By Lucas Hagen, Crosswalk.com
The word ‘Christian’ literally means ‘little Christ.’ To be a Christian is to be so representative of Christ’s character and behavior that people view you as a little Jesus. Unfortunately, there are countless misconceptions about what it means to be Christlike. Let us explore some of the lies we often tell ourselves about being like Jesus.
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1. We can never be like Jesus, so it isn’t worth trying that hard.
If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you have experienced some struggle and hardship. You have known what it is like to try and be like Jesus, and struggle to do so. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life. None of us will ever be able to do that. However, just because it is not possible to be exactly like Jesus does not mean that it is not worth striving for.
Take notice of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 11, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Jesus does not expect His followers to be exactly like Him. However, He promises that, upon following Him and learning from Him, His followers will experience rest and relief. Jesus never implies that following Him will be too challenging to endure. He promises that His burden is bearable, and is worth taking up.
2. Being like Jesus is about doing all the right things.
Jesus lived a perfect life, and His actions are worth replicating. For example, Jesus set us an inspiring example in prayer, forgiveness, care for the needy, etc. While being like Jesus does involve such behaviors, being like Jesus is not just about doing the right actions. What is more important is the manner in which one does them, one’s attitude and intentions.
Consider Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6. He teaches on giving, praying and fasting. These three actions are the foundation of the holiness in both the Jewish and Christian religion. However, Jesus abolishes the idea that just taking part in these behaviors is good enough.
Jesus says the following in regard to prayer, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).
According to Jesus, praying in and of itself is not pleasing to God. Just because you pray does not mean you are like Jesus. What Jesus emphasizes is the way you pray. People may think that those who are most like Jesus are those who pray long, elaborate prayers for all to hear. However, Jesus explains that those who are most like Him are those who pray when no one else is watching. Those who pray in only the witness of God the Father are those who are most pleasing to God.
Jesus practiced what He preached. Read the following words in the Gospel of Mark, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus did not go out of His way to pray in front of others so they could observe His holiness and righteousness. On the contrary, Jesus went out of His way to pray 1) in the middle of the night, and 2) in an isolated place where no one would see Him. This is how Jesus calls us to pray. Praying in itself is not enough to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus, you must pray like Jesus.
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3. Jesus is the only person worth imitating
One lie that I have heard on countless occasions, especially during college, was the thought that if Jesus is the only sinless person, then there is no one else worth imitating. Some have even said “Jesus is the only mentor I will ever need.” This is foolish thinking, and it is directly contradictory to Scripture.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul was not Jesus, so why was he worth imitating? Because Paul was visible. Paul was physically present. Jesus had ascended into heaven. While they could hear stories about Jesus and what He did, imitating what they had heard about Jesus, Paul was someone they could observe. They could ask him questions. They could see how he imitated Christ in their context. They could not observe these same things in Jesus.
The same goes for Christians living in the twenty-first century. There is no one that you know who can live a sinless, righteous life like Jesus. However, the Gospels do not depict Jesus living righteously in your context. While you must make observations of Jesus’ life as you read the Gospels, it is also valuable to take notice of how your brothers and sisters in Christ live godly lives in your area. By observing others who live righteously today, you can get a glimpse of how Christ may have lived if He were alive today.
In other words, as much as they imitate Christ, imitate them.
There are countless lies that abound in regard to being like Jesus. Be self-aware of your attitude towards Christlikeness, what it means and how to attain it. You may find that your very thoughts about being like Jesus are hindering you from truly being like Jesus.
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