Is it possible for a non-Christian to follow Jesus?
Yes. Sort of.
A non-Christian can follow Jesus’ teaching on love and, to the best of his ability, try to love others more than he loves himself.
A non-Christian can follow Jesus’ teachings on money and possessions. She can get rid of everything but the essentials and even give her last penny away.
A non-Christian can follow Jesus’ command to love the least of these. He can care for orphans, widows and other hurting people.
A non-Christian can do a lot of the same things that a Christian does. But there is a difference. A Christian, though imperfect, will follow Jesus wherever he goes. A non-Christian will follow Jesus too but only if Jesus is going where he wants him to go.
For non-Christians, Jesus is a means to an end. They listen to what Jesus says about love, they respect what Jesus said about giving and mercy because those particular teachings fit into their system. But it’s when Jesus starts to contradict their system that they stop following. When Jesus says hard things about marriage and hell, they write him off. They stop following. He isn’t going where they want him to go.
For the true believer, Jesus is the means and the end. When it’s hard to love and forgive and show mercy, they pray. Rather than creating their own religious movement, they ask God to change their heart and help them to obey everything that Jesus said.
There are a lot of people who talk about following Jesus. Honestly, it’s easy to do. But fewer people actually follow him.
In Matthew 8, some people approached Jesus, making bold claims to follow him. Jesus didn’t respond with excitement or details about his benefit and retirement plan. Essentially, he talked them out of it. He spoke of a life of homelessness and separation for loved ones. We don’t know all of the details about how those aspiring Jesus followers responded. The next picture Matthew gives us from Jesus’ life is one of him getting in a boat with his disciples.
I always assume that those two men stayed behind. The prospect of being homeless and away from dying family members must have been too much for them. And so, when it became obvious that Jesus wasn’t going where they wanted him to go, they found their own path.
That must have looked like a brilliant decision a little while later when Jesus and his true followers were stuck in a boat in the middle of a storm. By backing out, these would be followers missed out on homelessness, separation from family and a major storm.
But there was something else that they missed out on.
The disciples woke Jesus from is sleep in the middle of that storm, pleading with him to save them. And he did. With just a few words, he made the winds and the waves disappear. The disciples marveled at what they saw. At first, they were afraid of the power of a storm that was outside of their boat. Now, they were afraid of the power inside of it. They marveled at Jesus.
That’s another thing that you miss when you only follow Jesus when he’s going where you want him to go. You miss the opportunity to marvel. You miss the occasions where you are reminded that he alone is worthy of worship.
To put it another way, when you only follow Jesus when he’s headed in a direction previously approved by you, you miss Jesus. You never were really following him to begin with. You were just hitchhiking with Jesus until he got you to your next stop.
Several days ago, the folks at BuzzFeed released a video called, “I’m A Christian, But…” In it, young hipsters explained how they were Christians without, well, being Christians. I know. It’s confusing. It was hard to watch. One of the more disturbing parts of the video came at the end when a man said, “Everybody is in a different part of life on their own path to wherever they’re trying to go.”
That’s sort of the mission statement for the young, hitchhiking with Jesus crowd. Whatever like gets you to like wherever you’re like trying to go is cool. Cool. Whatever. Dude. Like. It has a nice ring to it, huh?
True discipleship is different. True disciples recognize that it is impossible to follow Jesus while being, “On their own path.” True disciples have had their own path blown to smithereens by Jesus.
If you follow Jesus, you may end up homeless and away from loved ones. You will likely end up in quite a bit of trouble. But you will never go through those places alone and on your own path. You will go through them with Jesus leading you.
And no matter where His path takes you, it always ends up better than you could possibly imagine.