IT STARTED WITH A MEME
A few years back I came across this meme on the Internet. A young man was sitting on a park bench next to Jesus. The caption read, “No, I’m not talking about Twitter… I literally want you to follow Me.” I laughed at that image. However, it is so telling about the times in which we live.
What does it mean to follow Jesus today in our Twitter /Facebook /YouTube /Instagram Age? Social media has radically redefined “follow me” to mean a person can “like” what someone else says and does without having to change their own life. We can sit at our computer or cell phone screens and decide to be involved in someone’s social media post a little or a lot. We choose the level of buy in. We decide how much we want to follow someone. We make “following someone” fit within the framework of our own agenda.
TWO COMPETING VIEWS
There are two very different views of what it means to follow someone… The first is a leisure, laid back type of following where you move at your own pace and do only as much or as little as you want. In other words, you do the minimum necessary to just get by (and some don’t even do that much!). You already know what lines you won’t cross because you have other interests which take precedence. This type of following is like a hobby: something you like to indulge in from time to time – when you have time. This type of following also doesn’t like requirements, hard work and opposition. For if any of these are encountered, this “follower” will find something else with which to occupy their time.
The second view on following is where you are “all in” and fully committed for the long haul! You seek to grow and move at the pace of the one you are following. You desire to drink up every opportunity to be near the one you are following so you can learn from them. With this type of following, no amount of sacrifice is too great, because you realize the payoff on the other side of the sacrifice will be greater! So, you don’t try to fit this in between the other things you are doing. Everything else you do revolves around the one you follow!
When it comes to Jesus, which type of follower are you?
In fact, in John 6 Jesus had A LOT of followers until he said something they found uncomfortable. Then, the Bible states (verse 66) many of his disciples turned away and went back to their old life. They basically said he was asking too much of them; he was getting too extreme; that it surely didn’t take all of that to follow someone… right?
After the crowd turned away, Jesus asked his core followers, “will you leave me too?” One of them said, “Who will we go to? You alone have the words of eternal life.” Here is a critical question: Who are you listening to? You see, we all follow someone. We all make decisions based on someone else’s words. Our past, present and future is built on how we respond to what others have said. Some of you may say, “I don’t follow a person, but an ideology.” While that may be true on some level, even ideologies cannot be divorced from the people who originally crafted them. Everything still ultimately boils down to a person. Who do you follow? Who have you followed in the past? Will you follow Jesus?
THE ORIGINAL “FOLLOW ME”
Jesus Christ gave us the original “Follow Me” over two thousand years ago and it meant something very different—which it still means today. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). He also says, “if you love your family more than Me, you are not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). You see, to follow Jesus is to yield your entire life to him. However, many of us only want to yield our hurt, sorrows and disappointments, but we do not want to surrender the pleasurable or comfortable aspects of our lives which might be in stark contrast to God’s will for us.
Think about it—God’s Word and Will for us is to protect us from self-inflicted dangers so that we can be free to live the most fulfilling life in Christ (John 10:10)! When we don’t follow him and choose to “do our own thing” we end up getting into emotional, physical and spiritual turmoil – all because we think we know what’s best for our life. Thankfully, God receives us to Himself when we come to Him in repentance for our transgressions (1 John 1:9). But look at the consequences we have to deal with in the process.
Jesus’ original “Follow Me” is a call to step out of darkness and dive into God’s kingdom of light. It means leaving behind those things which keep people trapped in fear to the world system in favor of experiencing the reality of the Kingdom of God through Jesus himself. To follow Jesus is to hazard yourself for what He cares about. (We already hazard ourselves for what WE want!) It is to completely rearrange your agenda based on his prerogative for your life. We can’t just “like” what he says, we have to DO what he says. “Whoever has and obeys my commandments, he is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves me, my Father will love. And I will love him and reveal myself to him” (John 14:21).
Does following Jesus mean we are perfect and sinless? No. But it does mean we have forever traded our life and agenda for something infinitely better. On our own, we may be able to change our thoughts so we can act better and be more disciplined. We may be relatively happy with who we are. But we will never be able to change the very core of our nature where our sinful imperfection resides. On our own we can never fill the emptiness that exists which we often try to mask with material pleasures and possessions.
But this is what Jesus offers us: the transformation of our fallen heart. We trade our death for the LIFE Jesus gives! And as we walk out God’s agenda for our lives, He conforms us into the wonderful image of his Son, Jesus (Romans 8: 29). We become like him. That is God’s aim. We truly, once again become God’s image bearers. And as we are crafted into his likeness, what we say and do are forever changed because our hearts are made new in him!
But for this to happen, we have to be intentional about who and what we follow. We have to be careful about what we “eat” because “we are what we eat.” Following Jesus in a social media age means we can’t indiscriminately consume every piece of media which is placed before us. Also, we can’t just choose what to consume based solely on our own likes and dislikes. We must make choices based on the likes and dislikes of Christ.
What we consume has an affect on how we feel, how we think and what we do. Social media has a multiplying effect on our emotions, thoughts and actions. It also has an uncanny way of magnifying the very things God says we should avoid: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). So, if we are serious about following Jesus, we must ask ourselves these 5 questions:
1. Does the social media I consume help to reinforce God’s image in me or does it further distort that image?”
2. Does the social media I share help to reinforce God’s image in others or does it further distort and strip down that image?
3. Does the social media I create honor God’s ideals or the ideals of a fallen world system?
4. How do I navigate social media in a way that honors Christ?
5. What aspects of social media do I need to “unfollow?”
In this age of social media followers, we have a smorgasbord of options. We stand in the buffet line of Internet personalities, superstars and Causes. We take a little bit of this and a little bit of that to cater to our fancy and desires. We reject whatever makes us uncomfortable. Yet, if we took all of Jesus, we would have true fulfillment. To “Follow Jesus” is to live for God’s pleasure; and we discover the vast breath of God’s pleasure in the Bible.
THE UNKNOWN FOLLOWER
Finally, in this social media age, it is possible to follow someone and not have a genuine, authentic, deep and intimate relationship with them. It is possible to “like” someone and they not know who you are. You can be one of a million followers and the person you follow never knows your name, never eats a meal with you, never consoles you through a traumatic experience, never visits at your lowest and highest moments in life, and never knows the dreams and aspirations that live in your heart. The person also doesn’t know your deepest, darkest, secrets, regrets, and addictions—otherwise they might not want to be associated with you. In addition to this, the person you are “following” may themselves be living an empty existence even though it seems like they have everything they want (Luke 12:15).
Yet, to follow Jesus Christ, is to be in a relationship with the One who knows and loves you at the most intimate level possible! To give your life to Jesus is also for him to give his life to you. To the one who follows Jesus, there is no judgement and condemnation because he forgives your sins and cleanses you as you walk with him (1 John 1:9)! And even though you can’t “see” Jesus, the Bible declares that he will never leave nor forsake those who follow him (Matthew 28:20 / Hebrew 13:5) It means a world of difference to know that the One you are following is also the One who holds the universe together and who is perfectly capable of holding you and your destiny together as well.
It is possible to “follow” and “like” someone on social media and your life never changes. But it is impossible to truly follow Jesus and remain the same. Are you just going to “like” Jesus or will you become a Christ-follower today?
Let me know what you think.
-Allen Paul Weaver III-