There’s a lot of talk about being Christlike in the church. This is a good thing. We hear of Christlike mission, Christlike service, Christlike priorities, Christlike preaching, Christlike everything really.
Like I said, this is a good thing. We are meant to be striving towards Christlikeness, each day becoming more and more like Jesus.
The big question we need to work out is this: what does it mean to be Christlike?
Imitators of Christ
I think a lot of the prevailing thinking is that we should copy Jesus. We should study the example of his life and seek to adopt his practices for our own lives. It’s what we see in the whole WWJD movement (which is wonderful), always asking ourselves what Jesus would have done in a particular situation.
There is definite merit here, and I believe this to be an important part of Christlikeness, but there are inherent weaknesses. The main one is that there are all sorts of situations we face which Jesus either couldn’t have faced or just didn’t.
How am I to be a Christlike dog-owner? (This may seem a silly question, but if I am seeking genuinely to surrender my whole life to God’s ways and his kingdom, then nothing is not a part of that, including our little Ralph.) It’s a questions the Gospels cannot answer – Jesus didn’t have pets.
So this idea of copying often ends up getting qualified something like this: “Being Christlike means acting as Christ did when we are faced with the situations He faced, and in the rest we must just try to be more ‘like’ Him.”
This is easy when it comes to teaching – we uphold the Bible, but open up its life-giving message in ways that are creative, engaging and enticing. It’s easy when it comes to leadership – we love and serve those we are leading, seeking to release them into all God has for their life and ministry. It’s easy a lot of the time, but there are massive gaps. And can we better define being ‘like’ Him please?
Embodiment of Christ
I have another idea. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for years, and I want some thoughts! (I very much doubt it is original, but I’ve never seen it expressed this way before. If you know that someone has, please point me their way.)
The fundamental flaw, I believe, in just trying to copy Jesus life during the three year ministry He had is that we can forget He wasn’t just a great guy to be more like. He is the Son of God who became human in order to live that life. He is the Son of God who willingly died in order to win His great victory over sin and death. He is the Son of God who rose again bodily, displaying great power and showing His enemies to be powerless.
The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are the things which truly define Him, not His parables or His humility. Without these three things – each totally earth-shattering in their own right – the rest of His ministry couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened. Each was necessary.
My thoughts is that it is these parts of Jesus which we should try to embody in our lives, not just his activities that we should imitate.
We must be incarnate – entering into the lives of others and coming alongside, not keeping our distance and looking down on the world that so desperately needs our help. We must be crucified – not accepting the world’s ways of working (who dies to win?), but surrendering our whole lives to God’s kingdom, dying to ourselves. We must be resurrected – that death to ourselves must lead to a new and vibrant life, one that is defined by resurrection power, enabled by the Spirit, to live within God’s plans and purposes, His will not ours, all things we can never do if ruled by our old selves instead of by Him.
And this is where it gets interesting. What if instead of saying we need to do X like Jesus, we say that in everything we do, including X, we must seek to be incarnate, crucified and resurrected. Not one in this scenario and another in another. All three, all the time, in everything. I believe that’s what Jesus was like – everything He did was marked by the humility of the incarnation, the surrender of the crucifixion and the power of the resurrection.
That way, if we’re doing something Jesus Himself did, then great – we can see how He was all those things and try to embody them too. If we are trying to own a dog or do things He never did, we can still ask the same question.
Is this a better way?
What do you think? Is this better? Worse? Actually the same, but with different words? I personally think this is more demanding, and it leaves us no excuse for not being Christlike in any situation. But it also opens up a wonderful and beautiful opportunity for us to follow Him more and more of the time.
I think a lot of this needs fleshing out – defining more clearly these three ideas of being incarnate, crucified and resurrected will be important. I plan to blog more into these ideas, but I would really value your thoughts. I sense that Christlikeness is a pretty important thing, so worth wrestling with what it means and what it looks like.
Also, anyone got any ideas about Christlike dog ownership?