COLLINS COLUMN: Embracing the Reality of Following Jesus

Published 9:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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If you think that following Jesus means everything gets easier and everything you imagined falls into place, then you might want to reevaluate whether you are trusting Jesus or hoping he is a good luck charm.

Even a casual reading of scripture reveals that the saints of old rarely, if ever, lived easy lives as they pursued God. In the Old Testament, we see priests, kings, and prophets face opposition, struggle with temptation, and experience imprisonment and rejection as they obediently followed God’s instructions.

In the book of Acts, we see both the rapid multiplication of those who accepted the gospel and fierce opposition and persecution of the leaders who taught and preached about Jesus. In the early days, weeks, and months after Pentecost, there were thousands coming to Christ as they heard the apostles proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God.

The rapid growth of the church stirred the chief priests and Pharisees to be more hostile to those who followed Jesus. With the full support of the religious hierarchy, Saul was rounding up believers to be arrested and even killed until he was blinded by the light on the road to Damascus. In the first half of Acts 9, we read of Saul’s conversion. After Ananias laid his hands on Saul and prayed for him, Saul received his sight and was baptized. Three days earlier, Saul was threatening the church. Now this same man was proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God!

At some point I suspect you have been in a conversation with someone about whether it is possible for people to change. There’s an old saying that a tiger can’t change its stripes. The meaning of this saying is rooted in a belief that people can’t really change who they are. We have all been in situations at work, on committees, with friends and family and have seen examples that indicate this is true. Our tendencies are complicated and rooted in a variety of things, like how we were raised, difficult childhoods, our unique personalities and skill sets. These all contribute to how we think and behave, and none of us can force change on anyone. Frankly, we know how hard it is to change our own behavior, but when we come face to face with Jesus, acknowledge who he is and surrender our lives to him, it is impossible not to be transformed.

The apostle Paul wrote about this transformation in many places in his letters to the churches. We take off the old ways and put on the new ways of Christ each day. Because God’s Spirit lives in us, we are continually molded into the image of Christ, but our transformation does not mean that we suddenly walk down easy street. In fact, like Paul, following Jesus may lead to confronting difficult situations, and in some places in the world following Jesus is dangerous.

Paul immediately began telling everyone about Jesus. His testimony literally stirred up havoc in Jerusalem, and the Jewish opposition started making plans to arrest and kill Paul. Ultimately, the intervention the apostles and church leaders decided on was to get Paul out of town for a while, so they sent him off to Tarsus.

We don’t have many details of Paul’s life during the years he was away from Jerusalem, but we do know the separation proved to be good for the church and good for Paul. Luke tells us at the end of Acts 9, that the church is Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and was built up. When Paul returns to the scene in Acts, his maturity in Christ is a clear indication that God was preparing him for his life’s work as the greatest missionary the church had ever known. Paul’s life’s work continues to impact you and me daily as we learn from his letters.

Once Paul became a Christian, his confidence in Jesus only got stronger and stronger. While his power of persuasion grew stronger, so did his wisdom. He trusted in God to open doors of ministry and to close them. He trusted God to protect him and provide for him. He learned that his circumstances didn’t control him but rather could be used by God to bless others. A few examples of that are the books of the New Testament he wrote from prison, including the book of Philippians, which repeatedly calls us to be joyful in all circumstances.

Many of us have probably imagined that as we mature in Christ and get older, that life gets easier. Maybe I am the odd man out, but I have found that following Jesus definitely doesn’t mean life gets easier. I have found that the longer we live and choose to surrender to God’s plans for our lives, the more we experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

If God can change a man who once had believers murdered for their faith in Jesus to one who boldly proclaimed that Jesus is Lord, then I suspect you will agree that he can change the hearts and minds of people as stubborn as you and me and use us to share the love of Christ wherever we are called today.

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to save and transform us and all your creation. Thank you for sending people into our lives who shared their faith with us and introduced us to Jesus. Today we surrender to you and ask that you transform us by the renewal of our minds, that our words and deeds might show someone who Jesus is even today. In Jesus’ name, amen