“It’s much easier to speak about following Jesus when you are making a general statement without any specific commitments. But the most obvious and basic definition of following Jesus will mean making some significant life changes.” – Kyle Idleman, author of “Not a Fan.”
Do you admire Jesus from a distance? Do you like some of the stuff you’ve heard about Jesus, but find yourself content to simply call upon Him when you have a need? Is Jesus just a part of your religion, your religious rituals, or your “spirituality”? Have you “accepted Christ into your life”? Have you confessed your belief? Perhaps you are a secret admirer of Jesus, a member of a church, even a mega church! Well, Kyle Idleman has an important message for you, for me, for all of us in his book entitled, “Not a Fan, Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus.” His message? There is a difference between a fan and a follower of Christ. Jesus did not come to build a fan club, but to make disciples, to gather followers. But how do we tell the difference between the two?
Well, there are some very obvious differences. For one,
“[A fan] sits in the stands and cheers for his team. He’s got a signed Jersey hanging on his wall at home and multiple bumper stickers on the back of his car. But he’s never in the game. He never breaks a sweat or takes a hard hit in the open field. He knows all about the players and can rattle off their latest stats, but he doesn’t know the players. He yells and cheers, but nothing is really required of him. There is no sacrifice he has to make. And the truth is, as excited as he seems, if the team he’s cheering for starts to let him down and has a few off seasons, his passion will wane pretty quickly.”
Okay, now many Christians might begin thinking of people they know who might give lip service to belief in Jesus but who really have nothing to do with Him in their daily lives. They think of those who talk about their “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” yet they live with their boyfriends and girlfriends, curse like sailors, don’t even go to church, and what have you. Yes, “Not a Fan” will touch on people such as that, but it will also very much cause those of us who call ourselves Christians to take a sober look at our own lives.
In the first chapter, entitled “D.T.R.” as in “Define the Relationship” (a question asked in many a romantic relationship) Idleman asks us to soberly evaluate ourselves as if Jesus was sitting across from us asking us as to whether we were serious about the relationship. “Are you truly committed to me or not?” Are we truly following Jesus, giving up all things for Him, in love with Him? In our relationship with Jesus, He has to be our one and only.
Actually, Jesus demands that He be our one and only (Matthew 10:37). In chapter four, Idleman asks a few questions to help the reader determine whether Jesus is just this: For what do you sacrifice your money? When you’re hurt, where do you go for comfort? “When our first response to suffering is to turn to anyone or anything other than Jesus it may reveal that our affection is divided and we are following someone or something other than Jesus.” What disappoints or frustrates you the most? What is it that really gets you excited? (After all, why can so many of us get so excited over sports, music, hobbies, human relationships, etc., and are so ho-hum about Jesus?)
Well, for one, many people think that religion, even Christianity, is about following a bunch of rules. Idleman points out that “when following [Jesus] becomes about following the rules, people end up walking away from both…. When we learn to truly follow Jesus, we find that obedience to God comes from the inside out. Submission to what God wants for our lives flows naturally out of that relationship.”
He likens the relationship to a marriage (as does Scripture in Ephesians 5, specifically Ephesians 5:32.). For instance, if we saw marriage as a bunch of rules—from not committing adultery to putting the toilet seat down with a hundred other rules in between—marriage would be miserable, but if we see marriage as a love relationship, where we care about things that are important to the other person, where our number one desire is to please that person, then those things are no longer a burden, but a joy. This is something most religious people miss, something even many Christians miss.
The marriage example is the perfect one:
“I [can be] a good husband, but as far as she’s concerned that doesn’t mean much. If she doesn’t have my attention, she doesn’t even qualify [a night out] as a date. We could go to the nicest restaurant in town and I could give her an expensive gift, but none of that will mean anything if she doesn’t feel like I just want to be with her, know her, and let her know me. More than my words, more than my thoughtful acts, she wants my heart.”
So morality and good deeds are not synonymous with following or having a relationship with Jesus, but then again, disinterest and not caring about what Jesus asks of us most certainly does not pass as following or having a relationship with Him either.
As Jesus says in Luke 9:23, if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves. That’s what we do when we decide to get married, we decide to deny ourselves certain things for the rest of our lives in order to commit to the person we love. We give up our “rights,” our being the center of the universe, ourselves as being the final arbiters of what we are going to do, say, where we’re going to go, and so on. Idleman writes, “[To] see following Jesus as a one-time decision is like saying after your wedding, ‘Now that I’m married, it’s back to life as usual.’”
“If you call yourself a Christian, by definition you are committing to following Christ with every area of your life. It doesn’t mean you will follow perfectly, but you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian’ and then refuse to follow Christ when it comes to certain people or places or practices.”
Either you love Him and commit to Him, denying yourself, or you don’t. And I would add, either Christ died to purchase you, or He didn’t. This takes the relationship to a whole other level. If Jesus purchased you with His blood, then you belong to Him; He owns you. Idleman rightly points out that calling Jesus “Lord” is declaring that you are His slave, the equivalent of calling Him your Master, You don’t get to negotiate terms with your slave master. You cannot tell the Master who has made rules about drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, taking care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, that you have a different opinion than Him on these rules and have decided not to listen to Him in these areas. You just can’t do it. Either He is your Lord and Master or He isn’t. Either you love Him or you don’t.
But our obedience, our following, is not based on a works salvation, but based on our love and relationship with Him. Idleman points out that the Old Testament gives an example of how some people would become voluntary lifelong slaves to their masters (Deuteronomy 15:16-17). This is the picture of our relationship with Christ. (Romans 12:1, looking back over Romans chapters 1 through 11: “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”)
In one of my favorite parts of the book, Idleman discusses how modern churches are trying to use business and marketing strategies to attract people to their churches. In doing so they attempt to make Jesus and the church more appealing to the masses. Bells and whistles are needed. Entertainment is needed. Slogans are needed. But according to Luke 9:23, what would the slogan of the Christian church truly be? According to Idleman, “The slogan for followers of Christ could accurately be captured this way: Come and die.” As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
“Many fans respond to a gospel message that was designed to sound as easy and appealing as possible…. They find themselves shocked to discover the terms Jesus actually laid out. But this wasn’t the fine print of his message. It was the main point.”
“The biblical reality is that when people say yes to following Jesus, they are agreeing to carry a cross, and that will be painful at times.” And then the questions he asks are, “Am I really carrying a cross if there’s no suffering and sacrifice? ….if you’re not at least a little uncomfortable, then there’s a good chance that you aren’t carrying a cross.” When did you have to sacrifice a relationship, jeopardize a job, put yourself into an uncomfortable position, take an unpopular stand, get made fun of for your beliefs, etc.? “[There] is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life. Following Jesus will cost you something,” writes Idleman. “this brings up a very telling question for most fans: has following Jesus cost you anything?”
The last three chapters deal with three specific examples from the Gospels of people with whom Christ interacted, and who walked away from him. (Why does no one, with the exception perhaps of atheists, seem to believe that they themselves have turned away from Christ? Why do most people and most religions still believe that they and Jesus have some kind of connection going on when Jesus Himself taught that there will be more who take the path to hell, than who follow Him?) The last three chapters, about following Jesus, are entitled, “Wherever. What about there?” (Are there places where we essentially tell Jesus to wait in the car as we head inside? Are there places he asks us to go and we avoid them like the plague?), “Whenever. What about now?” (“[There’s] a tendency to treat our relationship with Jesus like the diet we keep meaning to start.”),  and “Whatever. What about that?” (He made no compromises when he came and gave his life up for you, and he takes no compromises now [from you].”)
In conclusion, the author points out that we are not followers of Christ because we are holier or more moral than others when we compare our lives with others. Following a bunch of rules and rituals also does not make us followers of Christ. Being born into a certain religious tradition certainly does not make us followers of Christ. In fact, as Idleman points out, sometimes we will have to give up our religion in order to follow Christ. Even having once made a “decision for Christ” or having “prayed the prayer” is not synonymous with following Jesus. And if someone says he or she believes in Christ, well, does he or she actually follow? According to the author, belief (faith) is following. As I have said before, when we sin, we are actually demonstrating a lack of faith and belief in that very moment. “To truly believe is to follow,” writes Idleman. “[Biblical] belief is more than something we confess with our mouths; it’s something we confess with our lives.”
One of the scariest passages in Scripture is when Jesus tells people at the Final Judgment that, although they seem to think they are or appear to be followers, Christ tells them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23).
“I’m just wondering, is it possible that you think you are on the narrow road but you are actually on the broad road? [See Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14.] Could it be that you have set cruise control, turned up the Christian radio, and are traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on your bumper?” He then continues, “It wouldn’t surprise me if Jesus said a few will stand before God on Judgment Day convinced that everything is fine only to find out otherwise. But he doesn’t say few. He doesn’t say some. He says ‘many.’ Many who assumed they were on the path to heaven will find out that heaven is not their destination.”
So, are you a fan or a follower of Jesus?
“What if all of life comes down to this one question? What if there really is a heaven and there really is a hell, and where I spend eternity comes down to this one question?”
All Scripture quotations, except where noted, are from the New International Version. Bold and italic emphasis added.
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 Not a Fan, copyright 2011 by Kyle Idleman, page 176.
 Ibid, page 24.
 Ibid, page 61.
 Ibid, page 77.
 Ibid, page 108.
 Ibid, page 168.
 Ibid, page 147.
 Ibid, page 158.
 Ibid, page 65.
 Ibid, pages 160-161.
 Ibid, page 161.
 Ibid, page 30.
 Ibid, page 191.
 Ibid, page 205.
 Ibid, page 33.
 Ibid, page 104.
 Ibid, page 103.
 Ibid, page 21.