Leadership books are a dime a dozen today. Step into any local bookstore or shop online. You’ll see right away that books about leadership abound. Everyone has an angle. Some authors offer a key to effective leadership. Many writers have come up with a catchy title. But basically, leaders fall into one of two categories: those who lead according to public consensus and those who lead based on personal convictions.
Those who lead according to public opinion wait until the polling data is in so they can see their constituents’ thoughts on a certain issue. Once they have this information, then — and usually only then — will they take a stand on an issue. This is true in every sphere of our lives. It is often more apparent in the political world with politicians who keep their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. But it is also true in family life. Some parents lead by consensus in the home, and that is why so many kids today seem to be in charge of the home. Politicians, parents, and others who want a kinder, gentler leadership role lead according to public opinion.
In contrast are those individuals who lead based on personal conviction. Deep in the fiber of their being, they have convictions about what is right and what is wrong, and those convictions dictate their leadership decisions. Those individuals who lead according to consensus help their followers do what they want to do. In contrast, those men and women who lead based on their personal convictions enable their followers to do what they need to do.
It was on this very point that our Lord took His disciples away from the Galilean crowds. Thousands of people had flocked to them on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, and they had been expending themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Thus, Jesus marched them twenty-five miles north, all the way up to the foothills of Mount Hermon, to the headwaters of the Jordan River. There, around a fire, they engaged in a conversation about true leadership.
The question of public consensus
First, our Lord asked the question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13). Do you see that this is a question about public opinion? Jesus wanted His disciples to know what people were thinking and saying about Him. We live in a world today that is still more interested in what men say than what God says. Then He asked His disciples another question.
The question of personal conviction
Now Jesus’ question was personal and direct: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). In the language of the New Testament, the “you” is emphatic: its placement at the front of the sentence gives it significance and weight. Had we been there listening to our Lord that evening, Jesus’ question would have sounded more like this: “What about you, you and you only, you and no one else, you and you alone — who do you say that I am?” How an individual answers this question has eternal implications, and this is the question each person who walks on this planet must ultimately answer. Is Jesus who He said He was when He declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6)? He is still asking, “Who do you say that I am?”
In our pluralistic culture, to say that Christ is the one and only way to heaven is akin to waving a red cape in front of a raging bull. People today are far more interested in what men say than in what God says, and we set ourselves up as a target for attack when we state the truth that Jesus is indeed the one and only way to heaven. Yet that is the truth, and we need to follow Simon Peter’s example. When our Lord asked this question, Peter immediately replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Following our Lord’s example, Peter used the emphatic you and said, “You, Lord, and You alone, you and there is absolutely no possibility of anyone else, You are the one and only Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When we, based on our personal convictions, insist that Christ is the only way to eternal life, we are accused of being narrow-minded. In fact, some consider those of our more theologically conservative friends so narrow-minded that a gnat could stand on the bridge of their nose and peck out of both eyes! But all truth is narrow. Mathematical truth is narrow: two plus two equals four, not three, not five. That is narrow. Scientific truth is narrow: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, not 35 or 36 degrees. Historical truth is narrow: John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theatre in Washington. Booth didn’t stab Lincoln in the back in the Bowery in lower Manhattan. So why would be surprised that theological truth is narrow? Jesus Himself invited potential followers to “enter by the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13).
Our religiously pluralistic world is much like the one in which our Christian faith was birthed. In Rome, one can visit the remains of the Pantheon, the temple to all the gods. It was there that the conquered people of the Roman Empire could go and worship the gods they had served, whether they were Jupiter or Juno or whomever. But the conquered followers of Christ refused to have a niche for Jesus alongside those for Jupiter and Juno. These early believers insisted Jesus is the only true God, and many of these faithful gave their lives for that truth.
Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Again, this is the very question each of us will have to answer on that day when we stand before Jesus, who died on the cross as payment for our sins. Public opinion will be absolutely irrelevant. What other people say will be of no help. Your own personal conviction is what will matter. Will you answer with Simon Peter’s great confession when he boldly proclaimed, “You, Lord, and You alone, You and there is absolutely no possibility of anyone else, You are the one and only Christ, the Son of the living God!” (paraphrased).
Who do YOU say Christ is?
Q&A “Who do you say that I am?” In the early church the key question Jesus asked His followers was, “Will you lay down your life for My sake?” (John 13:38). And hundreds of thousands answered yes and died a martyr’s death. In our increasingly pluralistic culture that affirms all truth claims as equal, the key question for believers today is, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus did not ask, “Who do you think I am?” or “Who do you wish I were?” Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” What are you telling a lost and lonely world about Me?” We must rise up and answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
Used with permission from The Jesus Code by O.S. Hawkins