Be Like Jesus

It’s Monday Grace!

(Every so often I feel that it is important to repeat some of the foundational posts of this blog so that people will understand what we talk about. For the next few weeks, you will have an opportunity to read posts from several years ago. I am traveling, and this allows me to focus on family. Thanks for your understanding!)

A while ago I received a question about the goal of the Christian life. The writer said that a pastor had taught that our goal was to be like Christ. Here’s my response…

While being like Christ seems to be a worthy spiritual goal, I would have two problems with it. First, I don’t think the Bible ever tells us that we should be like Christ. It says that we will be like Him when He is finally revealed (1 John 3:2), but not that being like Him should be our goal. In fact, Paul invites us to imitate him (Paul) as he follows Christ.

The trap here is just what you express. How can I be like Christ? For most people that means doing things like Jesus would. Never mind that I don’t necessarily know how He would respond in a certain situation nor that He would necessarily expect me to respond in the way He would respond. He knows so much that I don’t know and He can do so much that I can’t do. For example, when the blind man came to Jesus, Jesus healed him. Would Jesus expect me to do the same thing when I meet a blind man? He might choose to heal the man and He might use me in the process, but I don’t think we are expected to go out and heal on every occasion.

Of course, this isn’t what your pastor and others mean when they tell us we should be like Christ. What they mean is that we should avoid sin like Jesus did and be kind in ways they think He would be kind. So, would Jesus look at porn or cheat on His taxes? Of course not. Would He pass by someone in need or reject a poor person? Of course not. So be like that, they would say. It’s just the old “performance spirituality” again. Except that now it pretends a connection to Jesus.

One of my concerns is that this really has nothing to do with Jesus. The list people use has more to do with what they think Jesus would do. The old question, “What would Jesus do?”, always bothered me because people really don’t know the answer in most situations, nor would they consider asking Him. Instead, they just do what they think is best. So now we have “What would Jesus eat?” and other nonsense. Would Jesus watch football on Sunday? Would He eat that extra dessert? Would He watch TV? On and on and on.

So am I more like Christ when I do these things? Of course not. I am more like I think Christ would be if He were in my situation. Even that will be limited by my honesty and my willingness to do things that challenge me. Most believers are very good at ignoring things they don’t want to change. Gossip, judgmental attitudes, acting superior – these are overlooked when we try to be more spiritual. (Although I suppose you could say that Jesus acted like He thought He was perfect! I have known believers who seem to be imitating that fairly well.)

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the idea that the goal of the Christian life is to be like Jesus is that it belittles Jesus. If my children lived by trying to be like me, rather than being with me, I would be very sad. I can imagine them ignoring me while they try to be like me. Isn’t this just what is done in the church? The gospel of performance overrides a need for true relationship with our Lord. He remains an idea, Something behind our actions, rather than a Person with Whom we walk.

Instead of trying to be like Jesus, we are called to be with Jesus. He doesn’t tell us to imitate Him, but to follow Him. Never did He tell us to do what He did, but He did tell us to do what He says. I think many believers struggle with believing that Jesus is a real Person who interacts with us. They are content to let Him stay a good idea. That way they can do what they want and attribute it to Him.

I guess that sounds a little harsh, but this is what so many believers have learned. Pastors and teachers fail to introduce people to Jesus as a Person. So many teach rules and lists and standards and tell people that living a certain way and doing certain things will make them spiritual. How sad!

When I read your note I thought of the contrast of two old songs. The first one gives the goal of being like Christ.

Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.
Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.
That in heaven He may meet me,
I would be like Jesus;
That His words “Well done” may greet me,
I would be like Jesus.

Notice the works emphasis? At the end, we are to hope for the words, Well Done, and then we will know that we are fully accepted. Contrast that to this song:

Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.
Jesus is all the world to me, I want no better Friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a Friend, beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy, He’s my Friend.

Of course, the second song isn’t perfect, but it certainly has a different emphasis. The first is all about me and what I want to do. The second is about Him. When I have trouble, I don’t have to wonder what He would do; I am able to go to Him. That’s a very different thing. Jesus is real and I can talk with Him and expect Him to lead me. I can watch for His activity. He may change circumstances or He may lead me to act very differently from what I might normally.

This is Jesus who is able to lead, able to work in my world. This is the Lord and King of the Universe. He is not just like me and I am so thankful. He understands me and He knows me, but He is greater than me in so many ways. Wiser, stronger, more faithful, more loving: He is much that I am not. My goal is to let Him be all of those things in and through me, not to try to copy Him. I can never be just like him, but I can occasionally get out of His way and watch Him do something great through me.


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4 responses to “Be Like Jesus

  1. rodney hickman

    personally think this person’s comments are a vain argument. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:16 ‘Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him? But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.’ (New Living Translation). This means we can ask Jesus what He would do in any given situation AND expect Him to show us when we take the time to listen to Him and follow His leading. 2 Corinthians 3:18 also says ‘And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image (New Living Translation). It should therefore be our desire to be like Jesus in every aspect. This does not mean we will get it right every time because our transformation into His likeness is an ongoing process and will only be complete when He returns for His Bride the Church, or when we go to Heaven. When the apostle Paul tells us to imitate him, he is exhorting us to imitate the Christlike character, faith and ministry that is constantly being developed in him as he presses towards the goal of this ultimate perfection in Christ. God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the only One who can bring to perfection the good work He began in us when we accepted Him as Lord, but He does expect us to work in partnership with Him by not allowing ourselves to be drawn back into those sinful habits or behaviours that impede our day-by-day transformation into His likeness.

    Anyway, that’s my take on the matter. I am a fundamentalist who believes in taking God at His Word. If He says through the greatest apostle of all time that I have the mind of Christ, then I have the mind of Christ and daily seek to know His thoughts. If He says he is making me more like Him and changing me into His glorious image, I believe it and endeavour to live in such a way that He can have a free hand in transforming me from the inside out. Being a born-again Christian and a citizen of the Kingdom of God is not meant to be mediocre. This is made very clear in 1 John 4:17, which says:

    ‘And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.’ (New Living Translation)

    Surely nothing could be clearer? We are to be like Jesus while we live here on this earth. As already mentioned, becoming like Him is a process but it should nonetheless be our daily goal as we live in submission to Him and His will.

    • In so many ways our walk in this world will be like that of Jesus. When we follow Him, we walk the path He walks. Our goal is not to take His place, nor to strive to discern what He would do, but to follow Him. I want to listen for His voice, watch for His activity, and do what He says. And I believe others will see Jesus when we follow Him.

      But the message of grace is His activity in and through us. We do not have to work to be like Him; instead, we shine with His light because He is our life. We are being conformed to His image, His reflection of the Father. That’s the discrepancy that is seen in our lives. Sometimes (often) the flesh dictates our actions and attitudes, rather than Jesus. But we already are like Him in this world. The passage does not tell us to work, but to be. ! John 4:17 is a great verse. It shows us what we already are. We have been raised from the dead; we are one with the Father; we are righteous and free and forgiven and loved. All of these we already are. There is no striving, nothing we can do to become more like Jesus.

      My point and concern are that so many people see Jesus as an idea, an ideal. They think of the best thing they can think of and then they convince themselves that’s what Jesus would do. Their own ideas of goodness and spirituality become the goals of their lives. Don’t do this! Do that! Performance becomes the focus. Striving and work and duty and failure become the rule of the day. We cannot, even as believers, make ourselves good. We cannot live the perfect life Jesus lived. Instead, we trust in the One who lived that perfect life. His righteousness has become our righteousness. His life has been given for us and to us. He is a real person with a real will and real activity in our world and lives. My best goal is to know Him and His love for me. And, as I draw near to Him, my life will look more and more like His.

      So, I don’t really disagree with what you say, except that it doesn’t go far enough. It stops at my effort, my responsibility. It makes me the focus, even though it seems to point to Him. The rest of the story, the message of grace, is that He is who He is in me. I just want to follow Him and know Him. The rest is up to Him.

      • Well said, Pastor Dave. When we are branches abiding in the vine, we don’t have to struggle and strive to produce fruit. Good fruit is produced naturally by the life that flows through us from the vine.

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