Last Thursday, I posted some thoughts on what it means to be Christlike. I suggested it may have less to do with copying what Jesus did in certain situations, and more to do with embodying the fundamental life of Jesus, as displayed in His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. The post can be found by clicking here.
Today (on another Thursday – maybe I’ll start something called ‘Christlike Thursday!’), I want to explore those thoughts a little more. If I’m suggesting we should be trying to be incarnate, be crucified and be resurrected in our lives, I probably ought to explore what each of those means.
And today… being incarnate.
Jesus has a head start, right?
“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Living in the spirit of the incarnation was easier for Jesus in some ways though, right? He stepped into all the mess I experience every day, and that can’t have been easy. He has a bit of a head start.
He stepped into something from outside of it. He was fully God and became fully man. Every step, every breath, every bite He took, Jesus would have been intensely aware that He had stepped into something, humbled Himself and entered our condition, our situation.
He didn’t have the choice of waking up one morning and deciding not to be in our situation.
Right? No, wrong. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Jesus decision to humble Himself was a huge thing and something He would have had to constantly – every day, every minute, every second – commit, own and choose to continue with instead of calling Dad and calling it a day. If anything, it was harder for Jesus. He stepped into something that in His very being He was not. He is God and He became human, whereas for us to be incarnate I believe means us as humans entering into the situations of people who are, like us, humans.
What Jesus did on a massive scale, we are called to do on a smaller scale (I sense this will be a theme.)
The essence of being Incarnate
There is one passage in the New Testament which stands out to me as I consider what it means for us to have the same attitude Jesus had in the incarnation. It is Philippians 2:1-11
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1-11)
The essence here is humility. If the fact Jesus was in very nature God did not qualify Him to think more of Himself than of others, if He was willing not to look to His own interests but associate with humanity, as a servant, associating not just with the life that is mine but with the death that should have been, and if we are to have the same mindset…
I think this is a huge call. To embody the incarnation means associating with anyone in any situation and never having that attitude of condescension. I am not stooping down to serve you. I am not better than you. I am not too good to be seen with you. If Jesus – even Jesus – didn’t have that attitude, then we mustn’t either.
And it’s not that in the end He gets the glory. The glory is all for His Father. From start to finish, however Jesus was serving and whoever He was with, He only ever points away from Himself, toward the Father. This, I believe, is what it means to be incarnate in our lives, to embody this aspect of Christ’s being. This is the spirit of the incarnation.
What might that look like?
This is not mean to be a ‘how to’ guide. This is more about attitude than outworking, but here are a few (non-comprehensive) thoughts about some things which might demonstrate this aspect of Christlikeness:
- Willingness not to be thanked, or to carry out thankless jobs.
- Spending time with people who our society or our peers would consider ‘less’ than us.
- Choosing to be a servant (of whomever and in whatever situation that leads us), rather than choosing to serve in ways that are convenient to us and retaining power for ourselves (this distinction comes from Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline).
- Caring what God thinks more than what those around us think.
- At times, being taken advantage of (though abuse is abuse and should not just be ‘taken’).
- Continuing to try to help people even when they reject our help.
- Entering into situations where we are not comfortable ourselves because there is a need.
- Standing with the marginalised and forgotten of our world.
- Not spouting on about our own successes, but pointing to the success of others and, ultimately, to God.
“He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)