Why Did I Pick THAT Song?
Admittedly, there are several songs that I avoid for use in our congregational singing because of the way they are often used to evoke emotional responses to over-simplified “easy believism.” I Have Decided To Follow Jesus is one of them. It has all the apparent elements of music that make it unfit or inappropriate for God-honoring worship -- it uses too many first person pronouns; it is too simple and repetitive, and it contains no Scripture or substantive doctrinal truths. Furthermore, it seems to present an Armenian view of salvation. In fact, It was popularized by the Billy Graham crusades and has become inseparable from its use in evangelistic altar calls.
But the story behind the song leads us to a wholly different understanding of the writer’s intent. It is not a statement about our part in choosing salvation. It actually stands as a radical call to suffer and die with Jesus.
In the late 1800’s missionaries from many western nations saw an evangelistic explosion in northern India, which was in the grips of the most oppressive forms of Hinduism. Violent and hostile reactions in the provinces resulted in scores of missionaries being martyred as well as many new converts being killed. Nevertheless, the gospel made amazing inroads into this previously off-limits area.
In one particularly brutal village in the Indian province of Assam. A husband and wife, with their two children, professed faith in Christ and were baptized. Their village leaders decided to make an example out of the husband. They arrested the family and demanded that the father renounce Christ or see his wife and children murdered.
When he refused, his two children were executed by archers. They gave him another chance to recant. Again he refused and his wife was also brutally murdered. When he still refused to renounce his faith, he followed his family into glory.
So what does that story have to do with this song?
Well, witnesses later reported that when he was ordered to recant or his children would be killed, the man said: “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.”
And then after seeing his children murdered, he reportedly said, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then, after watching his wife being pierced by the arrows, he said, “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus.”
As a result, a revival broke out, and those that had murdered the first converts came to faith themselves. The accounts of the martyred family were so astonishing and widely circulated that most Indian believers were familiar with it. The martyr’s last words were put to traditional Indian music and became one of the first uniquely Indian hymns.
So, apart from its historical setting, the song can easily be mistakenly presumed to be about free will and our role in choosing salvation while minimizing the sovereign work of God in regeneration. However, in this context, the word “decided” doesn’t have a minimalistic feel to it, but rather has a once-for-all commitment attached to it; a commitment that the author knew would lead to his imminent death.
On Oct 1, 2015, just four days ago, Christians were martyred on American soil. We have all read or heard the accounts – how, one by one the victims were asked, “What is your religion?” and those who answered, “Christian” were executed.
So, that’s why I picked this song.