The basic premise behind Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan (2016) is that it is not enough to be a “fan” of Jesus – we must also follow him on a daily basis.
Many people make a one-time decision to become a Christian. They profess faith in Jesus after a moving sermon, at an inspiring youth camp, or perhaps during a tragic time in their lives. Such people may get baptized soon thereafter, and even join the church.
But it can be easy to slip into a “sports fan” type of Christianity – to come to church on Sunday (i.e., “game day”), but to be disconnected during the week. After all, sports fans don’t help their favorite team in its weekday practices or preparation; they just show up for the main event.
A lot of Christians act the same way. They don’t follow through on the one-time decision with a lifetime commitment. Too often, people want Jesus to join them in their lives and help them with their plans, rather than asking Jesus how they can join Him in His work. The focus is more, “What can God do for me?” than on “What can I do for God?”
Admittedly, on the surface, becoming a Christian seems easy. As Idleman points out, almost everyone knows John 3:16 by heart:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)
This verse is one of the most famous verses in the Bible (and, Idleman notes, perhaps the most popular one found on handmade posters at sporting events). There is a reason it’s so well-known. It’s an inviting verse that offers a free gift; it prompts an emotional response.
The availability of God’s grace, forgiveness, and acceptance of whoever is very appealing, especially when we are hurting.
But Idleman contrasts the widely-known John 3:16 to the less frequently quoted Luke 9:23:
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
This verse also extends an invitation, but it suggests a cost. While John 3:16 describes the gift of life, Luke 9:23 describes a way of life. In Idleman’s words, “John 3:16 emphasizes believing. Luke 9:23 focuses on following” (page 116).
Both verses are important, but it is worth noting that believing is relatively easy. Following? Not so much. Ultimately, however, following is a vital part of the full, abundant Christian life.
In fact, Idleman calls attention to a sobering thought: “Jesus makes a distinction between fans and followers by contrasting the word ‘says’ with the word ‘does’” (page 104). This statement refers to Matthew 7:21:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (emphases added).
Idleman is quick to point out that we cannot earn our salvation through works, nor is our salvation at risk when we falter in our walk with God. But the importance of following Jesus on a daily basis is irrefutable. For example, James says:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (1:22)
Faith itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (2:17)
Similarly, in his first epistle, John writes:
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. (2:3)
This is love for God: to obey his commands. (5:3)
In fact, in the gospel of John, Jesus himself says:
If you love me, you will obey what I command. (14:15)
As indicated by the emphasized words above, a genuine conversion is represented by obedience to God’s will. We have to repent (i.e., turn away) from our sins and our old lives.
If we are unwilling to change our lives after converting, were we ever truly converted?
Indeed, there should be visible signs of our conversion. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (7:18, 20).
In Galatians Chapter 5, Paul discusses the types of “fruit” that good and bad trees bear. We can use these lists as a sort of litmus test for our spiritual health:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (verses 19-21).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (verses 22-23).
Examine yourself. When you are around others, what type of fruit are you bearing? When you are alone, what type of fruit are you bearing?
Don’t look at just your actions (e.g., drunkenness or fits of rage versus serving food at a homeless shelter), but also look deep into your heart (e.g., jealousy or hatred versus peace and joy). After all, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What’s on the inside tells the true story of our spiritual condition.
If you see any bad fruit, spend more time with God – read the Bible first thing in the morning, listen to Christian music or podcasts, read Christian books, go to church.
As you spend more time in God’s presence – as you commit yourself to eliminating bad behaviors or habits – you will see an increase in the good fruit in your life. Paul says that whenever we turn to the Lord we “are being transformed” into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). Note the verb form there: passive and ongoing. When we choose to spend time with God, He transforms us – but we’re never perfected, at least not in this life.
The way to experience the abundant life God offers is to follow through on your initial decision. Be a daily follower of Jesus, and not just a casual Sunday fan.