I was only fourteen when the fascination started. He was the all-powerful King and I was the awkward youth. He could heal the sick, raise the dead, and shut the mouths of the trickiest lawyers. I was an unathletic teenager, not particularly popular or clever, and couldn't do much of anything special. No matter what they did to Him, He always won. In fact, when they killed Him, He even rose from the dead. As for me, I always lost the argument, or the fight, and felt stupid for letting myself get drawn into the conflict.
If someone had asked me the question, "Do you know Jesus?" -- and lots of people did -- I would have said yes. I had heard about Him ever since I was a little child praying, "God-is-great-God-is-good-let-us-thank-Him-for-our-food-in-Jesus'-name-amen." After all, what more could there be to knowing Him besides hearing all the Bible stories and believing that He died for our sins?
When I was asked who my heroes were, I put Jesus at the top of the list. I was certainly not ashamed of Him and often made decisions by asking myself, "What would Jesus do?" many years before it became a popular catchphrase. I was as good a Christian as most people I knew, and a better one than some. I sincerely wanted to be like Jesus. Yet, according to the Bible, I was a liar.
Of course, I didn't know I was a liar. I didn't even know what the Bible said about it. I had other things to think about, like where I was going to go to college, and what kind of career I was going to pursue. But whatever I wound up doing, I had no doubt that I would do it as a Christian. My youthful fascination with the Lord would never leave me.
And it never did. It got submerged under a lot of other concerns, though, and it was years before it resurfaced. But then, due to some circumstances in my life, I started reading the Word like I never had before, deeply desiring to know what God wanted me to do with my life. It happened to be the gospel of Luke that I was reading, and what I saw there shocked me. I guess I had read right over a lot of the things Jesus said, without really thinking about them before.
Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.
That was what He said in Luke 6:24-26, and it seemed as if He were talking about my Christian experience. Financial success had always been exalted, and popularity, because as a rich or famous person I could "be used by the Lord." But never had I been called on to do anything or say anything that would result in the sacrifice of my creature comforts or risk the disapproval of men. And never had I been warned that the comfort I had in my affluent life was all the comfort I would get for all eternity.
As I read on, I saw other disturbing words, like, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" That was Luke 6:46, and it was followed by the parable of the man who built his house on the ground without a foundation. That parable predicted ruin for me if I did not do what Jesus said. So where did I stand? Was I doing what He said? I suspected that I was lacking in that department, especially when I got to Luke 12:33:
Sell your possessions and give to charity, make yourselves purses that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Before that moment, I had never realized how radical the demands were that Jesus made on His followers. Of course, I had heard since I was a child that the apostles left their nets behind to follow Him, but the storyteller always made it seem like the kind of thing only apostles were supposed to do. In Luke 12, though, Jesus seemed to be talking to everyone, including me. So when I reached chapter 14, the effect was stunning:
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple? So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:26,27,33)
It was pretty clear. I hadn't become His disciple. I wasn't obeying His commands. I didn't even know what He meant by some of the things He said, but I knew that what He was talking about and what I was doing were two different things. What's more, nobody I knew was doing the things He was talking about, either.
I was fascinated by Him, though, and I longed to know what He wanted of me. I was ready to do it, if I only knew how. I can't imagine going on for years with that longing and not being able to fulfill it. Of course, I realize that many people have probably experienced such frustration, maybe even some of you who are reading this article. But what happened to me was that I met a group of people who were living just like the early disciples and found out how the Master's words could actually be obeyed.
Other articles in this paper talk more about how our Master's words are practically applied in the daily life of a disciple. Please read them. But what I want to share with you was what I learned about His commands and what they had to do with my salvation. You may remember me saying that, according to the Bible, I was a liar. Well, that's what is written in 1 John 2:4:
He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Whenever I said, "Yes, I know Jesus," it wasn't true, because I didn't even do what He said.
I realize that it might seem to some that I'm saying you have to earn your salvation by perfectly obeying everything Jesus commanded, which I'm not, but let's be honest: 1 John 2:4 is the Word of God. It's not going to go away. No matter how much we rationalize, it still says what it says. Only those who obey Him can truthfully say they know Him. And, according to Acts 5:32, God gives the Holy Spirit only to those who obey Him. So how could anyone know that he had been saved -- had passed out of death and into life -- if he wasn't obeying the commands of the Savior?
A lot of people say they know Him. I said I did. But I came to the place where I had to face reality. I didn't know Him. I didn't know that I had passed out of death and into life. How could I? 1 John
3:14 says that "we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren." And verse 16 defines love by saying, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us?" So I could only really know that I had been saved if I laid down my life for the brethren. I had to face the fact that my life was mostly centered around myself. I didn't lay down my life for anyone.
Now, we could quibble about words. I've talked to people who do. They say, almost in exasperation, "Well then, nobody who is still alive could possibly be sure of salvation, not until they died on the cross for somebody else, just like Jesus did." But really, our Master's death on the cross was only the culmination of Him daily laying down His life. Everything He did was for our sake. And that's what He calls His followers to do -- live entirely for others.
If somebody wants to argue about it, they can, but I didn't argue. I knew that I was lacking the definitive fruit of a disciple. I didn't obey, and I didn't love -- not any more than any unsaved human being might do. I would be kind to people from time to time, letting people in line in front of me at the checkout if they only had one item and I had a whole basket full, and so on. But to live my whole life for others? How could I even do it? Become a medical missionary for the rest of my life? Maybe. But somehow, the original disciples found a way to love without traveling to Africa with a suitcase full of antibiotics. The Master commanded them to "love one another, just as I have loved you," in John 13:34 and 15:12. He wouldn't have said that if there wasn't some way to do it.
It may be perfectly obvious to some people that the way it all works is to dwell together in community like the first disciples did. That way, you can "serve Him where He is" as He mentioned in John 12:26. Your brothers and sisters are always around, so you can always love them. You can always drop what you had planned and serve someone else. You can give your time, your energy, your resources, and so on, to benefit "the brethren."1 But it wasn't obvious to me. All I knew was that I was completely enthralled by the Son of God. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to belong to Him, heart and soul. And He said I had to deny myself. He said I had to hate anything that stood between me and Him. He said I had to carry my cross, and I really had no idea what that meant, but it didn't sound like something I would naturally like doing.
Yet, still I wanted Him. The more I knew of what He required, the more I said in my heart, "Yes!" It seemed like I was in love with Him, but the true test would be whether I would actually do what He said. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," He told us in John 14:15, and in verse 21, He said it again, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him." I had His commands right there in my New Testament, but could He love me and reveal Himself to me, the way He was speaking of there?
So what it comes right down to is this: the greatest man who ever walked on earth, the very incarnation of the Creator, has spoken. The Savior of mankind, who loved us without reserve, all the way to the end, has made things very clear. He is so magnificent that we can truly say, "To know Him is to love Him." But there is no true knowledge or real love of Him that does not produce obedience to His commands.
I guess that's why, when I finally found a people doing what He said, I jumped at the chance to follow Him -- not because the Bible said so, but because, to me, He was worth it. I wish everyone had that same fascination. Maybe if you read this and realize there is really a place on the earth where He is being obeyed, you will be encouraged and will abandon all for His sake. If you do, I'm sure you will never regret it. I know I haven't.