The Challenge of Following in His Footsteps
“For Christ suffered for you and left you a personal example, so that you might follow in his footsteps.”—1 PETER 2:21, Phillips.
1, 2. (a) What can be a real challenge, and why is this of interest to Christians? (b) What questions are here raised?
DID you ever walk along a sandy beach or across a snowy field and find yourself fascinated by the pattern of footsteps left by someone who walked there before you? Did you perhaps even pick out a set of footsteps and try to follow them, matching your own steps with them as exactly as possible? If so, you discovered that it was not easy. In fact, following closely in the footsteps of another—either literally or figuratively—is a real challenge. And yet, by calling ourselves Christians, we have indicated our desire to do just that, to follow closely in the footsteps of Christ.
2 Are you willing to put forth the effort that is necessary to meet this challenge successfully? More than that, are you determined to do so, come what may? If so, fully understanding the difficulties of following in literal footsteps will make you more successful in following in Christ’s figurative footsteps.
Learn to Conform
3. Why does following in someone else’s footsteps seem at first unnatural?
3 Everyone has a distinctive way of walking. The length of stride, for example, varies from person to person, as does the angle at which a person places his feet. His toes may point straight forward, or they may turn in or out at an angle, an angle possibly more pronounced with one foot than with the other. Do you recognize the challenge? To follow closely in another’s footsteps, you must conform your length of stride and foot position to his. At first this will seem unnatural, but it must be done. There is no other way.
4. Why is following in Jesus’ footsteps a special challenge?
4 Christ’s way of walking, figuratively speaking, was unique, for among his contemporaries he alone was a perfect man, “one who did not know sin.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Since humans by nature are imperfect sinners, walking in Jesus’ footsteps is not their normal way of walking. Paul reminded Christians in Corinth of this, saying: “For you are yet fleshly. For whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do?” Tendencies toward jealousy and strife, “works of the flesh,” are normal for imperfect people, but Jesus walked the way of love, and “love is not jealous, . . . does not become provoked.” So walking in Christ’s footsteps presents a challenge greater than if we were asked merely to follow in the footsteps of an imperfect person.—1 Corinthians 3:3; 13:4, 5; Galatians 5:19, 20; see also Ephesians 5:2, 8.
5, 6. (a) Why have many people failed to follow in Christ’s footsteps, leading Paul to give what counsel? (b) How are people being encouraged to walk in Christ’s footsteps today, with what result for them?
5 Besides imperfection, ignorance of God’s will can also prevent a person from walking in Christ’s footsteps. Paul thus admonished Ephesian Christians not to “go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds, while they are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the insensibility of their hearts.”—Ephesians 4:17, 18.
6 By means of the Kingdom-preaching work, people today are being urged to stop walking in their normal way, in ignorance of God’s purposes, in darkness mentally, motivated by insensible hearts seeking unprofitable goals. They are being encouraged to conform to the perfect example of Christ, “walking in union with him,” thus “bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (Colossians 2:6, 7; 2 Corinthians 10:5) People willing to meet this challenge are stabilized in their faith. As they get used to walking the way Christ walked, it becomes progressively easier for them.
7. What assurance do we have that, although it is often a challenge, following in Jesus’ footsteps is possible?
7 It is often, however, a challenge. The disparity between a perfect creature and an imperfect one is great. So imperfect creatures must make great changes in order to try to follow a perfect example. Some people, due perhaps to inheritance or environment, have more difficulty conforming to a Christian way of life than others do. But Jehovah assures us that anyone who is really willing to exert himself can do it. “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me,” said the apostle Paul. (Philippians 4:13; see also 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9.) The same is true of all Christians.
8, 9. (a) Why are undivided attention and intense concentration necessary when following in someone’s footsteps? (b) Following what Biblical counsel will prevent us from wandering away from Jesus’ footsteps?
8 We cannot follow literal footsteps without keeping a close eye on where we are stepping. If our eyes wander—focusing on things going on around us or on other things—we are bound to make a misstep sooner or later. Unless we pay undivided attention and concentrate intensely, we will stray from the footsteps we should be following. Thus, there is always the need to be on guard, especially when sudden noises or other unexpected distractions might take our mind off the task at hand.—Compare Job 18:10, 11.
9 In a figurative way, this is also true of those who are following in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus warned his followers to pay close attention to themselves, lest their hearts “become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life.” (Luke 21:34) Satan uses these daily distractions to cause us to take our eyes from Jesus’ footsteps. He is quick to catch us off guard by taking advantage of unexpected circumstances, such as opposition, illness, or financial setbacks. To ensure “that we may never drift away,” we must “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard,” in other words, keep our eyes more closely focused on Christ’s footsteps than ever before.—Hebrews 2:1; see also 1 John 2:15-17.
Do Not Deviate
10. (a) What danger exists when different trails of footprints cross one another? (b) In a spiritual sense, why are the consequences of following wrong footsteps serious?
10 On a crowded beach, there may be several sets of footprints in the moist sand, and some trails of footprints may cross the one we are following. Many sets of footprints may, at least superficially, look alike. How vital it is to be certain that we are following the correct ones! Otherwise we may be betrayed into going in the wrong direction. In a spiritual sense, this could have serious consequences. The danger in following footsteps that may look right but that in reality are not is shown in the proverb that warns: “There exists a way that is upright before a man, but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.”—Proverbs 16:25.
11. What warning did Paul give early Christians, setting an example for whom today?
11 Because of this very real danger, Paul felt compelled to warn his brothers in the early Christian congregation: “I marvel that you are being so quickly removed from the One who called you with Christ’s undeserved kindness over to another sort of good news. . . . There are certain ones who are causing you trouble and wanting to pervert the good news about the Christ. . . . Whoever it is that is declaring to you as good news something beyond what you accepted, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9) In keeping with Paul’s example, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses today warns us of apostates and false brothers who lay down, as it were, counterfeit footprints. True Christians do not want to deviate from the path Christ has set before them at God’s direction.—Psalm 44:18.
12. (a) How can 2 Timothy 1:13 help us avoid being misled into following counterfeit footsteps? (b) What characterizes other sorts of good news?
12 By paying close attention to the identifying marks of Christ’s footprints, we avoid being misled. Accurate knowledge about Jesus, about his teachings, and about the way the Christian congregation operates helps us identify “the pattern of healthful words” that protects us from those who “pervert the good news about the Christ.” (2 Timothy 1:13) Other sorts of so-called good news—in reality, counterfeit footprints—fail to fit into that pattern of truth. They pervert it, throwing the picture out of focus. Rather than clarifying basic Bible truths and principles, they contradict them. Instead of encouraging us to greater activity in Jehovah’s service, they argue in favor of slowing down. Their message is not positive and does not glorify Jehovah’s name and organization; it is negative, faultfinding, and critical. Most certainly, these are not the footsteps we want to follow.
Keep the Proper Pace
13. How is pace involved when we are following in someone’s footsteps?
13 When we walk, the length of our stride is determined in part by the speed at which we walk. Generally, the faster we walk, the longer our stride; the slower we walk, the shorter. Thus, it will be easier for us to follow in someone’s literal footsteps if we adjust our pace to agree with his. Likewise, in order to walk successfully in the figurative footsteps of our Leader, Jesus Christ, we must maintain his pace.
14. (a) In what ways may we not keep pace with Jesus? (b) Why is it foolish to try to go faster than “the faithful and discreet slave”?
14 Not keeping pace with Christ could mean one of two things. Either we try to go faster, running ahead of “the faithful and discreet slave” that Jesus is using to accomplish Jehovah’s purpose, or we lag behind in following that ‘slave’s’ direction. (Matthew 24:45-47) As an example of the first, some Christians have in times past become impatient about doctrinal or organizational changes or refinements that they felt were necessary and overdue. Becoming disgruntled because they felt things were not moving quickly enough, they withdrew from Jehovah’s people. How foolish and how shortsighted! Often the very thing that upset them was later changed—in Jehovah’s due time.—Proverbs 19:2; Ecclesiastes 7:8, 9.
15. How were King David and Jesus good examples of maintaining a proper pace?
15 The course of wisdom is to wait for Jehovah to act rather than trying to dictate the pace at which things should happen. Ancient King David set a proper example. He refused to conspire against King Saul in an attempt to claim the kingship before it was Jehovah’s due time to give it to him. (1 Samuel 24:1-15) Likewise, “the Son of David,” Jesus, realized that he would have to wait to enter fully into his heavenly kingship. He knew the prophetic utterance that applied to him: “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.” So when a group of Jews wanted to “seize him to make him king,” Jesus quickly withdrew. (Matthew 21:9; Psalm 110:1; John 6:15) Some 30 years later, according to Hebrews 10:12, 13, Jesus was still awaiting his kingship. In fact, he waited almost 19 centuries before being installed as rightful King of God’s Kingdom at its establishment in 1914.
16. (a) Illustrate how we may move more slowly than we should. (b) What is the purpose of Jehovah’s patience, and how should we avoid abusing that patience?
16 Failing to keep a proper pace, however, could also mean slowing down, lagging behind. Thus, when God’s Word indicates that changes must be made in our lives, do we act without delay? Or do we argue that since God is patient, we can put off making such changes until later, hoping that it may be easier then? True, Jehovah is patient. But this is not in order that we may be lax about making needed adjustments. Rather, “he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, 15) How much better, then, to imitate the psalmist who said: “I hurried up, and I did not delay to keep your commandments.”—Psalm 119:60.
17. What does keeping proper pace have to do with Kingdom preaching, leading us to ask ourselves what question?
17 Lagging behind could also involve Kingdom preaching. According to Matthew 25, Jesus is at present judging mankind, separating “the sheep” from “the goats.” This is being accomplished for the most part by means of the preaching of “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14; 25:31-33; Revelation 14:6, 7) The time allotted to accomplish this separating work is necessarily limited. (Matthew 24:34) As the available time draws to a close, we can expect Jesus to speed up the work. In doing so, he is acting as an instrument of God, who, speaking of the ingathering work, promises: “I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” (Isaiah 60:22) As God’s coworkers, following closely in the footsteps of his Son, are we speeding up our pace of Kingdom preaching to the extent that our physical situation and Scriptural responsibilities allow? Field service reports indicate that millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses are!
Shun Overconfidence, Fight Discouragement
18. Why might a person become overconfident, and how does the Bible warn of this danger?
18 The longer we persevere in following in someone else’s footsteps, the more habitual his way of walking will become for us. If, though, we become complacent, sooner or later we will make a misstep. Thus, when following in Jesus’ figurative footsteps, we must recognize the danger of becoming overconfident, carelessly relying upon our own strength and abilities, feeling that we have mastered his perfect way of walking. Peter’s experience recorded at Luke 22:54-62 serves as a timely warning. It also emphasizes the truthfulness of 1 Corinthians 10:12, which says: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”
19 Because of imperfection, every Christian will make a misstep from time to time. The divergence may be small, scarcely noticeable to others. Or it may be such an obvious missing of the mark that it will be seen by all. In either case, how comforting to remember Paul’s honest admission: “For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. Miserable man that I am!” (Romans 7:19, 24) Of course, these words are not to be viewed as an excuse for doing wrong. Rather, they are an encouragement to devoted Christians struggling with imperfections, helping them to persist in their endeavor to meet the challenge of walking in Jesus’ perfect footsteps.
20. (a) How does Proverbs 24:16 help us in our race for life? (b) What should we be determined to do?
20 “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up,” says Proverbs 24:16. In our race for life, no one should feel impelled to resign. This race is like a marathon, a race of endurance, not a hundred-yard dash. The slightest misstep on the part of a sprinter will in all probability cost him the race. But the marathon runner, even if he stumbles, has time to recover and finish the course. So when some personal misstep makes you cry out, “Miserable man that I am!” remember that you still have time to recover. You still have an opportunity to get back into step with your Leader, Jesus Christ. No reason for despair! No reason to give up! Be determined, with divine help, to meet successfully the challenge of ‘following closely in Jesus’ footsteps.’—1 Peter 2:21.
Why must Christians
□ learn to conform?
□ pay undivided attention?
□ keep in mind the pattern of truth?
□ maintain a proper pace?
□ shun overconfidence?
□ fight discouragement?
[Picture on page 15]
By keeping his eye on his goal, the righteous one will certainly get up