Follow me . . . if you dare – 11/1/2016
If you’re a Christian in America, or anywhere in the West, you probably don’t want to read this essay . . . particularly if you’re one of those content, bubbly, happy-go-lucky types that I seem to meet on Sunday morning at the doors of a typical evangelical church. You might recall who it was that most famously said, “Follow me,” because if you claim to be one of those followers, there was a purpose attached, as indicated in Matthew 4:19, with consequences as cautioned, for example, in Matthew 8:22.
It’s far better, isn’t it, and certainly more comfortable(!) to assume that the One we follow simply meant for you to show up at church and immerse yourself in evangelical (gelly) or fundamentalist (fundie) culture for a couple of hours before getting back to what counts in life . . . making money, buying toys, watching sports, griping about politics, etc.
Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live. (2013) is the title of David Platt’s book, with a message so old-fashioned that it tastes startlingly fresh, coming from within American evangelicalism. Yet Platt’s most poignant stories derive from his overseas travels, where Gospel seed often finds fertile soil so rarely seen in America.
In sync with Platt’s theme is the book’s Introduction, written by Francis Chan, who recounts his own journey, building a megachurch, starting a college, speaking at big conferences. Chan writes, “But there was a big problem: I lacked peace.” His life didn’t look like the life of Jesus and the church he saw in the New Testament didn’t look like his ‘church.’
It occurs to me that by Chan’s own admission, one can build a megachurch and become a gelly superstar without being led by the Holy Spirit. He confesses that he could fill a room and preach a sermon, but couldn’t motivate the people to go out and actually make disciples. He realized that he was a big part of the problem, because his days were filled with people problems and administrivia. Neither leaders nor followers were engaged in the Great Commission, which happens to be the #1 message proclaimed by the resurrected Christ in the 40 days before His ascension.
We recently did a ‘field trip’ to a Sunday morning service at a fast-growing gelly church. Six people – 1 adult and 5 teens – gave short testimonies before getting baptized. In each case the testimony was one of believing that salvation had occurred earlier in life, but realizing that sincerity was lacking. Now, more confident, or having decided to “accept Christ” (an unbiblical phrase), profession and baptism seemed appropriate. In no case did I hear a mention of a lost, Hell-bound condition, condemned by sins, necessitating humility and repentance from actual delineable sins. One teen did mention that she gets along with her parents much better now. Another offered that she used to have anxieties and fears that are now gone. How nice, but those are ancillary issues, aren’t they?
Are they actually saved or are they fooling themselves yet again? I don’t know. In American church culture it’s hard to tell, whether or not they ‘get the words right’ in a public testimony. In Chan’s case, if he’s not practicing and modeling the Great Commission, if the ‘disciples’ in his church have no concept or practice of making disciples themselves, are they even disciples themselves? Hey, I’m just asking. If megachurches can be built without any help from the Holy Spirit, then why would you expect them to be filled with born again people?
What was more interesting to me with respect to the six testimonies we heard, was the asynchronous theological perspective. This church’s pastor is a proud graduate of John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary and still in good standing with that community. The church’s doctrinal position is unashamedly Reformed . . . Calvinistic. Yet the 1st person perspective of the six was decidedly ‘free will,’ manifested by phrases such as “I accepted,” “I chose,” and “I believed.” This wasn’t just a slip up – they each read their pre-prepared typed out testimonies, and there was clear evidence of coaching.
So where was the Calvinism?!? Calvinists simply cannot actually live within their worldview. Here’s what I mean: A properly Calvinistic testimony should go something like this . . .
There was a day when God visited me with irresistible grace. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, because I was totally depraved, totally unable to understand or respond to the Gospel. But then, suddenly, I simply realized that God had given me a repentant heart. He had given me faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God that I never was lost and I’m not one of the unconditionally damned! I’m one of the unconditionally elect by God’s sovereign grace, one among the tiny percentage for whom Christ died! Now that God has regenerated me, I know that I will persevere in godliness and good works for the rest of my life.
I’ve never heard an honest Calvinist testimony. Have you? Certainly not from the freshly converted.
I’m trying to be fair, really. You see, Calvinism only afflicts believers after they’ve been saved. Of course, no one gets saved in Calvinism. You’re either elect or not. The elect were never lost, but simply unregenerate for part of their lives. The non-elect cannot be saved (they are uncondtionally damned from before the foundation of the world) and neither can the elect, elect from before the foundation of the world . . . only someone who is lost could be saved, but that category doesn’t exist. Make sense?
The damnable tragedy is that if you get infested with TULIP before you willfully repent and trust Christ, you’re very much likely stuck in a false hope. And why are Calvinists concerned about false converts anyway? Aren’t they false converts by God’s sovereign will? At least they have some hope during their time on this Earth.
Some born again Calvinists have too much heart, though. They see lost people as lost and believe that preaching the Gospel might actually mean the difference between Heaven and Hell for some. David Platt is such, what I call a ‘conflicted Calvinist.’ His heart is too big for his Calvinist head and so he reaches out and forgets about TULIP until he’s back home in his study, reading John MacArthur or Jonathan Edwards. Unfortunately, most Calvinists aren’t so conflicted, and so can’t agree with Paul’s desperate sentiments in Romans 9:1-5 and 10:1-4. (If Paul believed in Unconditional Election, why should he care more than God?)
In the local gelly church we visited, I detected many ‘ministries’ and ‘programs’, but no indication that personal evangelism has any priority. (Not much heart, apparently.) This is overwhelmingly common, of course, producing a culture that does not clearly distinguish between true and false converts. ‘Disciples’ must be engaged, thinking about and practicing evangelism, in order to be sensitive to how the Gospel must be conveyed and what a lost person must understand . . . plus what the response looks like to demonstrate transition from darkness to light, from love of self to a burden for other souls. If the church culture counts the salvation of souls in the community as a light thing, false professions within the church will abound.
I like Chan’s shorthand assessment of Western church culture: “Come and listen,” instead of “Go and tell.” The passive “Come and listen” culture in gelly churches is intended to help members feel bubbly, to get them to come back the next week. In fundie churches, which apparently Chan has also visited, he suggests the intent is for members to boast, “I just heard the most convicting message, and it ruined me!” But such transitory conviction rarely produces repentance and a new path of service, which is almost impossible for fundie ‘laity’ ruled by fundie ‘clergy’ who hold tightly the reins of what they call ‘ministry.’
Francis Chan found that missing peace when he sold his house and moved his family to Asia, immersing himself in evangelism and discipleship ‘at ground level,’ eventually returning to the U.S. to start over . . . at street level, working to make disciples who, in turn, work to make disciples. (I don’t know what Chan has done since the book’s publication in 2013. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. I also don’t know precisely how he shares the Gospel and what his converts ‘look like.’ For our purposes, this isn’t about Chan or Platt, but rather NT principles.)
Platt begins with a description of Ayan, a woman in a 100% Muslim culture. Everything in her life, her identity, family honor, relationships – everything is tied to her tribe’s commitment to Islam. As you share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ with her, she trembles in both hope and fear, hope for an assured salvation, but fear as she counts the cost. She asks, “How do I become a Christian?”
Platt suggests two options. You can say it’s easy, just assent to particular truths and repeat a prayer, or . . . you can tell Ayan the truth: “God is calling her to die. Literally. To die to her life. To die to her family. To die to her friends. To die to her future.” Yet to live in Jesus, as part of His family all over the Earth, to live in a future where joy is eternal.
Platt reports that Ayan is a real woman he met, who then had to flee her family and friends, but is now working with great sacrifice to spread the Gospel among her people. When Jesus saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He called them to leave behind their professions, their family, their safety and security. So it was for the rest of the twelve and for multitudes throughout history who didn’t enjoy the freedom and prosperity we in the West cling to.
The author notes that modern churches “are filled with supposed Christians who seem content to have casual association with Christ while giving nominal adherence to Christianity.” I believe he uses the term ‘Christianity’ correctly here, as a set of beliefs and practices owned by people who may not know Jesus as Savior and Lord. You see, salvation is personal. In Isaiah 12:2 the prophet proclaims, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” Note also that the very name of ‘Jesus’ means ‘Jehovah is salvation.’ You’ve got to know Him. (John 17:3) That’s very personal. Life changes and you acquire an insatiable burden to reach out to others who don’t know Him.
Refreshingly, from within evangelicalism, Platt is death on manipulative ‘soul-winning’ – Ask Jesus into your heart. Invite Christ into your life. Repeat this prayer after me. He obliterates the unbiblical and deceptive nature of this oh-so-common approach, yet embraced by most of those few who actually make some effort to reach out. He brings the proper conclusion: Multitudes think they were saved by simple assent and repeated prayers, but are still headed for Hell. Yes, to Platt’s credit, he actually teaches that Hell is real and is the destination for unsaved sinners, including many gelly and fundie church members. Hey, Christian, just that one simple truth should be enough for you to speak up and warn some people.
Accordingly, Platt exposits the call of Jesus to repentance, for sinners to renounce sin and dependence on self for salvation. Peter’s open air sermon at Pentecost, for example, was a call to repentance to a crowd that had recently crucified the Lord Jesus. Paul’s preaching to the pagan Gentiles featured the bold exhortation to turn from their idols, expecting the repentant to literally destroy them and follow Christ, going against the cultural flow, even to the forfeit of their lives.
Idols? The author calls out Americans who make idols of online pornography, ungodly TV shows and movies, sports, big houses, big cars, big shopping sprees, big materialism. (Ungodly? I can’t remember the last time I heard a gelly use that word!) When life is filled with idols, repentance isn’t so easy. But you can still enjoy the show at church on Sunday and fool yourself into thinking you’re OK.
Platt suggests that Western church culture tempts professing Christians to underestimate the seriousness of their sins. The winsome fellow on stage Sunday morning gives the impression that we’re “basically good people who have simply made some bad decisions,” whether lying or cheating or lusting or cursing . . . hey, we all make mistakes! Just ask Jesus to come into your heart and you’re good to go. But salvation starts with the brokenness of seeing the gravity of our own sins. The Bible is filled with this perspective, as in Romans chapters 1 to 3 and Psalm 51. An evangelistic witness, on the street for example, 1-2-1, must make this clear, compassionately yet unequivocally.
The call to salvation is not a call to a set of rules and / or ritual duties. We turn from sin – not just sins in general but the specific sins that infest our lives – and trust in Christ, in the One who died for us and rose again, trusting Him not just for forgiveness and reconciliation, but trusting Him enough that we believe that His way is THE WAY, and so we follow Him. We follow Him very personally, we learn from His words (the Bible), come to Him, walk with Him, commune with Him, rest and joy in Him, and find meaning in serving Him. We take on His burden for lost souls and His desire for fellowship with other believers.
That’s a lot more than showing up at church, buddy.
When Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he’s not asking, cajoling, or pleading. He makes his true disciples fishers of men. He causes this transformation. You say you don’t have the gift or you’re timid or you just don’t feel like it, or you’re too busy? Then you haven’t become a disciple, have you? When I challenge a Jehovah’s Witness on whether he has — present tense – eternal life, or whether he’s merely hoping to attain it after his faithful attendance and service to his Kingdom Hall, he will invariably admit his hope is based on his self-righteousness, but that he does not presently possess eternal life. Therefore, he’s still lost, not a child of God, not a disciple of Jesus Christ.
What’s the difference with respect to multitudes of churchgoers who must admit that they are not presently disciples, but maybe when they get the time or inclination later in life . . . then they’ll get serious! In the meantime, they must be lost.
Platt: “All of this makes me wonder what we’re missing. When I look at the church today, it seems like we have taken the costly command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations and mutated it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be baptized, and sit in one location.” Platt details how the NT record testifies to disciples who didn’t need to be begged to reach out, but were compelled by their transformed nature.
Can a genuine born again Christian repent from lazy unconcern and timidity? Yes, we can change our addictions. If you wallow in a church culture of passivity and un-love toward souls, you will get addicted to that. But if you repent and practice reaching out, your addiction will change. God will give you an addiction to the ministry of evangelism . . . He wants to! That’s a prayer He loves to answer. You’ve got to act, though. God doesn’t want spectators. He wants you on the field, in the battle! Why did Jesus come to this Earth? He said, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And He says to us, “Follow me.”
Platt tells about Abid, a medical doctor who comes from a devout, wealthy Muslim family. He met Christians who shared the Gospel with him and he trusted Christ. His family found out, tied him up and beat him. His wife and children abandoned him and he lost his medical practice. He lives under constant threats of harm and death. But shortly after conversion, he asked God to use him to witness to 1,000 people in his first year as a new follower of Christ. At the end of that year he had given the Gospel to over 4,000 people.
Sanja in India is a poor mother of two little girls. Her husband left her during her second pregnancy because he didn’t want the responsibility of dowry when they were grown. Going home to live again with her parents, she discovered a church that reached out to pregnant mothers. She repented of her sins and trusted Christ, knowing that shame and suffering would come. Yet now she helps lead the outreach from her church to pregnant mothers, sharing the Gospel with every Hindu she knows.
Why do they profess Christ in the face of such trouble? They are simply genuine followers of Jesus, the real Jesus, not a customizable ‘personal’ Savior who encourages you to pick and choose from what He says, making sure you’re comfortable and not wanting to interfere with your life’s priorities.
A member of David Platt’s church served with other Christians in a Muslim nation that persecutes Christians zealously. When a man or woman trusts Christ in that country, they are encouraged to make a list of all the unbelievers they know (which is almost everyone they know), and circle the names of the 10 people on that list least likely to kill them for becoming Jesus-followers. And then share the Gospel with those ten ASAP. That’s what they do, and the Gospel is spreading in that country.
Platt does a fine job destroying the excuses of Christians such as, “Well, I share the Gospel when the Holy Spirit leads me.” Yuk. The Holy Spirit already TOLD YOU to go. Or, “I don’t witness with my words; I witness with my life.” Double yuk. The apostles weren’t martyred because they traveled around doing good deeds. Furthermore, God doesn’t command you to win people to you with your brilliant smile and dazzling personality. You’re not the focus of attention, Jesus is! The evangelist’s job is to point the sinner to Jesus, conveying truths of law, sin, judgment, Hell, repentance, the cross and resurrection, faith in Christ, the new birth, and what a saved live looks like – counting the cost. It’s between the sinner and the Savior. You’re making an introduction. But it’s their relationship. Get out of the way.
How bold can you go? Luke is a member of Platt’s church, a successful businessman, saved in college, repenting from collegiate ‘party life’, and since then growing in knowledge and zeal. Invited to speak at his company’s annual nationwide meeting, he knew God wanted him to speak about Christ, since Luke’s relationship with His Lord infused his business practices. He did so, then sat down and a manager across the table said, “Luke, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but I want to know more.” So Luke fully explained the Gospel to this manager and everyone else listening in at his table. Then Luke asked, “Would you like to turn from your sin and yourself and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord?” With ten people looking on, the manager said yes and became a follower of Jesus that very night.
Some years ago my wife and I were getting up after eating supper at a crowded Burger King. I saw an old man eating by himself and so I offered him a Gospel tract. He asked what it was and so I explained a bit. He asked some more questions and so we sat down with him and talked for about twenty minutes. The interesting thing was that he was very hard of hearing and so we had to speak very loudly to be heard! As we shared the Gospel the background noise in the restaurant died away and everyone there listened in. They couldn’t help it! I am sure that the Lord gave us that opportunity . . . and I’m sure He has a sense of humor. I sure thought it was funny the way that worked out.
When I taught engineering at Michigan Tech I was once(!) invited to speak to the AFROTC faculty and students on the subject of leadership in Research and Development. As a former Air Force officer I was pleased to do so. For 30 minutes I shared experiences and principles, weaving in Biblical truths which are at the foundation of integrity, stewardship, and other qualities relevant to the subject. I shared my faith and carefully cited a number of American presidents and generals who also stood on Biblical truth to guide them in leadership. There were over 100 people in attendance and it felt to me that the talk was well-received.
The next day I got a heads-up phone call from a student who had been there, a Christian, who told me that trouble was coming. What surprised me was that the troublemaker was the Air Force Lt. Colonel who commanded the ROTC detachment, who claimed to be a Christian. He showed up at my office later, demanding that I make a public apology for the Biblical references in my talk. I refused, of course, which completely flabbergasted him. It turned out that he was one of those sneaky evangelicals who see themselves as lifestyle evangelists. But I’d put the issues right out on the table. He was embarrassed that some people might think that he’d asked me to speak so boldly. He wanted to dissociate himself from such outrageousness. Too bad. (I didn’t get invited back.)
The enemies of the Gospel are not always the atheists and the cultists.
Let’s wrap this up. OK, perhaps there is one reader out there – you? – who says you don’t know how to get started after all these years of disobedience and lethargy, admitting that you don’t reach out because you don’t love Jesus enough to obey and follow Him and don’t love others enough to warn them about Hell. I’m hereby volunteering to help. Start reading the essays in the evangelism section of this site, or just download the free ebook on evangelism in the free ebook store. And write to me so I can send you some free tracts. We’ll correspond and encourage each other. I’ve still got some room in my life for a new friend or two.