Welcome to Part 3 of a three-part series about how to engage with culture as a Christian. We started with "Don’t “be different.” In it I talked about avoiding a defensive stance to culture; not all aspects of secular culture are contrary to the gospel. In the second blog, I wrote that neither should you “conform,” but rather examine your customs and cultural filter in order to discern God’s will. And then finally, in today's piece, we're looking at what it means to be like Jesus.
In the last conversation Jesus had with Peter on earth, Jesus gave him two instructions: Feed my lambs and make disciples.
These are still our instructions. Care for people, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And show people how to be like Jesus. A disciple is someone who tries to emulate their teacher.
I came of age as a Christian during the “What would Jesus do?” craze of the 1990s, though I never wore the rubber bracelet. Part of me loved this movement: It’s always a great question to ask, how Christ would handle any given situation. But as disciples, we don’t want to only ask, “What did Jesus do?”
We also want to ask, “What was Jesus like?”
Doing what Jesus did, is, frankly, pretty difficult, because Jesus was fairly unpredictable. More significantly, it’s impossible to act like Jesus without conforming our hearts to Jesus. Christ is more than the sum of his miracles; he’s totally non-formulaic. Here’s what he was: He was good. He was, as John 1:14 says, “full of grace and truth,” revealing the God to us, and as 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
To be like Jesus, we are first going to need help from the Holy Spirit. We’ll never fully be like him even with help; without help, it’s hopeless. Secondly, we need to know Jesus, to not only remember what he did, but to seek why he did it. To notice who he loved, talked about, and spent time with. To see how he felt and expressed feelings. And finally, to study how people responded to him – which perhaps says the most about him. You know how some people say dogs and children can sense who someone is? Well we don’t have dog accounts in the gospel, but we do have kids – and also the weak, the sick, the lost, the confused, the marginalized, and the desperate. We study these things as part of allowing God to renew our minds. We can discern the will of God by watching Jesus.
So, I’m going to share some of my favorite things I observe and love about Jesus, in fairly random order. Ready?
Jesus was humble. Philippians says “he made himself nothing.” His humility served a purpose. He chose to make himself a servant in order to know us, love us, and save us, being “obedient even unto death on a cross.”
And yet, Jesus did not shrink back from him mission or his identity. Though he “did not consider equality with God something to be exploited” (Phil 2:5, CSB), he knew who he was and what he was capable of. He declared who he was as the Messiah at the right time and in the right circumstances. And he also never shrunk back from teaching with authority.
Jesus was gentle and lowly. He called people away from a religious life of strict behavioral standards, and into an intimate relationship with him and God. To be in relationship with Christ is to have the love of a father, mother, friend, and perfect husband at your disposal.
Jesus was bold. He told the truth, often confrontational truth, in order that people could repent, grow, and know God better. He was not cruel; he spoke truth as a call to restoration and to rebuke those getting in between God and his people.
Jesus acknowledged good where he saw it in people. He is recorded as affirming people for their faith, their repentance, and their willingness to sit at his feet and learn.
Jesus broke tradition when it didn’t serve him, his disciples or his message about God. For example, he broke Sabbath to heal, do good, and procure food when he was hungry! But He also honored some traditions, like attending the Sukkot and celebrating Passover, festivals to memorialize God’s goodness to his people.
Jesus grew up and differentiated from his mother, doing his mission even when she didn’t understand it, relating to her as a grown man and not a little boy. And also, he cared for his mother. His last act on earth before the resurrection was to entrust her to John, his closest friend.
Jesus cared about people that society marginalized. This included those who had less legal rights and status – like women, children, slaves, and the sick – and also those who were outcasts because of what was considered their sin – prostitutes, tax collectors, drunkards, people in prison. He also cared about despised racial groups, like the Samaritans.
Jesus cared about powerful people, too, even ones that his own people hated. He performed a miracle for the Roman Centurion, for example, because of the man’s faith.
Both high and low people were drawn to him. Jesus was approachable. Though he was enormously powerful and intelligent, children and sinners weren’t afraid of him. Though he lived as an outcast, many wealthy and powerful people were fascinated by him, too, because he taught with authority.
He engaged with people from all political persuasions. Jesus would never become the poster boy for any one cause. Whenever anyone tried to get him to take sides about the secular empire and who should be in charge, he always responded by talking about the kingdom of heaven – the eternal, perfect, loving kingdom to which all are invited.
Jesus was a man of sorrows. He wept, got angry, tired of life on the road, and mourned Israel’s unbelief.
He also was a man of fun. Jesus was called a drunkard and glutton because he was so known for hanging out with people in social settings, some of which were considered unsavory.
Jesus sacrificed his own comfort often, and allowed himself to be “sidetracked” from his plans when someone asked him for help.
He also practiced self-care, withdrawing from people when he’d had enough, resting and being restored by time with God. Jesus modeled what I’ve heard called “needful suffering,” but he knew when enough was enough. There were many times that he slipped away from danger and withdrew from harmful situations.
He asked for help and partnered with people. This is currently my favorite thing about Jesus. He asked the Samaritan woman for water, though he was himself the source of Living Water. He partnered with his disciples and later the 70 to go out and share his message. And he asked his disciples to care for him, keep watch with him and pray with him as he prepared to go to the cross. When they failed him and fell asleep, he was distressed.
Jesus was tough, but almost always on behalf of others. When he turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple, it was in defense of the oppressed, who were being cheated in the house of God. He endured severe beating and crucifixion with courage, and he did it for us.
He received touch from people, and Jesus was such a man of integrity that women felt safe being physically near him. Two women are recorded in the gospels showing him devotion through touch – pouring oil and perfume on his hair and feet. Jesus said one of these women had done a beautiful thing, and that her story would always be told.
He gave touch to people. He laid hands on the lepers, pulled children into his lap, and washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus was tender.
So, if you want to be like Jesus, you obviously have some large shoes to fill. You’re going to have to deny yourself; you will also find yourself. In studying Jesus and seeking to be like him, you are embracing a life which is truly life, life to the full. You are embracing purpose, and opening your arms to people. You are embracing vulnerability and asking for help in community. You are laying down many of your secular and political ideologies to seek the kingdom of God. You are laying down worldly status and sometimes wealth in favor of humble service. But you are also called to shine light brightly and express your gifts broadly, so that you can point people to Jesus.
And you are also called to ask yourself, how are people responding to me? Do the hurting, lost, hungry and vulnerable of this world know that they are safe in my presence?
As you consider these things, may you fall in love more with Jesus, and see him with fresh eyes. May the Holy Spirit transform you to be more like Jesus. May you have the heart and the power to feed his sheep and make disciples.