I have learned there is a strong temptation to make being a Christian harder than it has to be. The reason for this is singular: we are prone to sin which complicates our relationship with Jesus. But the expression of this reason is twofold: 1) the good intention of a natural desire to be justified by our works and 2) the less noble intention that living defeated by such a complicated religion gives us excuse to not try very hard.
Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am encouraging legalism, let’s consider this convicting quote from Geerhardus Vos, “Legalism lacks the supreme sense of worship. It obeys but it does not adore.” Maybe another way to articulate this truth is, obedience without worship is legalism. The activity of our faith should be an act of worship. What we do as Christians should be a response to who Jesus is. We are tempted to believe the opposite. Put in very improper English, what Jesus do isn’t in response to who we is. Our obedience, our performance, our ability to keep or not keep God’s commandments does not define who we are. What Jesus did was die on the cross and rise again from the dead in order that whoever would repent of sin and believe in Jesus would enter right relationship with God. Who we are in based on what Jesus did. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Unified with him, the joy of our lives is to worship Jesus by living a holy life committed to his commandments.
For the past 15-20 years, nearly the whole of my adult life, I’ve been pursuing what it means to follow Jesus without becoming legalistic. How to abide in him (John 15) and yet keep his commandments (John 13.) I’ve learned of the incredible tension between responding by acts of worship and doing activity in hopes of value is common in nearly every Christ-follower with whom I meet. For this reason, the biblical principle of “immediately,” that we observe in Mark 2, is important and encouraging for Christians of any depth of faith.
The simple principle is this: whether healed of sins at the point of salvation, or forgiven of sins at the point of confession, First Century Christ-followers give us a model of what it means to immediately respond to the goodness and holiness of God. In perhaps the most famous of these examples is the phrase we associate often with Jesus’s disciples. Mark records in Chapter 1, verse 18 that once Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him, immediately they left their nets. In Mark 2, verse 12 after a radical and dramatic spiritual and physical healing, the paralytic man rose and immediately picked up his bed. Jesus adds to his roster of disciples by calling Levi, the tax collector, to follow him. Mark records in verse 14 of Chapter 2 that Levi (immediately implied) rose and followed him. Even Peter’s mother-in-law in 1:31 is said to “began to serve them (JC and his disciples)” after her fever was healed.
Giving biblical counsel or gospel-centered discipleship is truly an awesome privilege in ministry. However, it strikes me how often it is that someone can confess sin, drag their sin kicking and screaming into the light, and then figuratively stand there not knowing what to do next. Admirably, some will pursue whatever behavior change they can which will bring an end to the sinful activity. But the Bible teaches anything short of “immediately changing our perspective and acting in response to God” simply will not work. This speaks to the combo of a worship-filled heart fueling holy action. For you see, each of these persons did more than change their physical location. They each changed their perspective on who they were and who Jesus is. They abandoned their previous identity – Simon and Andrew, wealthy fishermen. The paralytic, an incapacitated outcast. Levi, a hated tax collector. Desirable reputations or not, they all knew after encountering Jesus they would not, could not be the same. This is the power and grace of Jesus. No matter who we are, no matter where we find ourselves on the scale of society, he sees us and meets us where we are. He engages us and makes us better for it. He is a mobile God. He does not remain lofty and distant on a throne far away – though he has every right. He lives not high on a mountain waiting for the worthy to come to him. He draws men and women to himself and bids leave their old ways and follow him.
Whether you are considering a relationship with Jesus for the first time or have followed him the majority of your life, will you choose to immediately follow him? Your current condition or identity may give you the impression things are good. You may convince yourself you can make it in life or you can overcome the awful impact of sin in your life. But this is a false veneer. There is hope for those who follow Jesus. He promises abundant life in his invitation. Rather than fear the wrath of a holy God, will you rise to receive his grace and immediately follow him in salvation? Rather than wear the dark, oppressive chains of shame caused by sin, will you confess your sin and experience his freedom and immediately follow him? Do not procrastinate. Do not waffle on the fence. Do not convince yourself a little bit of Jesus is enough. Do not listen to Satan’s lies that everything will be okay in your own strength, the life you are making for yourself is good enough. No other God causes us to see ourselves, our sin, and our lives more clearly. No other God is more forgiving, loving, and gracious. No other God is worth giving up our earthly identities to immediately follow him.