others, ironically). I can know more about Him and allow what I know (or think I know) to “puff me up”. Arrogance is certainly not listed in the examples of fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 or Colossians 3, so this reason for following Jesus falls short of producing evidence that I am drawing closer to Him.
Another way I have seen myself “following Jesus” for a reason that does not produce fruit is when I pressure myself to “do a daily devotion”. Instead of really seeking to know Him and who I am in Him, I wind up with temporarily fighting back the guilt I feel if I don’t do the devotion. In church, we often feel guilt when we look around and think everyone else is “doing what they are supposed to do” and we are not. If my “following Him” is only to alleviate guilt, it will never be satisfying because I’m not really following Him…I’m attempting to run away from feeling guilty.
I could list many other reasons to follow Christ and discuss each one of them, but, again, I want to keep my posts as short as possible, so I will move on to an important question to ponder after examining my heart for why I am following Him at any given moment in my life: “What do I do when I catch myself following Him in a way that really isn’t following in the sense the Jesus meant it when He encouraged Peter to in John 21:19?”. I always start an answer to a question like that with something like this: I cannot fix myself. In other words, I must first apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to myself once again. I can never run to the cross too much. As Christians, we need to visit there often. I cannot do anything to make myself sin less or do more good things. The power to do those things comes from Christ alone. When I have fooled myself into thinking I am following Christ with a pure heart, the answer is to follow Christ by throwing myself down at His feet and asking Him for help, acknowledging to myself that He is what I need…not mere facts that I can get from Him.
I really enjoyed writing about this and encourage anyone reading this to share your own examples, if you would like, of why you might be “following Christ” at times. I know there are many many more that I did not talk about here.