To be acceptable to Christ one must be classified as a faithful follower. By the term follower we refer to one who accepts the authority and follows in obedience to the one who is viewed as being in the position of leadership. By the term faithful we refer to being conscientious, loyal, firm in adherence to promises that have been made, one full of obedient faith. As we seriously consider the qualities of being a faithful follower we do so in view of being a faithful follower of Christ which necessitates a beginning point in life (John 1:35-50). Following the establishment of the New Testament church that was indicative of both obedience to the Gospel of Christ and continuing in the faith (Acts 2:36-47; Rev. 2:8-10).
While it is crucial that as Christians we abstain from moral and doctrinal sin we must also from a positive perspective develop qualities that establish our loyalty to Christ (Col. 3:1-17). One serious fallacy of thought in the lives of Christians is the concept that brethren can be “mostly faithful.” The church of the Lord was established upon the basis of one being faithful. That is an either/or situation with one being an obedient believer in becoming a Christian, or a rejecter where one refuses to obey the Gospel of Christ. This also is demonstrated by continuing and growing in the faith, or else a refusal to properly develop as a Christian thus becoming unfaithful. There is no middle ground between the two. May we give serious consideration to specific qualities of what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ.
Faithful followers of Christ must ascertain the truth and openly confess their faith in Christ. This is affirmed in Mark 8:27-29. When one has a faith that is strong enough to openly and clearly admit the truth about Christ his faith leads him—as a believer—to repent, i.e., change the mind about sin (Acts 17:30). His faith also brings one to the point where he has a strong desire to die to the practice of sin and begin a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-7). As a result, he receives the remission of all past sins and is added to the Lord’s one true church (Acts 2:47). Until this takes place initial salvation in the reception of forgiveness from past alien sins does not occur. Becoming a Christian is indeed conditional and involves the exercise of our free will. One cannot be forced into such a decision; neither can one acceptably enter into the fellowship of Christ and his church by compromise (Rom. 6:17-18). Faithfully following Christ not only necessitates becoming a Christian, i.e., a member of the one true New Testament church, but also implies remaining faithful to this beginning (Matt. 10:28-39).
Faithful followers of Christ must ascertain the truth about Christ and the Gospel in becoming Christians, but they must also receive the truth by continual teaching after becoming Christians. That is affirmed in Mark 8:31-33. Many individuals have accepted the crucial necessity of being properly taught the Gospel before they can become a New Testament Christian (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 6:17-18). However, many of these same individuals—though they became Christians and were added to the church of the Lord—have failed to understand the principle of growing in our knowledge of God’s truth. According to the context of Mark 8, Peter did not know as much about God’s scheme of Redemption as he thought that he did. Perhaps his intentions were sincere, and he meant well. However he was wrong. This brought about a strong correction of Christ (Mark 8:33). Like Peter, many of us at various times had the best intentions in both our words and actions. In spite of our intent, because of our lack of knowledge of truth in various areas, we either spoke or practiced that which was wrong. Just because one is a Christian does not exempt one from drawing improper unscriptural conclusions in addition to engaging in sinfully wrong practices. As Christians, we all need to have an open mind and willingness to be instructed in the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). We all need to have the willingness, through proper study, to admit we have been wrong and change both our faith and practice when we see we are wrong (1 Pet. 2:1-10; Heb. 5:11-14). Unless we develop this mindset and practice, we will never develop the quality of being a faithful follower of Christ.
Faithful followers of Christ must learn to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Christ, as is affirmed in Mark 8:34-37. Since the New Testament church has been brought to our nation, various brethren have been called upon to make sacrifices for the cause. As we note our history, time and time again apostasy has reared its ugly head among the people of God, taking both individuals and local churches into sin and away from God’s truth. Such has dearly cost brethren their income and their wealth. Because of their stand for truth some have been abandoned both by friends and family (Matt. 10:34-38). While that is a heavy price to pay, Christ made it very clear that we must be faithful even if our faithfulness costs us our own lives (Mark 8:38-40).
A careful study of church history informs us of the great suffering and loss of life faced by the Lord’s church brought on by the Jewish persecution during the first century (Acts 8:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:24-28). Near the end of Paul, the apostle’s life we read of the beginning of the Roman persecution against the church, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem (1 Pet. 4:1-6; 4:11-19). Regardless of where the church has gone, faithful Christians have faced some sort of rejection and in certain situations even the loss of life. That was true in the first century and even in some remote situations it is the case today. Regardless of the situation that we face our responsibility remains the same—faithfulness to Christ, even if it means death (Rev. 2:10).
The book of Revelation carries an important message to all Christians: That of ultimate victory (Rev. 2:8-10). In this passage Christ wrote to the church at Smyrna. He realized their accomplishments amid their tremendous tribulation and poverty. He recognized that their faithfulness caused them to be rich in spite of their poverty. He admonished them not to give up. Some would be cast into prison and have additional tribulation. The word of encouragement was this: Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee eternal life. Let us not develop a spirit of fear but, rather, may we muster up needed courage in the face of danger. May we realize the way to self preservation is anticipated in losing one’s life for the sake of the Gospel.
Faithful followers of Christ must learn that we must never be ashamed of Christ and his words. That is affirmed in Mark 8:38. To be ashamed drives one into dignified silence where individuals fail to speak up in opposition to that which is sinful. It is sad but nonetheless true that some have adopted the false position known as “preaching the Gospel and leaving others alone.” That viewpoint, in reality, will not work. In the preaching and teaching of the Gospel sin will be militantly opposed and truth will be exalted. Carefully consider the work of the first century church. Where ever the preachers of truth went the Gospel was preached. Not only was the Gospel preached, but it was preached in a way that stirred opposition by the Devil and his crowd. When individuals falsely affirm that one can “preach the Gospel and leave others alone” by the very nature of their affirmation they have compromised God’s truth and are no longer preaching the Gospel. Certainly, as Christians we ought never to have an insulting demeanor in the way we react to other individuals. However, even as we confront sin in the spirit of meekness, we will stir up strong opposition because of the nature of truth. When the truth is faithfully preached and taught, it is designed so the hearer cannot be neutral. It will either be accepted or rejected.
As Christians, may we learn the qualities of being faithful followers of Christ, and may we always remember that a church without controversy is a church without Christ.