By: Steve Wilmot
Kyle Idleman wrote a thoughtful book a few years ago titled, “Not a Fan.” In it, Idleman traces Jesus’ encounters with people and groups during his earthly ministry.
He notes Jesus regularly issued them an invitation to follow him. To quote Idleman, “He’s not interested in mere fans. He doesn’t want enthusiastic admirers. He wants completely committed followers.”
An honest look in the Gospels reveals Idleman is right. Jesus challenged people to follow him with single-hearted devotion. If they said no, he let them walk away.
He never forced himself on anyone. He let them choose for themselves… even if they turned their back on him.
It’s the same for you and me all these centuries later — Will you follow Jesus, or not? The sad fact is many believers today have not made up their mind concerning this question.
They put on their “God” clothes on Sunday and live as though he doesn’t even exist the rest of the week, except, of course, when they get in a tight spot and need his help. They waver between God and other things. They sit on the fence, unwilling to pick one side or the other.
Jesus says to us, “Choose. You can’t go back and forth. Decide.” That’s the exact same choice Elijah offered the nation of Israel centuries earlier. Israel had “abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals” (1 Kings 18.18). Apparently, God decided the time had come for Israel to choose. Would they follow God or Baal?
God sent Elijah to confront them with their indecision. He summoned the people and the prophets of Baal and Asherah from all over Israel to meet him on Mt. Carmel.
When they arrived, Elijah made it crystal clear why they had been called. “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18.21).
Like many people living today, Israel was on the fence. They followed God when they needed him and on special holy days, but they followed idols the rest of the time. They claimed to worship God, but their hearts were far from him.
With a loud and inflexible voice, Elijah declared it’s time to choose. Their response? “But the people said nothing” (1 Kings 18.21). Nobody was ready to commit. They liked to fluctuate from idols to God to idols, and they weren’t about to change it.
Remember Elijah challenged them to follow whichever of the two options was really God. Who was superior, God or Baal? What was the wise choice that would have the greatest benefit for their future hopes and dreams?
Since Israel refused to decide, Elijah designed a side-by-side comparison like what we do when we’re choosing between two products. We want to get the better item, so we stack them up against each other.
Elijah turned to the false prophets and proposed a side-by-side comparison of the two gods so the people could see with their own eyes who the real god was. He suggested a contest.
Both the false prophets and Elijah would kill a bull, build an altar, and sacrifice the bull on it. Then they would call on their god and “the god who answers by fire — he is God” (1 Kings 18.24).
Elijah stepped back to let the false prophets have first shot. They spent the morning and most of the afternoon trying to get their god to send fire, but nothing happened.
As evening approached, Elijah announced it was his turn. He was so confident in the superiority of God he ordered a trench be dug around his altar and water be dumped all over the bull. They brought so much water it not only soaked the bull but made a pool of the trench.
“Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘O Lord…let it be known today that you are God… Answer me, O Lord, answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18.36-37).
Elijah couldn’t even get the whole prayer out of his mouth before “the fire of the Lord fell” (1 Kings 18.38). It burned up the bull, the altar, and licked up all the water in the trench.
“When the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God” (1 Kings 18.39).
In the side-by-side comparison, there was no confusion about which god was superior. I find it interesting that the Hebrew word translated “choose” initially meant “to prove, to try, to examine.”
It means to make a side-by-side comparison that reveals the superiority of one option over the other. It’s a reasoned choice.
So that begs the question: Is it better to choose God or something else? That’s the question Elijah helped Israel answer. Now it’s your turn.
Friend, Jesus doesn’t ask you to make a blind, uninformed decision. He invites you to make a side-by-side comparison for yourself. Test and evaluate: Does following Jesus work in real life? Is it worth it? Is he better than my other option?
Jesus says, “Come and see. Taste and see.” If you do so, I know with complete certainty what your choice will be. It’s no contest.
It will be Jesus because JESUS IS BETTER than any other option hands down!
Steve Wilmot is a former Edgerton, Ohio area pastor who now seeks “to still bear fruit in old age” through writing. He is the author of seven books designed to assist believers to make steady progress on their spiritual journey.