For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
He that saith he abideth in [Jesus] ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:6).
It has become altogether too easy for people to believe that as long as they have followed the initial conversion process and have been baptized, they will be saved no matter what. In this view of the Gospel, people are generally good and simply need the blood of Jesus to overcome their minor deficiencies; once the problem is solved, such people can get back to their regular lives.
Let none be deceived: such is not the Gospel at all. It is a watered-down, cheapened version that focuses on one element of the story and process to the detriment of the whole. Instead, we do well to recognize that the only way we will be saved is if we truly and fully follow Jesus.
Christians are commanded to follow Jesus as their example in 1 Peter 2:21 and to walk as He walked in 1 John 2:6; the theme pervades the rest of the commandments (1 John 2:1-5). God expects Christians to put their faith, or trust, in Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31); since He is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father, He therefore is our path, our standard, and our example (John 14:6). If we really want to obtain the benefits of standing before the Father in the name of the Son, we must become like the Son and follow in His ways (Romans 8:28). If we take any other path, including the way our society feels is right and the way we ourselves may want to go, it will not be the way of truth in Jesus, and thus cannot save.
We begin to follow Jesus when we put our trust in Him in faith, confess that faith before others, repent of our sins, and are baptized in water by God’s authority for the remission of our sins (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). This conversion process, also often called “initial salvation,” remains very important. We are not putting our trust in Jesus as Lord if we do not do these things; nevertheless, they are not the end of salvation, but only the beginning. Those who belief, confess, repent, and are baptized receive cleansing from sin through the blood of Christ and standing before God (justification; Romans 3:20-5:11); at this point we are children of God, which really means we have the opportunity to grow and develop in our faith in Christ so that we can obtain our salvation on the final day (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Following Jesus is how we can make good on our repentance; that change of mind so as to follow the ways of God in Christ and to turn aside from the ways of the world (Romans 12:1-2). We follow Jesus by submitting our will to His and re-orienting our thinking, feeling, and acting to align with His ways: we can speak of this transition in terms of turning aside from the works of the flesh and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit as specified in Galatians 5:17-24. In Christ we recognize we are not our own but were bought with a price; we have been freed from enslavement to sin so we can be slaves of righteousness; we have died in Christ and have arisen to walk in His ways (Romans 6:1-23, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In this way we are sanctified, or made holy as God is holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, 1 Peter 1:13-21). If we would be God’s children, we would do well to reflect God’s attitudes and characteristics which He has made known to us in His Son Jesus. How can we presume to be His children who will receive His inheritance if we have no desire to do what He says but seek to remain in the world, hostile toward and at enmity with Him (Romans 8:1-8, James 4:1-4)? We cannot!
The Gospel is not an attempt to fix a few detail problems in life; the Gospel is an invitation to be restored and reconciled back to God our Father through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-11). We must recognize how far we have fallen and how corrupt we have become in thought, word, and deed (Romans 1:18-32, 3:1-20); we must recognize that we cannot solve our sin problem on our own (Romans 3:20-23). Our lives must be completely transformed and entirely dictated by our faith and recognition of dependence on God in Christ for our lives, all we have, and the hope of salvation in the resurrection which we are to cherish (Acts 17:27-29, Colossians 1:9-21, Hebrews 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Once we have received initial salvation, we are to strive to make our calling and election sure, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, reflecting Jesus more and more every day (Romans 8:28, Philippians 2:12, 2 Peter 3:18). As we reject the works of the flesh and manifest the fruit of the Spirit God is able to work through us for His good pleasure to accomplish His purposes on earth (Galatians 5:17-24, Philippians 2:13). In this way we are being prepared for eternity, rejoicing in the life-giving presence of God for all eternity in the resurrection (Revelation 21:1-22:6). May we all seek to follow the Lord Jesus and obey His will to the glory of God the Father!
Ethan R. Longhenry