“Now I am a disciple. Let all the dreadful tortures of the devil come upon me; only let me get to Christ.” ~ Ignatius, 117AD
I’m into the last chapter of Childers and Aquino’s Unveiling Glory: Visions of Christ’s Transforming Presence and I’m convicted anew of the paramount importance of seeing our salvation as our new creation. Sanctification. Holiness. Whatever you want to call it. Our baptism into Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection frees us from the bonds of sin to live our lives the way he lived his. Our call as God’s children is to live like Jesus.
I’ve heard my whole life that Jesus died so I don’t have to. Now I realize more and more that that’s not true. Jesus died to show me how to.
He lived to show me how to live. He overcame temptation to show me how to overcome temptation. He selflessly served others to show me how to selflessly serve others. He denied himself and picked up his cross and then commanded me to do the same thing.
From Unveiling Glory: “To confess Jesus as Lord is not merely to claim a relationship with him; it is to surrender to a very specific aim — being shaped according to Jesus’ image. Transformation into the image of Christ is the chief aim of the Christian life, and it is growing maturity in Christlikeness that validates authentic Christian experience.”
What Would Jesus Do?
It’s a question that has become almost trite and uninteresting because of all the bumper stickers and bracelets and T-shirts. But WWJD is not a new innovation. It’s not a marketing phenomenon of the past dozen years. Charles M. Sheldon, the preacher at the Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas in 1896 first coined the phrase in his book In His Steps. WWJD was the theme of the book. The introduction to the book includes this memorable line: “I want volunteers who will pledge themselves earnestly and honestly for an entire year not to do anything without first asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?'”
The apostles believed and preached the exact same thing, that we “all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So if that’s the priority, and I know that it is, how do we gauge it? How do we judge whether our lives and our churches are on track? What measurements are appropriate? Precise accuracy in doctrinal thought and practice? Numerical growth? Stimulating and emotionally powerful worship experiences? All of these are compelling gauges of success. Churches plan entire strategies around aims like these. And they hire and fire preachers and ministers every day based on their ability or lack of ability to deliver those kinds of results. But none of those things provide the correct measurements for the authenticity of a Christian experience. I guess we can judge worship, church involvement, daily life, relationships, devotional practices and disciplines. But that’s not the deal.
The only clear sign that a person is sharing true intimacy with Jesus is the evidence that he or she is genuinely being shaped according to his image. That’s what the apostles repeatedly tell us in our Scriptures. And this is the true standard by which they judge the appropriateness of Christian decisions and behavior.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of the Lord Jesus ~Philippians 2:5
“Imitate me as I imitate Christ ~1 Corinthians 11:1
“Be imitators of God ~Ephesians 5:1
No other indicator, no matter how emotionally rich or intellectually satisfying fits the witness of Scripture.
Again, from Unveiling Glory: “Authentic Christian experience always leaves a person acting, speaking, thinking, looking more like Jesus. It may or may not bring people in — sometimes Jesus attracted people; sometimes he repelled them. It may or may not be pleasant or fulfilling — joy abounds in Christ, and yet sharing fellowship with Jesus’ sufferings is never likely to be pleasant. It may or may not impart a sense of warm intimacy with Jesus — sometimes, walking with Jesus causes the disciple to cry out, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?'”
As church leaders, we should use the aim of growth in Christlikeness as a standard in our personal lives and in our church ministries. Wherever we find other, counterfeit goals driving the agenda, as they often do, we need to identify them as distractions and re-center our focus on the real work of our God.