If there is a key to following Jesus, wouldn’t you want to know what it is?
The good news is, there is a key like that. The better news is that Jesus made it clear to find, giving us an orientation to the whole Bible and to the will of his Father in heaven.
One place in the Gospels where we find what scholar Scot McKnight calls “The Jesus Creed” (and see his excellent book, and blog, of the same name) is Mark 12:28-34. I like the shorthand reference to it as practicing L1, L2 (Love God, Love Others).
So, here is L1, L2 from Mark’s snapshot in Mark 12:28-34 (NIV):
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
These words of Jesus indicate that in churches, success must be measured by the transformation of the members into kingdom-centered disciples who love God and follow the model of Jesus in loving others.
The Jesus Creed has to be internalized if we are going to live it out in daily life. It needs to be recited together in congregational worship periodically, and can even be sung.
I recite it each morning after I pray the Lord’s prayer. I added it to my morning prayer practice awhile back so that I could internalize it. You might consider finding a way for reciting it to become a daily, healthy habit for yourself. I know it has been a good one for me.
So, all of that is the good news: there is a key that unlocks where to begin in following God, and Jesus clearly revealed it.
But that brings us to the bad news. The bad news is that too many Jesus followers through the years in far too many churches have acted as if there is no key. Or, worse still, they have acted like something else is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. This has done a lot of damage to people, and it has misrepresented God in the process. If you don’t know the main point of Scripture it doesn’t matter how much Scripture you know.
Jesus entered a world that had some of the same problems that still persist: there are people who do not know Scripture; there are people who do not know the point of Scripture; and then there are people who think they know the point of Scripture—but prove they don’t know it by the way they live and the way they act. You can see Jesus sparring with such people in the context of Mark 12 (right before Jesus gives us L1, L2).
It is much easier to overlook God’s will when we fail to focus on what matters most. Failing that, we end up focusing on ourselves and forgetting what we are here for in the first place.
Michael Green made a haunting observation: “God’s church exists not for itself but for the benefit of those who are not yet members…[and] the church which lives for itself will be sure to die by itself” (McKnight shares this quote from Green in The Jesus Creed; dig. loc. 2943).
L1, L2! It is the antidote to existing only for yourself and benefiting only yourself. So if you are a Jesus follower, let’s go. Let’s go with love for God and for people made in the image of God. They are the ones he calls us to love even as we love ourselves. Let’s follow Jesus and love as he loved, seeking to live as he lived.