know Who you are following

Knowing the Lord Jesus Christ personally is not a one-time event where you pray a prayer. It is a journey, and every journey can be broken down into small steps. Sometimes those steps get tough, and we can get bogged down and stuck so bad we stop moving forward. If we are to press on to know the Lord then we have to watch out for the pitfalls which threaten to keep us from following him in our journey to know him more.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Established steps will be those steps that follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord gets a hold of our heart, he tells us “follow me.” There is no journey that is more glorious than the one where Jesus leads us step by step. It may seem long and difficult at times. It may seem like a roller coaster at times. But the basic decision that we start our walk of faith with and the one that we continue that walk of faith with is this: Will we follow Jesus?

Two weeks ago we said that one step we need to take in order to follow Jesus is into the waters of baptism. Everyone puts their life in the hands of Jesus is expected to be baptized. This is not just a doctrine of Baptist churches, it is the Lord’s command.

Last week we talked about the step of knowing our testimony. Our testimony is the story of how we met the Lord and placed our faith in him. Jesus shared his testimony when he first started out in ministry by quoting from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news…” (Luke 4:18) Just like his testimony focused on the Spirit of the Lord, likewise our testimony needs to be all about what God has done for us.

This morning we are going to take another step. In order to follow in the steps of our Lord Jesus we will do well to apply some wisdom and understanding. Spiritually speaking, we need to watch where we are walking, or we might lose our footing and fall down and get hurt. We want to have firm footsteps or like Proverbs 16:9 says, “established” steps.

The way to do that is to know WHO we are following. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Now he didn’t say “my lambs.” He said, “My sheep.” A sheep is a grown up lamb. Growing up spiritually means that we know Jesus and we know his voice. How do we know his voice? We read, study, learn and live out the scriptures. The Holy Spirit living inside all who trust Christ leads us to follow in the steps of Jesus by leading us into all the truth.

Knowing the Lord Jesus personally is not a one-time event where you pray a prayer. It is an ongoing journey, and every journey can be broken down into small steps. Sometimes those steps get tough, and we can get bogged down and stuck so bad we stop moving forward. However, if we press on to know the Lord then we need to grow in wisdom and watch out for the pitfalls which threaten to keep us from following him. I want to share three tidbits of wisdom to help us in our journey to know him more.

Not Principles but a Person

Many get caught up in thinking that the Bible is a manual for living instead of the revelation of Immanuel. The Bible reveals God. It opens the eyes of our heart to see him and to know him. We don’t come to the Bible just to get our instructions on how to live our life to the fullest. We come to the Bible to know Life himself. We have a better life because we know the Creator and Sustainer of life.

The Creator has made this world to operate by certain principles. Understanding those principles has been the drive of science, philosophy and really of all learning. Yet you can know all about principles of the universe and miss knowing the One who created it. If our focus is to learn about God and how things work but our daily life is lived apart from looking to Christ in everything, we are missing the point which Jesus came to earth to show us.

Hosea 6:3 says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Let us press on beyond living by biblical principles and live by the truth himself. Let us make it our aim to know Christ. So when we study the scripture it is to know him and not just about him.

This can be a really subtle misstep. Religious spirits are really good at disguising the difference between knowing the Lord and knowing about him. One day Jesus pointed this out to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) What this says is that you can really be into the Bible. You can know all about it. You can quote chapter and verse. But unless you come to Jesus, and you follow after him, you are missing the point.

Don’t misunderstand me. Bible knowledge is good. We want to know the Bible. But let’s not come to the Bible looking for principles to apply to our life so that it can be better. Let us come to the Bible seeking Jesus who is our life, listening to his voice as it speaks through the words, pursuing a relationship with him and not merely looking for a handout. Let us press on to know the Lord. Let us look for more than a gift. Let us look for the giver.

Not a Program but Passion

One of the missteps that many Christ-followers take is to get stuck in a past experience where they felt close to the Lord. In order to re-create this sense of closeness to the Lord they rely on the externals of that experience instead of pressing on into the new territory of a fuller knowledge of him. It’s like Moses and the burning bush. If Moses would have kept on looking for God to speak to him through a burning bush, he would have never moved on to the fuller expression of God’s glory on Mount Sinai. The burning bush was pretty cool, and the Lord spoke to Moses through it. But Moses didn’t spend the rest of his life looking for bushes and expecting God to light them on fire.

We humans have a tendency to look at the externals. This is what the Lord says about us, “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Even though that is true, we can learn to look at the heart. We can learn to passionately pursue the Lord instead of looking to the external program.

There is a great example of this after Jesus rose from the dead when he talked with two men who were traveling to the little town of Emmaus. The men that Jesus walked with on the road to Emmaus were his disciples, but they didn’t recognize the risen Christ in spite of the fact that they talked to him for hours on the road. When he finally opened their eyes to recognize him they realized that something had been burning in their hearts the whole time. We must learn to know the Lord and to recognize him after the Spirit and not the external trappings of a particular kind of service or music or prayer or mission. We need to move beyond the program and begin to recognize the passion for him that he has deposited in our hearts.

The problem with holding on to the externals is that the Lord may have moved on while we didn’t notice. When we plan a worship service there is a particular program of events that goes into that planning. But it’s not about the program. It’s about the Lord. Elijah had this same revelation. God had worked in the past in a mighty wind and through the power of the storm, but in the desert Elijah needed to know him beyond the regular way of working. He came to him in a gentle whisper.

The Lord’s plan all along was for us to know him in our hearts. Jeremiah 31:33-34 says, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

As we grow and mature spiritually in the Lord he wants us to mature in the ways that we know him. If we are maturing we will understand better how he thinks and how his heart operates. It’s not that God changes as we grow; we do. We must press on beyond our current knowledge of the Lord if we will continue to grow in him. Otherwise we will stagnate, and our knowledge of him will grow stale and moldy like old bread. We will be living in the past experience of the Lord instead of knowing him and following him today. Just like God told the people of Israel to gather new manna daily, so we must also.

Not Piety but Purity

One final caution as we follow in the steps of the Lord is to not substitute piety for purity. I don’t want to give piety a bad rap here, but there is an aspect of it which leads us in the wrong direction. Piety is the quality of being religious or reverent, devoted. In general this is a quality that is good and desirable. Yet, piety can often substitute for the purity of heart which goes beyond religious devotion. Piety can get sucked into looking good on the outside rather than cleaning up on the inside. No one does dishes and cleans the outside of a glass and then calls it good.

Every so often I will be in a group of people talking and one person who use some bad language. Then they will turn to me and apologize because they know I’m a pastor. Why do they do that? Because they don’t realize yet that the inside of them needs spiritual cleaning. The fact that they are concerning about offending me with their language is a good thing. However, if they understood that the Lord wants purity of heart, they wouldn’t just apologize to the religious person but to everyone.

It is the heart that the Lord wants to clean up in us. Piety is not bad in a general sense, but if we want to follow in the footsteps of the Lord we have to step past piety to purity. We have to step past religious behavior and step into purity in our hearts.

The psalmist cries out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10) A new and pure heart is the creation of God. In fact it is the new creation that 2 Corinthians 5:17 talks about, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Prior to God creating in us a new heart, our heart was desperately sick. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) But by God’s incredible mercy he does heart surgery on us. He does a heart transplant. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19)

All these things we are talking about this morning bring us to taking the step to know Jesus more. Our faith in the Lord is not just about believing this thing or that thing. It’s about knowing the Lord. It’s about having a close, personal relationship with him. In truth, if our closest relationship is not with Jesus then we are missing the whole truth of Christianity.

How well do you really know Jesus? Do you know the principles of being a Christian better than the one who gave you the principles? Do you know a past experience you had with the Lord better than you know him in your daily life today? Do you know the Christian thing to do better than you know the one who causes you to do the right thing?

Jesus is the beginning, the middle and the end. It’s all about knowing him. If you are going to keep on following in his footsteps then you need to know him more. And you know what, there is much, much more to know. So let us press on to know him. Let us not be satisfied with substitutes which the world bombards us with every day. Let us be satisfied in him.