Saturday, August 20, 2016

Followers Of The Way

When the church began, way back in the first century, those early believers were not called Christians, at least at first. They were first referred to as "the Way". I remember when I initially came across that term in the Bible. It just caught my attention and I loved it. I still do.  

I don't know who first coined that term, whether it was someone on the outside or on the inside, but regardless, if you were considered a follower of Jesus back then, you were considered a follower of the Way. And that's with a capital W.

I lean toward the idea that those who comprised the early church came up with the name themselves because they knew without a doubt that Jesus was "the way". Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Very powerful words.

Jesus is the way to the Father, the way to eternal life, the way to forgiveness, the way to peace, hope, and joy in this life. The only way. I am a follower of the Way. To say that I am a follower of the Way is to say that I am a follower of Jesus. A Christ follower. I might even get a t-shirt that says "follower of the Way".

I guess the reason I like the term, follower of the Way, is because the term Christian seems to have been watered down in many ways. If you were to ask people if they are a Christian, many would say yes, whatever that definition is to them. However, if you were to ask them if they are a Christ follower, that could be a different story. You may get some hesitation there.

Being called a Christ follower raises the bar. That sounds like more serious commitment. A Christ follower is more than just someone who believes who Jesus was. A Christ follower is one who follows the teachings of Jesus, and follows Him for life. But wait, isn't a Christ follower exactly what a "Christian" is supposed to be anyway? I think so.

The first followers of the Way were Jews who were converted from their long standing religion. They believed Jesus was the Messiah who died for their sins. And from the perspective of the Jews, the followers of the Way were heretics, deserters. Not only that, they were considered a cult.

Before the Apostle Paul became an Apostle, he was called Saul. He was a zealous Jew, a Pharisee, who was so against the followers of the Way, he tried to disband them, get rid of them, and even kill them!

Acts 9:1-2
"Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains."

Acts 22:4
 "And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison." (the words of Paul)

Of course, we know that Saul was eventually totally converted from Judaism to become a follower of Jesus. He was actually miraculously chosen by Jesus, on the road to Damascus. Saul did a 180, and became one of the most dedicated and devoted Christians. He wrote most of the books of the New Testament. He testifies to the fact that he was a follower of the Way himself. “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult." (Acts 24:14a)

Over time, the followers of the Way began to be called "Christians". "Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)" Acts 11:25

As I reflect on those early believers, I realize that those who were called a follower of the Way, personally chose to be a follower of the Way. And it holds true today. No one makes you a follower of the Way, a Christian, a Christ follower. It's up to each individual person. Are you a follower of the Way?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)