There’s a spiritually more troubling aspect to Kim Davis’ claim to her Christian faith. While spouting her Christian beliefs, she doesn’t seem to want to accept that her beliefs just might require her to sacrifice something for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll restate the fact that I completely support her right to hold her beliefs. I don’t share those beliefs but they are just that – beliefs. She is entitled to hold them but holding those beliefs comes with a price – a price she seems to not be willing to pay. These beliefs may come at the price of her job or even jail time. But instead of standing for her sincerely held beliefs and giving up her job, she appears to rather expect same sex couples to bear the sacrifice of her belief system. That would be like Jesus telling his followers to go out and get crucified for him instead of laying down his life for us. There are plenty of Christians who seem to think their faith should cost them nothing at all – not even an inconvenience let alone a real sacrifice.
James exhorts us today to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” He is calling us to not just give our faith lip service but to make it count in our actions. Sometimes those actions require us to make sacrifices to be true to the Gospel. Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees with the truth that outward practices are not what make us clean or unclean – that what goes on in the heart determines this. If pious practices exist only for show and do not result in the conversion of heart God wants, they are meaningless. If you go through the motions but never experience conversion and never sacrifice anything for the sake of the Gospel then you are not a follower of Jesus but rather an admirer.
19th century Danish poet, theologian, philosopher and social critic Søren Kierkegaard spoke of this in a piece entitled “Followers Not Admirers.” In it, he sharply defines the difference as follows:
It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression “follower.” He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.
Christ understood that being a “disciple” was in innermost and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching - especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.
Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving not instructing it. At the same time - as is implied in his saving work - he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person who would join him, who would become a follower. This is why Christ was born and lived and died in lowliness. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to sneak away from the Pattern with excuse and evasion on the basis that It, after all, possessed earthly and worldly advantages that he did not have. In that sense, to admire Christ is the false invention of a later age, aided by the presumption of “loftiness.” No, there is absolutely nothing to admire in Jesus, unless you want to admire poverty, misery, and contempt.
What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.
To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such, they refuse to accept that Christ's life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquility they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he "says nothing" against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.
And Christ's life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest, what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!
Now suppose that there is no longer any special danger, as it no doubt is in so many of our Christian countries, bound up with publicly confessing Christ. Suppose there is no longer need to journey in the night. The difference between following and admiring - between being, or at least striving to be – still remains. Forget about this danger connected with confessing Christ and think rather of the real danger which is inescapably bound up with being a Christian. Does not the Way – Christ's requirement to die to the world, to forgo the worldly, and his requirement of self-denial – does this not contain enough danger? If Christ's commandment were to be obeyed, would they not constitute a danger? Would they not be sufficient to manifest the difference between an admirer and a follower?
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires. Not so for the follower. No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength, with all his will to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough, even though he is living amongst a "Christian people” the same danger results for him as was once the case when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ. And because of the follower's life, it will become evident who the admirers are, for the admirers will become agitated with him. Even that these words are presented as they are here will disturb many - but then they must likewise belong to the admirers.