Are We Following the Real Jesus?

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Have we created an image of Jesus that isn’t real? If so, then many believers are professing love for someone they really don’t know.

Many years ago, I visited a famous televangelist in prison. This man was the most well-known minister on the planet in the 1980s. He’d committed crimes against the government, along with committing adultery, and he’d been incarcerated for almost five years. One of my books had touched him deeply, and he requested that I visit him.

When I met him, the man embraced me—crying—for over a minute. Then we sat down and he began to share his story.

After twenty or so minutes, I asked a nagging question. I knew this man loved Jesus greatly at the beginning of his ministry. So I asked, “When did you fall out of love with Jesus?” I wanted to know the signs that someone is losing their love for Him.

“I didn’t,” he answered.

I was shocked. “What do you mean?” I said. “You committed adultery. You committed fraud. You were sent to prison. How can you say you didn’t fall out of love with Jesus?”

Again, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “John, I loved Jesus all the way through it.” I’m sure my face registered enormous confusion because he continued, “I loved Jesus, but I didn’t fear Him.”

There was silence for several moments as the man’s words sunk in. Then he added, “John, there are millions of Americans who are just like me. They love Jesus but don’t fear God.”

That was a life-defining moment for me. It aroused my hunger to get more answers. How can a man who loves God fall into habitual sin? How can millions who love Jesus live ungodly lives? Christ said in John 14:15 that if we loved Him, we would have the strength to obey Him. So what’s missing?

Could it be that many believers are professing love for someone they really don’t know?

Have we created an image of Jesus that isn’t the real Jesus?

It’s possible. Israel did that after they left Egypt. When Moses went to the mountain to meet with God for forty days, Aaron and the other leaders created a “God” that would accommodate their desires—an idol shaped like a golden calf.

You’ll find this story in Exodus 32. There’s something significant in it that I missed for years. The Hebrew text says Aaron named the golden calf Yhwh or Jehovah, which is the proper name of God (see Exodus 32:5).

It wasn’t just Aaron. The people declared, “This is elohiym who delivered us from Egypt” (see Exodus 32:4, 8). Ninety percent of the time, the word elohiym is used for God Almighty. The other 10 percent of the time, it’s used to describe a false god. But since Aaron identified the calf as Yahweh, we can safely assume the people were speaking along the same lines.

The entire nation knew that Yahweh had saved them, delivered them from bondage, and provided for them. However, they’d created a fictitious Yahweh, one quite different from the real One on the mountain with Moses.

That’s a sobering thought. And the reality is, we can make the same mistake. But there’s no need to respond with worry or doubt. Everything we need to walk rightly before God is available to us. How? Through the fear of the Lord. We’re told:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Proverbs 1:7 NKJV

What knowledge? Look at the answer in Proverbs 2:5: “Fear…the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (NKJV).

The fear of the Lord isn’t being afraid of God. On the contrary, it’s loving Him so much that you are afraid to be away from Him. It’s a holy reverence that causes us to love what He loves and hate what He hates. It positions us to pursue intimacy with Him by seeking His truth.

Through this godly fear, we can know God intimately. We gain a revelation of His character and will that comes from His Spirit and His Word. We come to know the real God—the true Jesus, not one made to fit our specifications.

If you want to embrace the fear of the Lord today, I encourage you to pray:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to know You as You truly are. I know You have made it possible for me to encounter and worship You in truth. Today I invite You to give me the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Keep me close to You and Your Word. I want to follow You, not a false idea of You that fits my preferences. I’d rather follow You than get my own way. I love and honor You today. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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