Many people today treat the Bible as a practical guide to life. They see Scripture as a divine self-help book. “If I follow the teachings in this book,” they say to themselves, “I will have the job I want, the relationships I want, money in the bank, and great health.” But I’m afraid, if you read the Bible in that way, you’re missing the point entirely.
Certainly, many of the teachings in Scripture are practical. Take for instance, drunkenness, adultery, and fornication. There are many practical reasons why a person should abstain from these things. A person will likely live a longer and happier life if he abstains from these things. And if he treats others with kindness, dignity, and respect he will usually live happier still.
But if you think the teachings of Jesus are tantamount to pragmatism, then you and I are not reading the same Jesus.
Do the Teachings of Jesus Work?
People often want to know if the teachings of Jesus “work.” Many social reformers have used Jesus’ teachings about meekness and non-violence as a practical strategy for social reform. Others have looked to Jesus’ teachings to learn how to be more effective leaders in their organizations. And countless individuals have desperately sought advice for improving their relationships in the the teachings of Jesus.
When Jesus’ teachings prove to be effective for achieving their desired goals, these folks loudly proclaim, “The teachings of Jesus work!” On any given Sunday, you can hear a preacher telling anecdote after anecdote to illustrate how Jesus’ teachings work. “Just last week,” a preacher might say, “a young boy showed kindness to a bully at school and now that bully is his best friend. Therefore, love your enemies because it works!”
But Jesus didn’t tell us to be meek, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to humbly serve others because these are practical strategies for achieving our desired goals. He told us to do this because in so doing, God is glorified by our faithful obedience.
Sometimes loving an enemy results in converting an enemy to a friend. But other times, loving an enemy results in being laughed at, being ignored, or even being thrown to the lions or nailed to a cross. Either way, the disciple of Jesus will bring glory to God because he has obeyed his Master. Jesus calls this type of living, the “blessed” life (Matthew 5:3-12).
Following Jesus Could Get You Killed
Jesus didn’t tell His disciples, “Follow me and all your dreams will come true.” Jesus wasn’t a politician, a motivational speaker, or a self-help guru. In fact, Jesus taught people that following Him would likely result in their deaths,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33).
In other words, He told people, “If you follow me, you need to realize there is a good chance you’ll lose everything and probably be killed. So before you begin this journey with me, you need to be prepared to lose it all.”
And obviously, He was right. For 2,000 years, people have been slaughtered for being disciples of Jesus. Historically speaking, Christianity has proven to be more of a practical way to die rather than a practical way to live a longer and happier life.
Then Why Follow Jesus?
Jesus isn’t a philosopher whose philosophy we prefer to other teachers. We don’t follow Jesus because we believe His teachings are a practical guide to chasing the American Dream. We follow Jesus for this simple reason: because He is the Son of God!
The one who follows Jesus only when – and only because – it is practical and convenient, is no disciple of Christ. The real test of discipleship is following Christ when it’s impractical, when it gets you thrown into prison, when it causes people to dislike you, when it causes people to speak poorly of you, when it costs you money, or even when it costs you your life.
When others abandoned Him because of His teachings, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?” But they answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Simple enough, isn’t it? We follow Him because He is “the Holy One of God” and He has “the words of eternal life.” Often His teachings are practical, but we don’t obey because they are practical. We obey because we believe!
I love you and God loves you,