Does a person have to be a Christian to follow Jesus?
This article got me thinking about how God meets us where we are. Agree or disagree, the author gives us something to think about. Note: The author’s title for this article is: Jesus Plus Nothing–Anyone Anywhere can Begin to Follow Jesus
By Tim Timmons
One of the top takeaways from my new book JESUS PLUS NOTHING stirs up so much emotional response. In other words, there is more heat than light at first. It’s tough enough to separate Jesus from Christian ownership. Now, this insight sounds even more foreign and out of bounds from what we’ve been taught. No matter how much evidence is offered or how many people are produced from non-Christian cultures who are followers of Jesus, it’s still stifling to the brain.
A little over a year ago about 60 of us participated in the Montana Awakening. We were spread all over the state, sharing the message of Jesus. I was teamed up with a Muslim friend of mine who loves Jesus and has been faithfully following Jesus for years. My friend is more articulate and genuine in his relationship with Jesus than most Christians I’ve known for years. On our first night in Montana, we were scheduled to speak along with a couple of others from Germany. I began, setting the stage for my Muslim friend’s testimony of how he had come to follow Jesus. Then he would speak and I closed out our session. Well-meaning Christians bombarded us afterward, vehemently and angrily arguing with my friend and me that it is impossible for a Muslim to be a true follower of Jesus. It was just unthinkable!
The same attitude is found among the early disciples in Luke 9, where John says to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” You see how it works? It’s unthinkable that anyone who is not one of us-one of our group-could possibly have a right connection with Jesus. In John 10 Jesus tries to instruct His disciples that He has other disciples who do not belong to His disciples’ same denomination. He says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” Whoever Jesus is talking about, these other sheep are not from the same religious and cultural persuasion as His disciples. In the final book of the New Testament-Revelation-there is reference to “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne” of Jesus. (Revelation 7) NOTE the common theme of these passages. There is no reference to any certain religious group, but it’s clear that God is calling people from every nation, every tribe and every language group.
So, how is it possible for a non-Christian-a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew or agnostic-to come to the point of being a follower of Jesus and have a genuine saving relationship with Jesus? I’ve observed it in three stages. First-a person is drawn to Jesus because of His miracles, His teachings. At this stage a person is fascinated with the most amazing man, Jesus. He’s a great teacher and a great example. Second-after following Jesus for a period of time, a person begins to embrace Jesus’ principles and teachings. The principles begin to make more and more sense, so the person who has merely been fascinated with Jesus now begins to take Jesus seriously. Third-after continuing to follow Jesus and embrace His teachings and principles, this is when Jesus begins to transform a person’s life. If an internal change or conversion is going to take place, then it will happen at this level of progression.
This progression is perfectly illustrated in Jesus’ encounter with Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers by saying, “You are God’s Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus strokes Peter for giving such a good answer, but says, “Flesh and blood didn’t reveal that to you.” Only the Father could reveal this kind of thing to Peter. Only God can change a person’s heart. No amount of teachings or belief systems can do this. Here’s the way I see it. You don’t have to believe Jesus is the Son of God to begin to follow Jesus. The disciples didn’t! In fact, they weren’t even genuine “believers”, until later. It took them over three years of following Jesus daily for God, the Father, to change their hearts and minds of faith. When a person begins to follow Jesus, he is set up perfectly to have his heart totally converted-transformed by God Himself. We’ve seen this happen in every major culture of the world. They first are attracted to Jesus as a great teacher or example and later Jesus apprehends their hearts. One more thing. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a follower of Jesus either. Here’s the point! Anyone anywhere can begin to follow Jesus.