When Following Means Un-Following

Sundays are my favorite days.

I love the laziness of a Sunday morning: sleeping in, sipping coffee, taking a long walk through the desert hills surrounding my house. Then it’s church, that wonderful time of fellowship, praising Jesus and immersing myself in Truth. Afterwards, feeling alive and refreshed, it’s lunch with my family then home for a glorious afternoon nap.

And binge-watching.

I don’t watch much tv during the week. I simply don’t have time. Between the demands of work and motherhood, any “free” time I may stumble across is devoted either to sleeping or reading. So Sunday afternoons are the one day a week I allow myself to truly indulge by catching up on some of my favorite shows.

It’s a magnificent couple of hours.

Until one day, it wasn’t.

There was a particular show I’d been watching for years. I’d seen every episode, become (too) invested in the lives of these imaginary yet all-too-real characters, laughing when they laughed, crying when they mourned. The dialogue was sharp, the stories intense, the suspense nerve-wracking. In short, I was there for it. Every single week, completely and utterly there for it.

But little by little, themes and situations began presenting themselves that I knew were contrary to God’s Word. An “innocent” little comment here, a passing action shot there. Soon, entire scenes, story arcs, and characters became centered around an anti-Biblical worldview.

And I first started to hear that small voice: “You shouldn’t be watching this.”

It was ridiculous. It was just a show; it wasn’t real. I’d been watching it for years, and it was almost as if I were a part of these characters’ lives. To give up on it now before I learned how it all played out? Besides, I knew Truth. Just because they were living lives and reinforcing ideals that contrasted with it, didn’t mean I was going to start believing them over God.

So I ignored the voice and kept right on watching.

Every Sunday, I’d go to church, sing songs to Jesus, professing my faith and filling my heart up with encouragement from Scriptures…then come home and immerse myself in this imaginary world that kept delving deeper and deeper into sin.

I believed in Jesus, absolutely. I just wasn’t willing to follow Him if it meant having to give up something I enjoyed.

And I’m not the only one. The disciples may not have been tempted with garbage tv, but even those who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry struggled to go where He led.

In Mark 8, we read that “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’

They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’

‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.'” (Mark 8:27-29)

Here we see one of the first confessions of Jesus’s identity from one of his disciples. Peter confesses his belief about Christ’s identity. He believes.

And yet in the very next passage, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.(Mark 8:31-32, emphasis mine).

Only two verses ago, Peter confessed his belief that Jesus was the Christ. Now, here he is, having the audacity to rebuke Him because he doesn’t like where Jesus says He must to go.

Peter believed, but he didn’t necessarily want to follow.

Don’t get me wrong–belief is important; it is belief that leads to salvation. Romans 10:9-10 says “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Yes, belief is a great first step. But stopping there doesn’t result in the kind of abundant life or close relationship that Jesus desires for us and with us. True faith requires action.

It requires us to follow.

James writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) In the book of Philippians, Paul commands us to “continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according his good purpose.” (Phil. 2:12b-13, emphasis mine).

Salvation is not a result of works but works should be a result of salvation. And what are the “works” God wants from us?

He wants us to follow where He leads.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34b, emphasis mine)

Jesus’s cross was an actual wooden cross, upon which He died for your sins and mine. But what does our cross look like? What burdens will we need to endure to truly follow the One we profess to believe?

Perhaps it’s loving someone who is unloveable. Perhaps it’s giving away money we’d much rather spend on ourselves. Perhaps it’s serving when we’d much rather sleep.

Perhaps it’s saying no to certain books, music…or tv shows.

It may sound silly, but it was hard for me to give up my Sunday afternoon binge-sessions of my favorite show. It was comforting; it was routine. But I couldn’t ignore the voice of Jesus any longer. He wanted me to follow Him away from that particular show…and, eventually, I did. I’m now two full seasons behind, and I have no idea what’s happening in the lives of those particular characters.

But I do know what’s happening in my own.

Even small acts of obedience like this one bring us closer to Christ. Following Him may be painful, but it is never a risk. Whether He’s calling us to something or from something, we can rest assured the place in which we find ourselves will be better than where we started. We can’t get any more saved by following Him, but we can become a little more secure. Every step in faith reveals more of the character of God, His goodness and His mercy.

Belief is a great first step. But if that belief is genuine–if you truly believe that Jesus is who He says He is–isn’t He worth following too, wherever He might lead?

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