Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation. Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian. Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians. Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian. Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.
Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him. If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
– Luke 6.46
In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
– Matt 7.21
We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.
Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13). God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8). It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21). And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
– Jon 14.15
And we learn this by following the example of Jesus. He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
– John 6.38
Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16). Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus living in and through us:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
– Gal 2.20
So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.
What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?
Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.
‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
– Matt 23.7-39
Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments. If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job? Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved? Do you splurge on their happiness?
Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one. What is love? It is sacrifice. Jesus offered His life for us. For whom would you die?
As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.
– Matt 10.17-22
Jesus is concerned about our hearts. This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded. But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so. He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away. He could not trust God. Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.
We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh. What are the deeds of the flesh?
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
– Gal 5.19-21
If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing? Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus. And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft. And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts. If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous. You cannot have strife. You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.
Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail. And Jesus understands that:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
– 1 John 2.1-2
But these things cannot mark us as people. We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Gal 5.22-23
Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him. If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him. And you have not kept the great commandment. And you are not a believer.
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness‘.”
– Matt 7.22-23
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
– 1 John 3.24
Do you want to be a Christian? Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him. Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so. If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian. You are not a mini-Christ. Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.