Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus

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I’ve always wondered what the phrase “be like Jesus” meant.

Does it mean to copy His appearance? If so, does that mean I had to grow a beard, sow my own clothes, and chuck my shoes for some sandals?

Does it mean to imitate His personality? Then does that mean I have to swap my hyena laugh for a sanctified snicker? Sing softer in the shower? Or replace my srilankanamerican accent for a more middle-eastern one?

Or does it mean to mimic his character?  Be more loving? Caring? Inclusive?

However way you look at it, there were people in history who made it their life’s aim to be like Jesus.
One such individual was the apostle Paul who appeals to his readers to “imitate him as he imitates Christ.” In another letter, he encourages some church folk to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run the race of faith.

As a matter of fact, both scripture and history are replete with individuals who proclaimed that the strongest argument for Christianity were Christians who acted like Jesus.

This even resonated with the famous Indian liberationist Mahatma Gandhi, who made the following statement:

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”

Ouch.

Here’s the bottom line:  Christ-like behavior is the acid-test of true Christianity.

But here’s the thing..

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus.

“Wait a minute, Kev. How can you be like Jesus without focusing on being like him??”

Buckle up.

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. The word that needs to be sharpied and spotlighted in that sentence is focus.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that focusing on being like Jesus was the way to do this Christianity thing. I thought I was supposed to focus on walking, talking, and acting like Jesus to display his character.

And I tried. I tried my best to be more loving, be more caring, and be more inclusive.  I tried my utmost to be Jesus-y with others, especially towards my non-Christian friends to be “salt” and “light.” I tried my best to have the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right behaviors.
But instead of becoming more like Jesus, I found myself becoming more disappointed.

Because the more I focused on being like Jesus, the less I focused on Jesus and more on my works.

Check out how Dallas Willard puts it in his book Renovations of the Heart:

“The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deadening legalisms…”

Mercy.

Now let’s just say that my trying to be like Jesus actually made me more like Jesus. If that was true ( and I wish it was sometimes! ) the object of glory will then be my works instead the grace of Christ!

Inevitably, my spirituality will become my savior while my Savior will be used for my spirituality.

Christians should not focus their efforts on being like Jesus. In theological jargon, that’s called “righteousness by works” and that’s not how the game’s played.

“So Kevin, if I am to be like Jesus, and focusing on being like him is not going to get me there, what else am I supposed to do??”

Glad you asked. Here’s my answer and the seminal point of this post:

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. Christians should focus on being with Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus preaches a sermon where he likens himself to a grape vine and his followers to attached branches. Then he makes a remarkable statement:

“If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice. The branches were not asked to focus on producing fruit ( good works) to produce fruit. They were asked to remain with the vine so they can bear fruit.

Christians are not called to produce fruit. They are called to bear fruit.
Christians are not called to focus on producing Christ-like behavior. Christians are called to bear the characteristics of Christ by remaining with Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul when he says that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

So when you are with Jesus, spending time alone with him, talking with him, meditating on his love for you, and receiving his grace, He will transform you from the inside out. The more we admit we are powerless to beat sin and inculcate Christ-like behavior by ourselves, the more we open our souls to the work of God to change us into the likeness of Christ.

But isn’t that works? Yes it is. A lot of works. But the most important work of a Christian is to focus all the efforts in being withJesus in word, thought, and deed. This requires you to forgo your need to prove your worth to God so that Jesus guide and transform you. That’s probably why Oswald Chambers says

“all I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be holy.”

Don’t focus on being like Jesus. Focus on being with Jesus. And He will make you more like Him.

What are your thoughts? What are some ways you can start being with Jesus instead of trying to be like him?
Leave a comment below!

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Kevin Wilson is currently pursuing a MDiv at Andrews University. Among other things, he is almost fanatical about badminton, travelling, and Sriracha hot sauce. Read more of his thoughts at www.crossculturechristian.com where he blogs about personal spirituality, discipleship, and millenial culture.