How did believers in the early church describe their motivation for being a follower of Jesus? Could it be they followed Jesus because their sins were forgiven? Yes, that is part of it. But considering that the pivotal cultural value in the Mediterranean world and Middle East was—and still is—honor and shame, could their motivation also have been this? That in knowing Christ their shame before God was eliminated—and that it gave them a greater honor—a truer, eternal source of honor—that source being Christ himself.
An author who addresses this issue is David A. deSilva, in The Hope of Glory: Honor Discourse in New Testament Interpretation. The following excerpt is from page 84–85 in the chapter, “Honor Discourse in the Fourth Gospel.”
Before the court of God, what gives the believer honor? How does John use the promise of honor to motivate specific behaviors? Believing in Jesus itself brings an extraordinary grant of honor as the believer joins the family of God: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:12–13 RSV). Their honor rating is no longer determined by their natural birth, but has become incomparably higher through birth into God’s family and thus a share in the honor of the Almighty. …
This devaluation of criteria used among people to weigh relative honor appears again in John 8:34-36: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever; the Son continues forever. So if the Son makes you free you will be free indeed” (RSV). What is decisive for one’s status is not a matter of wealth, noble birth, or fame, but whether one has committed sin. Servile status is shameful, and only the Son can bestow honor on the individual, granting freedom to the slave (the one who is a slave of sin). True honor, then, is a gift from the Son, and the believer derives honor from his or her embeddedness in the honor of Jesus, which is itself embedded in the honor of God. Indeed, Jesus has ascribed to the believers the same “glory” God has given Jesus (17:22). Jesus, introduced as the sole mediator of God’s favor, has also extended to the disciples the honor of being mediators of Jesus’ favor (13:20), and has even named them “friends” (a term of social equality and reciprocity) rather than “servants” (a term of social inequality.)
What if, we, as followers of Jesus Christ, could speak of our motivation in being a follower of Jesus, not just in the terms of innocence and guilt, but also, in the terms of honor and shame? What would that sound like?
It might sound like this:
“In pursuit of my highest honor, I have become a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of my shameful sins before God have been covered by the most glorious death of Jesus Christ, whose body was broken, and whose blood was shed, for my sin. I do not deserve it, but in the glorious plan of God Almighty, the sacrificial death of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ, made it possible for my sins to be punished and paid for on His body. Yes, it is hard to believe, but it is true!
Some say that God would never allow the shame of the Cross to be placed on His Son. However, the Bible says God purposed the crucifixion of His Son for the display of his glory—and for the gaining of infinite honor for His Son, Jesus Christ! Therefore, this death of Christ has given me the ability to be fully accepted into the finest, most honorable family in all the earth.
Yes, it is amazing! It speaks of the immense glory, compassion and condescending love of God—that I can now come before Him in prayer without shame. Yes, not one ounce of shame, only honor, only acceptance, only dignity before the Holy Most High God. Why? Because, mystically, I am now in Christ. The spirit of Jesus now lives in me, and I now live in Him.
I have received the right to be a child of God. What an immense honor—being a part of the family of God! I have been born again into the most honored family, the most glorious community in all creation.
By God’s grace, I have been favored to receive this great honor—to know and follow Jesus. Yes, it is my highest honor to know Him, to serve Him, and not only that … I also share in the glory of extending this honorable blessing, this beautiful grace, to other people. What a blessed life I now live!
This is why I love Jesus. He is my most honored, great Treasure. To Jesus I owe all that I am. In communion with all followers of Jesus, I share in the very glory and honor of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have a friendship with the King of Kings whose name is Jesus, the Son of God.
So I say with the prophet David, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).
Of course, there are extensive Bible verses that I could reference for every sentence and idea presented above. I suggest reading the Gospel of John, chapters 1, 5, 12, 17. And Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 1 thru 3. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapters 1 thru 3 also contains many verses which are foundational to these glorious truths.