When I was in high school, I went to a concert for a contemporary Christian artist. It was there that I first saw a “WWJD” bracelet.
“What would Jesus do?” some teenager responded when I asked him what the initials represented.
At the time, I thought it was cool (though not so cool that I was a sucker to fork over $5 for a 10 cent piece of circular plastic). The concept was gripping to me. I could just look down at my bracelet and ask that all-important question—and then do exactly what Jesus would do.
If only following Jesus were that simple.
The real challenge rests in determining what Jesus really would say and do. In actuality, we’ve got a slew of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and then four short books in the New Testament with cameos in Acts and Revelation. That’s not much to create a definitive answer for how Jesus would respond in every situation.
This fact becomes evident when you begin talking with people about Jesus. The concepts flow fast and furiously when you ask others to sum up the life of Jesus and the central message of His time on earth. A sudden murkiness appears about who Jesus was and is, as we thrust upon Him the things we believe Him to be—or maybe have even experienced Him to be in our own lives.
For the people who walked with the Messiah day in and day out, understanding Jesus wasn’t so simple. In fact, they were downright mindboggling. He sometimes spoke in hard-to-understand parables. His teaching sometimes seemed confusing (the Kingdom of God is everything from near, here, to not yet). He healed people and told them not to tell anyone—and meant it. He “worked” on the Sabbath. He rebuked the Pharisees. He cleared the temple. There’s no doubt that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day would characterize the actions of the Messiah as “sacrilegious.”
Jesus wasn’t exactly easy to follow either. Nobody knew what He was going to do next. Would He blast the Pharisees or love the harlot? He was confusing at best. Yet in the twenty-first century, Christians have the audacity to delineate with ease what Jesus would or wouldn’t do. But if Jesus were walking the earth today, would we have such a fond view of Him?
Labels of Love
In today’s culture, we love to label everything. Right or wrong, labels make it easy for us to mentally catalog information, people, and ideas. Our adjective-happy society will stop at nothing to create a label for you, even if one doesn’t exist. People try to do this with Jesus—and they fail miserably. There’s only one category that He fits into neatly . . . and that is His own.
Let’s take a look at a few ideas people have about attributes of Jesus we should emulate if we are to follow Him.
Peace-Loving, Hippy Jesus
Some people today think Jesus was just this really nice guy who performed amazing miracles for people and just talked about peace all the time. If only we could hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” to solve all of the world’s conflicts.
To suggest that Jesus wasn’t a peace-loving man is ridiculous for Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace.” But Jesus recognized an important aspect of following Him—many people won’t like you when you follow Him.
In Luke 12:49-53, Jesus suggested we need to prepare for conflict because it’s coming. Jesus saw peace in our hearts that comes from knowing Him intimately. But peace that equates to a world without conflict? Not even the Messiah made such a promise for His time on the planet.
It’s easy to shy away from conflict regarding your faith, particularly when people start blasting away at Christians. Who likes to be mocked for their faith anyway? So, it’s understandably more comfortable to respond by tempering your responses and getting cozy with a watered-down version of the Christian faith. There are enough Christians out there creating conflict and making it difficult to portray a healthy image of Christ, so why become confrontational?
But Jesus welcomed confrontation. It was His opportunity to steer someone toward the heart of the Father. For all of Jesus’ peaceful attributes, He was unafraid of confrontation. If your worldview leaned toward the Law, get ready for a blindside. If you wallowed in sin, you best shape up after you get a healthy heaping of grace. Think “Evangelism Linebacker” (a must-Google if you haven’t see this video) without all the hitting.
Accepting? Yes. Confrontational? To the nth degree.
Culture War Jesus
Got a fish on the back of your car? Have a bumper sticker that antagonizes some other portion of the culture? Get angry and motivated when you hear someone on the radio talking about the culture war Christians are facing in America? This is a dominant attribute of Jesus many people view as worthy of following in our country today. Sadly, it only partially represents Jesus’ approach to anti-Christian sentiments.
Jesus came to bring about change—but it was the kind of change that started in the hearts of men, not in the laws of the land. He understood that a society’s values were reflected in their laws. Trying to change people through enforcing new laws was never going to work. Consequently, many people were disappointed with Jesus as the Messiah, even to the point that some flatly refused to believe. Many Jews held fast that the Messiah was there to set them free from tyrannical rule, not bring freedom to their hearts and minds from the devastating effects of sin.
The culture war pits “us” against “them,” when in reality Jesus wanted “us” to serve “them.” There He goes flipping that label on its head again!
What would Jesus do here? Would He start campaigns to have laws changed? Or would He invest in raising up authentic disciples who caught the essence of what He was trying to reach—and let them exponentially extend the gospel message?
The Love-God-Without-All-the-Distractions Jesus
The fact that Jesus frequently retreated for solitary prayer, whether to the mountains or across the Sea of Galilee, has led some to think isolation is the key to discipleship.
The notion that we can best love God by isolating ourselves from the world isn’t a new idea. For centuries, men and women have chosen to isolate themselves and practice a pious life of serving God. For Christians in America, there are many who ascribe to this philosophy, although it may not manifest itself in four literal walls 20 miles outside of a city.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting to submerge ourselves with an environment that fosters healthy faith, what good is our faith if we aren’t applying it to a world that desperately needs it?
When Jesus was questioned about spending time with notorious sinners, He said it is not the healthy who need a physician. After all, He came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance (Mark 2:17).
I find the easiest place to be a Christian is at church. Genuine or forced, smiles are on most people’s faces. We can sincerely offer to pray for people when they share misfortune. We can sing songs about God’s amazing love for us. We can get swept away by an awesome hour and a half with God as we learn more about Him. And then we have to leave.
It makes sense that we would want to sequester ourselves from the world. But that’s not the way Jesus intended His followers to live. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop some Christians from making that their life pursuit.
In his book Wholly Jesus, Mark Foreman sums up the reality of the attribute of Jesus we ascribe to:
“If we humble ourselves, we must admit honestly that we are drawn to the passages of Scripture that promote our particular expectation of Jesus. Even when we are in a convicting or challenging portion of Scripture, we emerge with a dismissal for the threat and a confirmation of our expectation. Our chosen preachers even help to keep our Jesus Jell-O mold strong.
“Sadly, we have ultimately shrunk the image of Jesus. Our personal wants and culturalworldviews have reduced and minimized Wholly Jesus and his wholeness message. Rarely, do we make him and his message bigger; instead, Jesus’ message usually conveys just what we want it to.”
When following Jesus, we must remember this important truth: Jesus was fully God and fully man. He can mingle with sinners and then judge the world. We’re woefully deficient when we compare ourselves to Him—and we always will be until He completes the work He has begun in us. But that shouldn’t dissuade us from pursuing His heart for our lives and for the world we live in.
We must also remember another truth: No matter what element of Jesus we’re drawn to, the reality is Jesus is a little bit of all those labels—and many more. He wasn’t one thing all the time, except the perfect Son of God who was fully human and fully man operating under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” is a great starting point, but it falls incredibly short in conjuring up the proper question. It’s more about asking, “What is the Holy Spirit leading us to do in accordance with Scripture?”
Maybe God is stirring your heart to confront someone who is older than you about their sinful behavior. Or maybe God is prodding you to befriend your neighbor, the outspoken atheist. Maybe God is calling you to spend more time in prayer and contemplation. Or maybe God is urging you to serve the poor.
Some of these promptings may stand in stark contrast to what we are normally drawn to—and it may be a tad uncomfortable at first. But then again, that’s the point. We sing about a great big God on Sundays, but then act as if He is powerless the rest of the week. If we’re to unshrink Jesus, it’s going to take some uncomfortable moments, moments where we must choose to shake off our preconceived ideas about what it means to follow Jesus and simply obey Him.
Instead of delivering a tidy mission statement about what it means to follow Jesus, we’ll develop a new label for our relationship with Him: “Words Cannot Express.”