To Know Christ or To Follow Christ

 “No one may truly know Christ, unless we follow Him in life.”

But what does it mean to know Christ, and how is this different from following Him? So easily will many of us identify ourselves as Christians, as Orthodox Christians who BELIEVE in God. What, however, does this belief mean? What impact does our faith have in how we live our lives? Do we simply believe some facts about Jesus? Do we say we accept what the Church teaches about Christ? Or do we pick and choose what we believe? Many people in our society create a little “designer Jesus,” someone who fits our lifestyle and our desires; someone who won’t challenge our egocentric ways of greed, pride, lust, envy and laziness, but who will allow us to comfortably remain the way we are.

Of course, throughout Church history one’s “orthodoxy,” or holding on to the “true faith and true way of worship,” has played an extremely important role in the lives of Christians. Yet our contemporary attitude  of “you can’t tell me what to believe because I know what’s best for me” greatly distorts and disfigures the traditional Christian faith! And this is why for many, little difference can be seen in one who believes in Christianity, from one who totally denies any faith at all.

“No one may truly know Christ, unless we follow Him in life.”

It’s interesting that in the Letter of James, the Apostle warns the first Christians, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” Saint James seems to be reminding us that belief itself is not enough. Believing things ABOUT God, or about His Son Jesus, does not make one an authentic Christian or a faithful follower of His! Proper and true belief is an important part of following Christ, but it is only the beginning!

“No one may truly know Christ, unless we follow Him in life.”

Authentic and correct belief should lead to a way of holy living. “You will know a tree by its fruit” Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers,” St. James exhorts. “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” And St. John the Theologian, whose memory we celebrated yesterday, adds, “Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” We cannot separate what we believe from how we live!

Knowing Christ is different than following Christ. Following our Lord and walking with Him as a true disciple and intimate friend implies learning from Him and striving to imitate Him – it means walking WHERE He walked, walking AS He walked, living in the same spirit of mercy, compassion, kindness, goodness and purity with which He lived!

“No one may truly know Christ, unless we follow Him in life.”

Such authentic faith demands that we allow His Spirit to live freely in our lives, so that He may inspire, nourish and guide our lives in all that we do. An authentic disciple of Christ will not try to create a faith to fit his or her lifestyle. Quite the opposite! Our lifestyle must come in line with our Orthodox Faith. Our worldview must be formed by our understanding of Jesus Christ. Our words, deeds and even thoughts must come under the influence and reign of our Lord!

With this understanding then, belief and faith play a central role in who we are only in as much as they become the most integral influence in how we live. And as we walk through life with Christ, we come to understand Him and know Him in a radically new way.

“No one may truly know Christ unless we follow Him in life.”

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard the initial call of Jesus to his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John. Little did those fishermen know how much their lives would drastically change when they decided to not only listen to Jesus, but to follow Him. Surely they knew their Jewish faith and heritage. Like every faithful Jew, they read the Mosaic Law and waited for the Messiah.

Yet on that day when Jesus climbed into the boat of Peter to preach, and then told him to go out into the deep and fish after a night of catching nothing, something happened for Peter and his companions. Previously, they had heard about the charismatic rabbi Jesus and were probably mesmerized by His simple yet profound words. Yet when they chose to follow Him, to obey his confusing commands, to trust in His words, then their own lives began to fundamentally change.

Trusting in Christ and obeying His commands, even when they didn’t make sense, or when they were hard to follow, led them on a new way of life. Their lives completely changed, and they didn’t change according to their own desires and ideas. They learned to deny themselves and their own understanding, while opening up their minds and hearts to allow Christ to transform them. The idea of a “designer faith” would have been an entirely foreign concept to them.

Following Jesus Christ is demanding and challenging, because Christ wants our all! He wants to take us from where we are and transform us into His likeness. He wants to crucify our own ideas and understandings and beliefs, and allow His way of sacrificial life of love to become ours! When we call ourselves a Christian, we should remember that we are called to become an icon of Christ!

 “No one may truly know Christ unless we follow Him in life.”

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