It is not often that I find myself reflecting on something that I have written almost a month later. Usually once my thoughts are out of my mind and on paper or posted on this blog, I move on. But over the past few weeks I have found myself thinking about the quotes that I posted in my last blog. These quotes have challenged my understanding of what it means for me to invite students (or anyone really) to follow Jesus.
The New Testament writers often use the terms "repent" and "believe" when they talk about individuals coming to faith in Christ/following Jesus/becoming a Christian, and I think that understanding these two terms are key to what it means to follow Jesus. "Repent" means to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct; to regret or conscience-stricken about a past action or attitude. Throughout scripture, people are called to repent of their sin and turn to Christ (see Acts 3:19). In this way repentance is a feeling of sorrow over ones sin that results in change - the following of Christ. Biblical repentance is not simply a feeling but must be accompanied by action. This action is the turning from and old way of life without Christ to one that has Christ at its center. In this way, following Christ is a complete reorientation of ones life. The term "believe" is also much more than an intellectual statement. It is not simply the affirmation that Jesus exists but rather I think that it describes a deep trust that encapsulates all of who we are. Much like repentance, believing in Jesus requires action and is incomplete without it. This "belief" is a way of being that is fully convinced that Jesus is one with God and is God's salvation, which results in a reorientation of ones life to be fully reliant on him. The Gospel of John repeatedly emphasizes the importance of "believing" and invites the reader to believe in Jesus and have life in Jesus' name (John 20:31).
I guess all this has challenged me to realize that our invitations for students to follow Jesus must be more than a one-time intellectual assertions. Being a follower of Jesus means that we need make daily decisions to orient our lives around him - each day we will need to repent and believe afresh as the Holy Spirit does his thing within us. With this in mind, we must constantly be inviting our students to make decisions to follow Jesus in the day to day things of life and trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work reforming them from the inside out.
One last thought before I conclude. I think that as we invite our students to contemplate what it means to follow Jesus and reorient their lives, we need to be honest about the cost of being a disciple. Heck, Jesus himself is pretty honest with his followers that following him won't be easy (see: Matthew 8:18-22 & Matthew 10). Following Jesus is not always easy. It may require giving up something that we hold dear, it means that we stand out because our values are not to be the same as everyone else's, it may mean that people hate us and persecute us. How many times have you heard this in an alter call? But perhaps we should speak about the difficulties of following Christ when it is not popular to do so from the outset.
I guess I lied, I have one more thing to add. In all of our being real with students about what it means to follow Jesus, I believe that we need to also present that following Jesus does not just benefit us in the afterlife (i.e. not going to hell) but that he also blesses us here and now. We need to speak about God's goodness in tough times, about the new life that Jesus gives, about forgiveness and love,about the blessings of the community of faith, about the abundant life that Jesus promised, about the presence of the Holy Spirit and about the hope that we have even when all seems black.
Well I feel like I should end this before I meander some more. I apologize if these thoughts do not fit together tightly. Just working through some thoughts and thought I would include others in the process. ~ Josh