One of my favorite duties as a Papa is putting my granddaughters to bed. The five year old loves telling stories, so we made up a story game. I begin the story, and she provides the details. I urge her to use her imagination and allow the story to be hers- just like she wants it.
There is a danger in using a variation of that same thought process when it comes to how a person thinks and relates to Jesus. Instead of following the real Jesus, it’ s tempting to construct a version of Jesus we want to follow instead of following the real thing.
It’s a crazy concept to think about, isn’t it? But it happens.
A disturbing number of people choose to follow Jesus in order to get the free stuff- everlasting life, forgiveness, answered prayers, and fixed problems. These are amazing blessings that certainly are available to believers, but benefits are only half of the story.
Amazing blessings are certainly available to believers, but blessings are only half of the story.
Following Jesus is also about submitting to His authority and organizing our lives around His teaching and principles. And when Jesus’ principles clash with our desires or wants, we have a choice. We can submit to Him and obey, we can reject Him and do what we want, or we can rationalize His teachings in such a way as to make them say what we want them to say. When we do that, we follow a Jesus of our own making.
Maybe you’ve seen this played out in real life. People tell me things like, “I’m basically a good person, and because Jesus preached love, He will overlook the bad things I’ve done because He loves me.” Or this: “I know what the Bible says, but this is the 21st century, and Jesus doesn’t expect us to live like that any more.” Both of those statements reveal an allegiance to a personalized version of Jesus who is different than the Jesus of Scripture.
How can you and I avoid creating and following our own version of Jesus? Here are a couple of suggestions:
1. Understand what following Jesus really means. A relationship with Jesus requires us to both give and receive. We give up control, we surrender our will, and we submit to His authority. In return, we receive forgiveness, a clean heart, and a place in heaven. If there is no surrender, then there is no relationship.
2. Read and follow Scripture closely. It’s only a matter of time before Jesus will ask you to change- change your habits, your worldview, your actions, or something else. You’ll be tempted to reinterpret Jesus’ words to a more suitable reading. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus’ teaching is clear, and He meant what He said.
I think it’s good practice to periodically evaluate which Jesus we follow. Is it the real Jesus, or is it one of our own making?