Living Like Jesus: Should We Imitate Him?
The first question that we need to ask is, should we pattern our lives after Jesus? There seems to be a broad agreement that we should. From a century ago with the publication of the influential book, In His Steps, to the contemporary "What Would Jesus Do?" movement, it seems to be taken for granted. But we need to see what scripture has to say.
There are some specific areas in which Jesus is held up as an example in the New Testament. Peter (I Peter 2:21) encourages believers to look to Jesus' example when suffering for doing good. This is the passage that talks about following "in his steps". Paul also uses Jesus' attitude of humility as an example in Philippians 2:5. He describes Jesus' willingness to take on the form of a servant. John also uses Christ as an example of humility in John 13:15 when discussing washing one another's feet.
Are these the only areas in which we should imitate Jesus? Or are we to imitate him more generally? All of these passages seem to hold him up as an example. There is the underlying assumption that what he did is what we should do. So in addressing a particular issue, Jesus is held up as an example without further explanation.
Paul seems to go a step further in I Cor. 11:1 when he urges his readers to "follow my example as I follow the example of Christ". In the immediate context he's talking about the issue of not giving offense to others in the way that one eats and drinks. But it does seem as though his example is intended to go well beyond that.
If it is true that we should follow the example of Jesus in living our lives, then it is certainly appropriate to ask the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" when encountering situations, and resolve to follow his example. But in order to know what he would do, we need to not make assumptions, but to observe his behavior as recorded in the gospels.
As this website endeavors to illustrate, Jesus, like other God-fearing Jews, had his value-system centered in the Torah, the commands and instructions that God gave to his people for conducting their lives. Whenever Jesus did something, whether it was having compassion on the poor, sending a healed leper to the priest, or traveling to Jerusalem for the festivals, he was following the guidance in Torah.
We tend not to think along these lines when we think of imitating Jesus. If we followed Jesus in this way, we would end up doing a lot of "Jewish" things. We like to think of imitating Jesus only in the "Christian" things. We don't seem to realize that the things we consider "Christian" were done by Jesus because of the guidance in Torah. So we end up picking and choosing which areas to follow Jesus and Torah.
John addresses this issue in no uncertain terms in I John 2. He has been discussing the issue of knowing God. How can we tell if we know God? He concludes that if we truly know God, we evidence that by keeping his commands (Torah). If someone claims to know God and doesn't keep his commands, he is a liar. Then John sums up his argument by saying, "This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (I John 2:5-6). In this passage John argues that those who claim to know God should follow Torah as Jesus did.
If we want to take the New Testament instruction to follow Jesus seriously, we need to observe how Jesus followed Torah and endeavor to do the same ourselves. The rest of this website is designed to give some guidance in this area.