Why the “I just follow Jesus” people are missing something and what it is they’re missing

“I don’t know about all that; I just follow Jesus. We should all just follow Jesus.”

I sometimes hear well-meaning people, sometimes professing Christians, make statements like the one above. I usually hear these statements in the context of some theological/doctrinal dispute or in the context of some difference of opinion about practice (baptism, etc.).

You don’t have to think very hard, however, to realize that something is missing with regard to this statement. Two things, in fact.

First, it implies that the one discussing doctrine or practice is not following Jesus, or at least is missing something and therefore is not following Jesus as they ought. I’m sure the one saying this doesn’t mean to be rude or arrogant but it doesn’t change the implication inherent in the statement. The one discussing doctrine is trying to follow Jesus in their belief and the one discussing practice is trying to follow Jesus in their practice. To imply otherwise is to insult them.

Second, they forget that one has to access Jesus somehow. Since Jesus no longer physically walks the earth one can’t physically “follow him” as the Twelve did. We can talk all day about the revelation of God, event versus speech, and all that, but most of us (more conservative Christians, Reformed especially), will agree that we access Jesus through the Scriptures.

This is what statements like the above miss (i.e., outright ignore). The major way we access Jesus is through the Scriptures (some say the Scriptures are the only way; I think that’s a bit rigid, but that’s something for another post).

The problem for the “I just follow Jesus” crowd is that you can’t read the Scriptures without coming to conclusions about some of these issues they are so loath to talk about. (Issues they’re really trying to avoid talking about by making this statement.) These issues are important because Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” That includes figuring out, as best we can, what we ought to do with regard to these issues that we can’t always agree on. (And it is only by talking about these issues, recognizing that we will disagree, though we must learn to disagree charitably, can we come to conclusions about these issues.)

This is important because if Jesus is revealed in Scripture, and if because of this we must interpret Scripture properly to follow Jesus, including with regard to these issues we might disagree on, then the people who bow out of the discussion by blithely intoning, “I just follow Jesus; we should all just follow Jesus,” are the very people who aren’t following Jesus (or at least, aren’t following Jesus as they should), and the people whom they are slyly accusing of not following Jesus are the ones who are really following Jesus. Ironic isn’t it?

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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