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I don't get to decide

Steve Clifford encourages Christians to follow Jesus even when it goes against the flow

If I’m to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, is it me or Him who decides what causes I should prioritise? asks Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance.

Many years ago, while I was working on a farm at Capernwray Hall, a Christian conference centre and Bible school, I responded to the challenge to become a follower of Jesus. I was 17 years old and about to finish school. I look back at that moment and recognise that was the point at which everything changed. 

There was a lot that needed to be sorted out (though, let’s face it, the process of discipleship in our lives never comes to an end). But, that night, in a small chapel, something fundamentally changed, and I was never going to be the same. From that day on, there was a new boss’ in my life, and because of that fact, I didn’t get to decide anymore. I was a follower of Jesus, so He was in charge; He was Lord. 

The apostle Paul, from a prison cell, where he faced the possibility of death, wrote to the early Christian church in and around Ephesus: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). In the next three chapters, Paul spelled out in some detail what living such a life looks like. 

(Perhaps take some time and read these chapters, as they challenge us as to our speech, our truth telling and conversations, our work and money, our relationships and sexuality, our anger and the need for forgiveness, what we do with alcohol – and, indeed, it challenges our households, marriages and parenting.) 

How strange the New Testament teaching can sound in a 21st-century, Western culture. The culture of me at the centre’: my needs, my rights, my aspirations, my fulfilment. The world of advertising and marketing, for example, wants to sell me products that will fulfil my dreams, telling me I can have it all now as the credit is available. Or, of course, there is always the chance of the big win on the lottery. 

At the same time, the world of social media tempts us to project an image of the kind of life we would like our friends to believe we are living. How easy it is for us as a Christian community to succumb to the pressure of all this both personally, as we are bombarded by the culture of me, but also, as Christian leaders, preaching a gospel which can at times sound like a sales pitch for the perfect life’. 

From that day on, there was a new ‘boss’ in my life.

Jesus did, of course, promise us life and life more abundantly”. He also promised trouble, persecution and, perhaps most shockingly of all, He challenges us: Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38 – 39). 

Taking up our cross and losing our life doesn’t sound like the kind of message to win a 21st century Western audience. I am thankful to God that it is not all dependent upon us. It seems that if we would simply take the step of talking about Jesus to our family, friends, neighbours and workmates, perhaps telling them a little of our own personal story including the tough bits, then God has promised to back up our faith and speak to the core of a person’s being, making Jesus real and changing lives. 

As a Christian community living here in the UK, we are called to be counter-cultural. There will be some campaigns and initiatives we will find ourselves identifying with (often having been founded by Christians or out of a Christian worldview): taking care of our planet, fighting against prejudice and discrimination, protecting the vulnerable, alleviating poverty, both in the UK and around the world. But there are other areas, because we are following Jesus, where we will find ourselves on the wrong side, against the prevailing social orthodoxy. 

Yet we’re not to be discouraged nor lose sight of the will of our Saviour. The apostle Paul implored us to follow the ways of Jesus: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 and 10). So, let’s affirm again our commitment to the Lord and His ways, even if, at times, this places us at odds with the culture which surrounds us. May we also remember who gets to decide how we live.

About the author

Steve has been general director of the Evangelical Alliance since April 2009. He is chair of HOPE Together and has previously been international chair of March for Jesus and chair of the leadership team for Soul Survivor. Steve continues to give advice and support to churches and has worked in a variety of church roles, including many among the Pioneer network of churches. Currently, he is a member of the leadership team at his local church.

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