There’s a great deal of emphasis today on being like Christ. This is commonly tied into and even defined as “discipleship.” The way to be like Christ, it is taught, is by imitating His behavior. I believe that this emphasis is correct. But it’s not complete.
Christian leaders have been telling God’s people that they must “be like Christ” for the last six hundred years (at least). The well-known book by Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, was published around 1418.
Some 480 years later, Charles M. Sheldon’s book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? was published. Ever since then, Christians have been trying to “do what Jesus did.” But this “gospel” hasn’t worked. The reason? It’s an instance of asking the wrong question. The question is not “What would Jesus do?” I believe it’s “What is Jesus Christ doing through me … and through us?”
Jesus made pretty clear that we cannot live the Christian life. Instead, He must live it through us.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Notice that Jesus Himself couldn’t live the Christian life without His Father:2
“Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing’” (John 5:19).
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30).
Unlike all other religions, the founder of our faith is still alive.
But that’s not all.
He lives inside of all who have repented and believed upon Him.
But that’s not all.
As Christians, we have been called to live by His indwelling life. And we can.
Note Jesus’ own words:
“As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 6:57, KJV).
A large part of the gospel is to be awakened to an indwelling Christ—not as a doctrine or theology, but as a living, breathing Person whose life we can live by.
Paul’s central message was “Not I, but Christ” and “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (See Rom. 8; Col. 1; Gal. 2; and John 14—17, where Jesus Himself spoke about His indwelling just before His death.)
Paul said, “To live is Christ,” which means that Jesus, being in the Spirit, can now serve with our hands, walk with our feet, see with our eyes, and speak with our lips.
Jesus Christ lived His life by an indwelling Father. In the same way, we as believers can live the Christian life only by an indwelling Christ.
This is not a peripheral issue; it’s a central part of the gospel.
Imitating Jesus, therefore, is not a matter of trying to mimic the outward things He did (as if we can actually do that in our own energy).
It’s rather a matter of imitating the way He lived His life. It’s to get in touch with the engine of His outward activities and to “do likewise.”
This puts us on a collision course with the issue of living by an indwelling Lord.
This post is an excerpt from Revise Us Again.