By Justin Rossow
What do you need to follow Jesus? In a very real sense, the answer to that question is, quite simply, nothing. You don’t need anything more than you have right now to begin following Jesus, to continue following Jesus, or even to turn back, be forgiven, and get a fresh start on the great adventure that is following Jesus.
In fact, Jesus has already been guiding you, serving you, and equipping you. The Spirit has already been calling you, and shaping your next step, and holding you when you fall. Everything that has happened up to the point of you reading this paragraph in a blog on following Jesus has happened under the umbrella of God’s grace.
You are not alone. You have never been alone. You will never be alone on this journey.
So on the one hand, you don’t need anything more than you already have right now to follow Jesus. This journey of discovery is an adventure of grace: the Spirit is working in you both the desire to take this journey, and the ability to live out your faith, one small step at a time. You don’t need to bring anything more to the table than you; and you can rest in the assurance that even coming to the table in the first place was the work of the Spirit in you.
On the other hand, your faith doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The momentum of many of your minutes and hours and days can end up pulling against your next step following Jesus, even when you don’t notice the drag. Once you have put your foot on a path of following, you still live in a beautiful but fallen world. The brokenness around you and in your own heart constantly work against the joy and adventure Jesus had in mind when he said, “Follow me!”
Acknowledging the dual reality of God’s grace on the one side, and life in a fallen world on the other, is perhaps the first “how to” in this How To book for following Jesus. Both are true at the same time.
- You don’t need anything more than you have right now to take a next step following Jesus.
- The momentum of much of your life makes it harder, not easier, to take even a small next step.
Think of your experience with following Jesus kind of like standing on a people mover at the airport. You’ve seen one of those before, right? (It’s like an escalator, but without the stairs …)
If you focus only on God’s grace and the power of the Spirit working in your life, then you wouldn’t even have to bother with walking once you are on that people mover; Jesus is moving you forward in the right direction and you have nothing to worry about! Why would I need help following Jesus? This is easy!
If, instead, you focus only on the brokenness in you and around you in this fallen world, the picture looks quite different! Instead of the people mover facing toward your destination, the momentum of the world around you is working against your life of following.
The Apostle Paul says that, according to our sinful nature, we are spiritually dead; and a corpse heading the wrong way down that people mover has no hope of moving forward at all! Why would I need help following Jesus? It won’t do any good!
The only reason it makes any sense to help each other in this journey of faith is because we still live in the tension of God’s grace and ongoing sin in the world. If I were only the old, sinful me—blind, dead, and an enemy of God—help following Jesus would do no good. If I were completely the New Creation already now that I will one day be in Christ, help following Jesus would be unnecessary.
But, for now, I am still both the Old Me and the New Me at the same time. I am headed in the right direction, one step at a time, but the people mover is pulling me backwards, away from my life in Christ—against my will in my best moments, and with my complete compliance in my worst.
Already now, I am forgiven, and redeemed, and adopted, and made new. Already now, I want to follow Jesus more fully and more joyfully. And at the same time, taking a small next step can seem like an insurmountable task. Faith can still seem naïve. Faithfulness can, at times, feel rather silly. With the people mover pulling against me, I find standing still amounts to moving backwards.
That duality between grace and brokenness, between faith and unfaith in my life, will remain until Jesus comes again and I no longer struggle with sin in the world or sin in my own heart. But I don’t have to throw up my hands and be content with my on-again, off-again relationship with following Jesus.
Although I will never be perfect until I am finally made perfect in the life of the world to come, I have some concrete ways to support my adventure of following even now, ahead of time. I have some tools and attitudes that can help me find new delight in following Jesus, motivate and equip me to take a next step, and cause me to be more aware of what the Spirit is shaping in my life. I can learn to notice ways in which my world is structured and organized to prevent me from finding joy and meaning in my life of faith, and reorganize my everyday life to balance out the negative momentum that persistently pulls against my next step.
That’s why training and teaching and blogging and helping each other follow Jesus makes sense. I don’t need anything more than I already have, because Jesus already has me, and that’s all that I need. But I still live in a broken world, and someone has pointed the people mover in the wrong direction.
So I need a helping hand on this journey of faith! I need people in my life who can help me trust even while I doubt, help me see when I am feeling blind, help me notice and counteract the momentum that pulls me away from faith and following.
There is no simple, silver bullet answer for how to make a regular habit of finding joy in following Jesus. But there are some things we can actually do to help each other, practices that make following Jesus seem more obvious and natural.
You don’t have to be any better at following Jesus than you are right now to take a small next step. But you can be better equipped for this journey of faith.
Jesus is not in a hurry. Jesus loves you, and loves spending time with you. Jesus is absolutely delighted that you even want to consider the possibility of figuring out how to more regularly, joyfully, and intentionally take a small next step in his direction.
And Jesus is faithful; he won’t leave you alone to figure this out all by yourself. You are on an adventure of discovery. Who in your life will help you take a next step? We follow Jesus better when we follow him together.
Editor’s Note: This blog has been excerpted and modified from the introduction to a book scheduled to be released in 2020 by Next Step Press. The working title is My Next Step: A How-To Book for People Who Want to Follow Jesus (But Don’t Always Know How).