"Accept Christ" or "Follow Jesus"

There is a cherished question in modern-day Evangelical Christianity. It asks:
"Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

Even though that question has been popular throughout recent decades, it hasn't escaped challenges from various Christian leaders.

For instance, A.W. Tozer said this question sets a person up in the judge's chair and leaves Jesus standing there in front of them, hat in hand, asking for their acceptance.

The truth, Tozer insists, should be presented the other way around. It's Jesus in the judge's chair and we're the ones who must appeal to him for acceptance.

I agree with Tozer's critique.

So does Todd Hunter. He writes, "Much of the church has participated in the wrong story: that Christ is merely our "personal" Savior, and salvation is going to heaven when we die. This story does not fire up our imagination for this life; it gives no coherent purpose for the community of faith or its activities" (Christianity Beyond Belief, 69).

Therefore I propose a new question:
"Will you follow Jesus?"

Posing the question this way does 2 things in particular:

1) It links up with the challenge of Jesus: "[C]alling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34 NLT).

2) It communicates something more specific about the nature of living as a Christian.

Contrasting the Questions
Round 1:
Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
This communicates a one-time decision that happened some time in the past. This wording carries no implications for action in the present time.

Will you follow Jesus?
This communicates an on-going decision with present implications. It's not something that you did when you were 8 years old, but it's something you do now, tomorrow, and the day after that.

Round 2:
Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
Structuring the question in this way makes it function as the finish line, the end goal - which it isn't.

Will you follow Jesus?
Structuring the question in this way makes it function as the starting line, the first step in an ongoing series of steps - which it is. Eugene Peterson wrote a book several years ago called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I think that title is very accurate for the life of faith.

Round 3:
Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
"Christ," though simply the Greek word for "Messiah," has taken on an "otherworldly" connotation in popular usage. When I hear that term used, it's often describing Jesus as the high and lofty one who is seated on the clouds listening to angels play their harps. While you might be able to accept that sort of person, you certainly can't follow him.

Will you follow Jesus?
Jesus was an historical figure who lived in a particular time and did particular things in a particular place. He walked, slept, ate, drank, laughed, and wept. In all those things, he modeled a way of life - marked by unrelenting love for God and neighbor - that can be followed and is worth following.

Round 4:
Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
This question posits the Christian life as something that can be performed alone. You can personally accept or reject Christ, and then proceed with your own personal life. Join with a church or don't - either way is fine because you've got a "personal" relationship with God. After all, if Christ is my personal Savior, then why do I need the group of people called "the church?"

Will you follow Jesus?
This question posits the Christian life as something that cannot be performed alone. Detached from the church (that particular community that engages life as if the peculiar story of God, creation, sin, Israel, Jesus, and eschatological redemption were true), no one is long for following Jesus. In a variety of ways, we come to find that we need others AND others need us...and we're all better for it in the end. On this point, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon write, "Through the teaching, support, sacrifice, worship, and commitment of the church, utterly ordinary people are enabled to do some rather extraordinary, even heroic acts, not on the basis of their own gifts or abilities, but rather by having a community capable of sustaining Christian virtue" (Resident Aliens, 81).

You may think that the old question is just fine, and you're entitled to that opinion. What I am attempting here, though, is to offer a new question for your consideration, which is supported by demonstrable congruencies with the real intention behind either question - to invite people to experience life in the Kingdom of God by becoming disciples (students, apprentices, followers) of Jesus.

Related Posts:
The Household of God
Elements of STICKY Sermon: Kerygma

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I've always shied away from using the "accept Christ..." saying and try to implore believer or non to "trust Jesus" because following/trusting Jesus is an all the time, whole life thing that cannot be compartmentalized in any way. I do like the exhortation to follow Jesus - good post


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