Which Jesus do we “Follow?”

Over the past 15-20 years, many people have preferred to refer to themselves as Christ-followers rather than Christians, of which I am one. However, what following looks like has everything to do with who we understand Jesus to be and what he is up to in the 21st century.

In the last post, I suggested that there is a significant difference between “believing” and “following.” I would further suggest that we consider the difference to be related to who we understand Jesus to be, rather than a mere definition differentiation of the two terms. It is important that we distinguish between cognitive belief, typical of 21st century western thought, and pisteuō, the Greek New Testament word often translated as “believe.” It might have more to do with who we want Jesus to be in our day-to-day lives.

What if I view Jesus in a transactional manner – meaning, he came, died and rose for the forgiveness of my sins with my acceptance of his action as a completion of the transaction? How might that affect who Jesus is to me? How might that affect daily life? I would propose that a transactional understanding of faith leads to a ‘static’ Jesus – he came to earth, did his job, and returned to heaven awaiting our arrival (unless he comes back to get us first). It’s the Jesus of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism! Consider what a static Jesus looks like…

In truth, the “Jesus card” (above) that we gave the confirmation kids depicts a static Jesus – he’s not moving. Since he’s not moving, I can move toward and away from with ease and regularity. If I need him, I know where to find him – he’s right where I left him (i.e., I can leave him at Church and come back to see him the following week(s)). A static Jesus is safe and predictable and will not mess with my world. This is the Jesus of western cultural Christianity, the one we manipulate* so we can live a nice, civilized life. His job is to make us happy. With this Jesus, it’s mostly about me and sometimes about him. This Jesus won’t ask much of me. This Jesus will randomly ask us to serve others to appease him and to feel better about ourselves. I can’t follow a static Jesus (he’s not moving!). I can only “believe” in him. This all begs the question: “How can I have a dynamic relationship with a static Jesus?”

In reality, Jesus is on the move, advancing the kingdom work he inaugurated 2000+ years ago. As confirmation classes progressed, we helped the kids understand this. What changes for me if I see Jesus as present and on the move? Everything!

The Jesus depicted above is not static. He invaded our world 2000 years ago and turned things upside down.  This Jesus is on the move and has invited me to join him in his movement – the advancement of his kingdom.  If I choose to walk away from this Jesus for a while, he moves on without me because it’s not about me – it’s all about Him.  This Jesus asks for a lot – all of me.  This Jesus says that our primary purpose on earth is to serve others.  This is the Jesus of Christ-followers.  This Jesus is worth following and makes my following worthwhile.  This is the Jesus of scripture.  THIS IS THE REAL JESUS. Oh, and I can have a dynamic relationship with this Jesus!

I would suggest that if we find ourselves with a static Jesus, we don’t really know him. We have built a faith primarily on knowing about him. Consider that the Pharisees primarily had a static view of God. We certainly don’t want to align our theology with the Pharisees, but many of us have. How we follow is affected by how we view Jesus. Which Jesus do you “follow?”


For Your Consideration:

“It was the good (and extremely dangerous) news that the living God was on the move. Jesus came to Galilee as a wandering prophet, not a stationary one. Jesus’s contemporaries trusted all sorts of things: their ancestry, their land, their Temple, their laws.  Even their God – provided this God did exactly as they expected him to” (my emphasis). (From NT Wright in Mark for Everyone – comments regarding Mark 1:14-20.)


* The most accurate definition of idolatry is “conscious manipulation of God.”

It’s all Greek to me!

I took Greek 101 during my junior year of college at NDSU, the bastion of theological education. 🙂 NDSU, known mostly for its Ag-related and engineering curriculum, also had a religion department. It was actually a pretty decent religion department. One of the best courses I ever took was The Teachings of Jesus at NDSU.

Back to Greek 101. I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to Greek – I still have the course book (see below). I learned that a plethora of our English words have Greek origins. (Example: The Greek word for horse is hippo; for river – potamos; combined – hippopotamus). My NDSU introduction to Greek whet my appetite for further discovery – discovery that has subsequently impacted my theology and faith.

One of the things I learned in Greek 101 is that the ancient Greek of the New Testament was an exacting language. A Greek word had one meaning and one meaning only. There were few, if any, exceptions to the rules. On the other hand, English is one of the weaker languages, containing words with multiple meanings and many exceptions to the rules. So, how does one translate an exacting language into a weak language? It’s difficult at best. That’s why I often access biblical passages online, looking at multiple translations simultaneously (example). It’s also why I like using the Amplified Bible (AMP). As we’ve discussed previously, it expands the English to better align with the richness and exactness of the original Greek. The Wuest New Testament does a similar treatment.

Greek 101, as well as the Amplified Bible, compelled me to learn some key biblical Greek words that have shaped my theology and faith. One of the first words I discovered is pisteuō (pist-yoo’-o), most often translated throughout the New Testament as believe. An example is the famous John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life). The Greek word translated as believe is pisteuō. Belief implies a cognitive acceptance of something as true. In this case, its an acceptance of Jesus as God’s son, leading to eternal life.

Pisteuō is a stronger and richer word than believe. Pisteuō suggests a trust in, reliance on, and an adherence to Jesus – a much more powerful concept. When I help young people understand the significance of pisteuō versus believe, I ask them what percentage of students at their school might say they believe in God. They typically agree on a high percentage – say 60 to 70%. After explaining that pisteuō means “trusting in, relying on, and adhering to” God, they lower their estimation significantly, usually under 25%.

When we rely simply on the English version of believe, our faith can become transactional. Pisteuō is not a transactional term. It smacks of following (i.e., adhere to). Jesus didn’t invite people into a transaction. He invited people to follow him. Transactions tend to be clean and clear-cut. Following is messy (ask the original disciples!). Transactions are not relational. Following is highly relational. In my observation, western Christianity tends to lean transactional. I suspect it’s not what God intended.

Next time you read scripture, I encourage you to substitute “trust in, rely on, adhere to” each time you come across the word believe. It will bring your scripture reading to life. And likely your faith!