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Give Me a “J” Chapter-8

Chapter 8

Making Lifelong
Followers of Jesus

[Paul] went over the region of Galatia and
Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.
—Acts 18:23

Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19, emphasis added). He didn’t say, “Make converts of all the nations.” We don’t want people merely to pray a prayer inviting Jesus into their hearts; we want them to become lifelong followers of Jesus. That’s what it means to be a disciple. Therefore, sharing Jesus with people includes not only sharing how to be saved in Jesus but also sharing how to live for Jesus.

Follow-up with a new believer is something that any follower of Jesus can do. At least we can get the process started for the persons we have led to Christ. Even though we may not be experts in doctrine, we can introduce them to Scripture and share the basics of living for Jesus so that new believers can begin to be more grounded, spiritually. We can set them on their way to a wonderful life in the Savior.

It is important for someone, after being born into the family of God, to grow in knowledge and understanding of how to truly follow Jesus. This is what I call follow-up. As the new convert matures, he or she becomes strong and will bear a plentiful harvest of fruit for the glory of God.

Helping those who have put their trust in Jesus to begin a life spent in His love is a privilege and a joy. These people are our new brothers and sisters. We are welcoming them into the family! Our desire should be to follow up with them faithfully and effectively.

Before I can go any further on this subject, however, I need to deal with an objection that seems inevitably to come up.

Trusting God for the Follow-Up
I’ve heard it over and over again from dear fellow believers in Christ. “If we aren’t going to be able to do extended discipleship with people who pray to receive Jesus, then we shouldn’t even share Jesus with them. They’ll just fall away.”

On the surface, this attitude might sound realistic, even wise. But do you see what it does? It shrinks the sphere within which we are willing to share Jesus until it includes little more than our family and closest friends. The person sitting next to us on a bus, the neighbor we eat with at a barbecue, the acquaintance we meet at a business conference—it seems all such people are no longer candidates for us to speak with about the Savior.

I take no pleasure in saying this, but I must. Those who let the inability to do extensive teaching of new believers prevent them from talking with others about the good news of salvation in Jesus are at best misguided. At worst they are using their argument as an excuse to make a guilt-free escape from sharing Jesus with people who need Him.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider how Jesus Himself shared the truths about salvation. Was He restrictive in whom He chose to discuss God with? Supposing he had been, He would never have left His hometown and His neighbors there. But in reality, He traveled the highways of Israel and its neighboring lands, touching large numbers of people day after day.

If Jesus had been following the modern teaching on follow-up of new believers, He would have said yes to the former demoniac of Gerasa when that man begged to travel with Him. But what really happened? “Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you’” (Mark 5:19).

And what happened when Philip brought the Ethiopian eunuch to a point of trusting in Jesus and being baptized? “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more” (Acts 8:39).

We don’t know what happened to the Gerasene, the Ethiopian, and many others who committed their lives to Jesus after a brief initial contact with someone. But we can trust that God had another way of leading them closer to Him. The first person to touch their lives for God did not need to be the same person who gave them extensive follow-up teaching.

Can we not trust God to build up the people we introduce to His Son? After all, He loves them more than we do. Since He is capable of saving people from their sins, He is certainly able to see that they learn how to live a life that pleases Him, even when we are not able to do it.

That’s the way it is within the church of Christ. It is a worldwide body made up of diverse members whom God coordinates to accomplish His work in the world. Therefore, it is presumptuous of us to assume that only we ourselves are going to be able to instruct someone we lead to Christ.

After the tent meeting when I was seven, I never again saw the evangelist who helped me pray to receive Christ. Nevertheless, I managed to learn what it means to follow Jesus. My parents, my childhood church, and countless others over the years have taught and encouraged me. And I have seen the same dynamic at work over and over again as I have traveled the world. Many times I have shared Jesus only briefly with people, perhaps when I met them on the road or when spending the night in their homes. Yet fairly regularly I get e-mails or phone calls from these people, telling me that they are still following Jesus.

​In the previous chapter I told how I witnessed for Christ with the nightclub owner Ron Bozarth for nine years before he fully came to Christ with his wife, Geri, at their wedding. Well, here’s the rest of the story. After the wedding ceremony, I encouraged Ron and Geri in following Jesus, then left to go on a cross-walking trip. I was gone for a year overseas. When I returned, I went to one of the nightclubs where Ron had been the manager when he came to Jesus. I asked for the manager, and someone other than Ron came to me. When I asked him where Ron was, the new manager said, “Oh, haven’t you heard? Ron’s got religion and he doesn’t work here anymore.”

God will follow up, never fear.

It took me several days of searching before I found Ron and Geri. They had left Hollywood and had spent the last year studying the Bible. They then started a Bible study in their home, and that in turn became Christ Fellowship Community Church in Lake Forest, California, where they have now pastored for more than twenty-five years. We remain close and dear friends.

God will follow up, never fear.

By no means am I opposed to people getting a thorough grounding in the things of God. Let me repeat that I think follow-up is the necessary second half of sharing Jesus. My point is simply that we should never put so much emphasis on follow-up that we let it hinder us from sharing with people in the first place about the good news of salvation in Jesus.

The New Life of a Jesus Follower
Just as there is no single way to share about salvation that is best in every situation, so there is no single way of doing follow-up that is always best. Rely on the Spirit’s leading to show you how God would want you to help establish a new believer in a life with Jesus.

Meanwhile, let me share a few general truths and tips that I have discovered over the years.

The best follow-up is done immediately after people trust in Jesus. This is when they are both most receptive and most needy. After all, stumbling blocks and temptations often come in the early days of a person’s life with Jesus. Whatever we can do to prepare a new believer to go through these trials will help to establish him or her as a faithful, lifelong follower of Jesus.

Right after congratulating new believers on the start of their life in Jesus, we should begin sharing a few basics about their walk with Jesus. We can’t assume that they will know what to do next. They may know next to nothing about the Bible, about the church, or about many other things we older followers of Jesus take for granted. How much you choose to say will depend on the situation.

In my travels around the world, I have often shared Jesus with people whom I was able to speak with for just man evening or an hour or even less. After they have received Jesus, I have shared with them a few key points they needed to know to begin a life with Jesus. You, too, may sometimes be dealing with people you will never see again. Then again, sometimes we have an ongoing relationship with a new believer. Whatever the length of time we have to spend with someone, our purpose is to follow up with them to the extent we can.

In fact, I believe that when a church has a team to share Jesus for salvation in their community, they ought also to have a team to do follow-up. (It may be the same people; it may not.) This second team can go back to people who have made commitments to Jesus, visit them in their homes, and encourage these new believers. To put it in more traditional words, when we have outreach evangelism, we need outreach discipleship as well.

But regardless of whether you have a team helping you, do what you can to follow up with someone you have introduced to Christ. Whenever possible, don’t let the relationship you have established with this person drop. Perhaps you could invite the new believer to have lunch with you or to come over to your home so that you can talk further about the life of a Jesus follower.

When you’re talking to a stranger, ask for a phone number, a home address, or an e-mail address so that you can follow up later. You should be cautious in doing this, however, when the new believer is someone of the opposite sex. A man who has led a woman to Jesus, for example, might choose to invite the new believer to call a female friend of his who is a follower of Jesus.

When you’re talking with people who live in your hometown, invite them to your church or your small-group Bible study with you. And by this, I don’t mean that you should just give them the address of the church and the service time. Offer to pick them up or at least to meet them at the church door. When you say, “Come and sit with me,” they will feel that they have a friend and they will be much less intimidated by the idea of going to church.

One of the best things you can do for a new believer is to give him or her a Bible. With the Word of God in hand, this person can now grow. The Word of God will help to direct this person’s paths in the ways of our Lord Jesus.

Should you be a relatively new believer
yourself and not know much about the Bible,
don’t let that stop you.

You could also offer to begin a one-on-one Bible study with a new believer, perhaps reading through one of the Gospels together. Should you be a relatively new believer yourself and not know much about the Bible, don’t let that stop you. After all, you are offering to study the Bible with the other person. You can both learn together!

The point is to maintain fellowship with a new believer and be responsible for him or her to whatever extent you can.

The other day I felt moved by God’s Spirit to call a man I led to Jesus a few months earlier. It turns out that in the meantime he had run into some followers of Jesus who did not represent Jesus very well. It had discouraged him. So I was able to encourage him to stay focused on Christ, not on Christ’s hypocritical followers.

I saw this man in church just the other day—he’s still following Jesus. But who knows what would have happened to this new believer if I had not kept in touch? This is what follow-up does. It is the means by which fellow servants of Jesus keep each other on the path that God would have us walk.

Whatever our preferred strategy and whatever length of time we have to share with a new believer, there are a few key points we should try to cover, if at all possible.

These have to do with what a new believer should know and what he should do.

What a New Believer Should Know
When a person has received Christ, what does that really mean? A new believer may not know. And that’s why we need to explain it. This is not about gaining head knowledge. Rather, it is about establishing a person’s life in Jesus. You see, while the day a person receives Christ is a wonderful time, it is also a vulnerable time. When people first put their trust in Jesus, our spiritual enemy moves in to try to discourage them and make them doubt their salvation. And they have few defenses against him.

Imagine that you have led a man named Michael to Christ. Afterward, Michael drives home, gets stuck in traffic, and starts cursing. What is he going to think? Quite possibly, Michael will begin to wonder whether anything has really changed inside him. After all, he is acting just the way he did before.

We need to help new believers understand that, just because they are followers of Jesus, that doesn’t mean they are perfect. Jesus in them is perfect, and God is working at perfecting them, but they will fail. At first they are taking baby steps. As they get stronger, spiritually speaking, they will be able to walk and even run. Certainly they should try not to sin, but when they do, they should fall into the arms of Jesus, not fall out of them.

For reasons like this, we need to help new believers understand what has happened to them. Here are key points we should help a new believer grasp right away:

1. Jesus has come to live within your heart. Jesus said,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears
My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and
dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

When we open the door (our will) to Jesus, He comes into our heart to stay. In other words, we have a personal relationship with God through His Son. We can come to Him with our every need and receive His victory. The One who has made us now comes to live within us.

2. Your sins are forgiven. “If we confess our sins, [Jesus]
is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The Bible teaches that, when we repent, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sin. Repenting is turning our backs on the old way, putting our trust in Jesus, and desiring to live for Him from now on. When we repent and ask forgiveness, our sins are gone. Other people may remember our failings, but God erases the errors of our past.

3. You are saved. “If you confess with your mouth the Lord
Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him
from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one
believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession
is made unto salvation. For ‘whoever calls on the
name of the LORD shall be saved’ ” (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

To be saved means to be delivered from spiritual death through putting trust in Jesus Christ. Sin separates us from God, but Jesus bore our sins on the cross and paid the eternal penalty for our sins. When we receive Jesus, we are saved from the penalty of sin, which is eternal separation from God. We are being saved daily from the power of Satan, and one day in heaven we will be completely saved from the presence of Satan and of sin.

4. You have received eternal life. “God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting
life” (John 3:16).

Before we received Christ, we were spiritually dead. But now, in Christ, we are spiritually alive. This is not a temporary kind of life but an eternal life in Jesus. He is with us every moment, beginning with the time when we received Him into our hearts. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

5. You are a child of God. “As many as received [Jesus],
to them He gave the right to become children of God”
(John 1:12).

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are now in the family of God. We are the objects of God’s love and can be sure that our relationship with Him is close, personal, and intimate. As a good father loves his children and cares for them, so God our heavenly Father now loves and cares for us.

6. The Holy Spirit abides within you. “Do you not know
that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in
you, whom you have from God, and you are not your
own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify
God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1
Corinthians 6:19-20).

God has revealed Himself to us as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He comes to live within us at the moment when we trust in Jesus, making our body His dwelling place. Through the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit-filled life—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—can become a living reality (Galatians 5:22-23).

7. You have become a new person. “If anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation; old things have passed away;
behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians
5:17).

Sometimes people call the time when they trusted in Jesus their “new birth day”—and with good reason. Inwardly, each believer has become a new person. Jesus Christ changes the heart. The outward actions of our lives then are changed as God’s Spirit lives within us.

​What a New Believer Should Do
There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love; that love comes as a gift. Religious practices can even interfere with our relationship with God, if we undertake them with the wrong motives. Still, the Bible teaches several actions or habits that are capable of drawing us nearer to
Jesus.

The biblical practices are ones that all of us, regardless of how long we have been following Jesus, ought to be reflecting in our lives. So we should make sure that we ourselves are being obedient, even as we encourage new believers to begin incorporating the following behaviors into their life with Jesus.

​1. Pray daily. “Pray without ceasing”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Prayer is a moment-by-moment relationship with God. We can pray at any time, at any place. As we share every need of our lives with God in prayer, we can know that He hears us. Prayer is also being open for God to speak to us. It is in this most personal way, through prayer, that we grow spiritually day by day.

2. Read the Bible daily. “[The blessed man’s] delight
is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he
meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We need to eat the spiritual food of God’s Word (the Bible) daily, to study His Word, and to obey His commandments.

3. Share Jesus daily. “You shall receive power when the
Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses
to Me … to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

We are saved to share our faith, not simply to wait until Jesus comes to receive us into His kingdom. Our commission is to go into all the world and preach the good news about Jesus to every person. We should seek to share Him with every person we meet wherever we are. We should not be fearful or timid, but we should be loving and open as we speak with others of Jesus.

4. Confess Christ openly and be baptized. “Those who
gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).

Jesus has asked us to confess Him openly and follow Him in baptism after we have put our faith in Him as Savior. Baptism does not wash away our sin, but it is a public testimony that we have died to our old way of life so that we may live a new life with Jesus.

5. Attend church where the Bible is preached and
Christ is honored. “Let us consider one another in order
to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling
of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but
exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Every follower of Jesus should be in fellowship with other believers, praying, singing, worshiping, studying the Bible, following Christ’s commandments, and seeking to share Jesus and minister to the needs of others. It is vital that we assemble with others to grow spiritually ourselves and to help others. This fellowship can be found in many churches and also in small Bible study and prayer groups.

6. Keep Christ’s commandments. “If you love Me, keep
My commandments” (John 14:15).

We obey the commandments of Jesus, and the rest of God’s commandments in the Bible, because we want to. A person who loves Jesus desires to be obedient to His will and accepts that the way the Bible has asked us to live is right and proper for us. Therefore, we seek daily to live as He has asked us to live.

7. Love others. “This is [God’s] commandment: that we
should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and
love one another” (1 John 3:23).

As God has loved us, so we should love others. We should forgive others when they treat us badly. We should share the material things that God has blessed us with. We should be concerned about the whole of a person—body, mind, and soul—and seek in every way to meet the needs of others.

8. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. “Do not be drunk with
wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”
(Ephesians 5:18).

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to have a
moment-by-moment walk with God.

When we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, yet often we are not fully under the control of God’s Spirit. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to have a moment-by-moment walk with God. When we realize that any attitude or action of ours is not of God, then at that moment we should repent, ask for God’s cleansing, and invite Him to refill us with the fullness of His Spirit. The filling of the Spirit continues the marvelous spiritual adventure begun when we first trusted in Jesus.

The Key to Follow-Up
Although I have described what a new believer ought to know and to do, I must emphasize that these are not ends in themselves. They are means to a greater goal. Discipleship is really all about helping people stay in love with Jesus.

Brand-new followers of Jesus are often radiant with love for Him. Many “mature” Christians, on the other hand, are filled with knowledge of godly things but have lost their first love. In that respect, the new believers are more like Jesus than the older ones. So if discipleship means making new believers take Jesus for granted like the older ones do, then it would be better for the new followers of Jesus not to “mature” at all!

We should encourage new believers in their zeal for Jesus, never quench that zeal. For instance, imagine a new believer who excitedly says, “I want to go tell my brother what just happened to me when I accepted Christ!” It would be a terrible mistake to say to him, “That’s all well and good, but first don’t you think you ought to learn something about what the Bible teaches and what we do here at this church?” You can just hear the new believer responding, “Well… okay, I guess so,” as the energy flows out of him.

No! Let him go and talk to his brother. So what if he doesn’t understand much yet? There will be time for teaching him. We should never let that need for teaching, as important as it is, take the glow off a believer’s love for his or her newfound Savior.

I say this not just for the sake of the new believers; the rest of us need them and their zeal. Indeed, any church that doesn’t have an infusion of new believers quickly becomes static and cold. On the other hand, a church that has a steady inflow of people who have recently found Christ is a church that’s filled with life, excitement, freshness. Let us welcome new brothers and sisters and channel their enthusiasm without squelching it.

Making Lifelong Followers of Jesus

Follow-up is making the most of a new believer’s love for Jesus. Again, it’s all about Jesus.

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Questions to Consider
• What have you learned about having a growing
relationship with Jesus from your own experience?
• What are some areas where you can improve
your follow-up with new believers?
• How can you enlist the aid of other Jesus followers
to help with follow-up?