Those of you who know me or have regularly followed this blog know that “becoming like Jesus” has been the theme of my life for decades. Being a Christ-follower is more than being theologically or Biblically correct, more than being legalistically pure, more than being devoted to a church, more than being dedicated to the conversion of others. Being a Christ-follower is being human in the way that Jesus was human, and Jesus set the bar for being human very high! Being a Christ-follower is following the example that Christ set while he was living among us as human. Kent Dobson reminds us that Jesus shared our humanity and experienced everything that we experience. He truly is our brother.
“Jesus’s self-identifying title was ‘Son of Man,’ ben adam, a way of identifying with our shared humanity. . . . This title alone is a clue that Jesus was more interested in being human than being a God. . . . Jesus came to teach us what it means to be human, not to announce his divinity. He even tells the people who call him the ‘Son of God’ to be quiet. Our shared humanity is what makes Jesus’s teachings worth paying attention to. He shared our experience, in its totality, from suffering to ecstasy. He didn’t come to take us away from our humanity, or away from the earth but more deeply into those things. This is the real genius of Christianity” (Bitten by a Camel, Leaving Church, Finding God, pgs. 105-106).
Jesus lived our life; now he expects us to live his. Jesus was filled with the same Spirit that we have! Or to put it another way, we are filled with the same Spirit Jesus had. The difference is that he was fully committed to listening to, obeying, and using the power of that Spirit. Each of us can be fully like Jesus. This may seem radical or even heretical to some of you, but bear with me. I am learning that if we devote our lives to becoming the human being that Jesus exemplified, we will become everything we think a Christian should be. If we train our hearts and minds and bodies to respond to the world the way Jesus did, we will become like Jesus.
I suspect that the reason we don’t commit more completely to living like Jesus is that we let our vision of Jesus Christ as divine taint our perception of Jesus as human. We tell ourselves that God can’t expect us to really be like Jesus – committed to his Father, inspiring, insightful, generous, supportive, charismatic, wise, filled with brotherly love, perceptive, able to heal and forgive – because, after all, Jesus was divine. Deep down we really don’t understand (or maybe we don’t really believe) that Jesus “emptied himself” (*see Scripture below) of his divinity and came to earth as a human. We take ourselves “off the hook” of Christlikeness by telling ourselves that Jesus had a “leg up;” he was God and man at the same time.
Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
When we think about Jesus as that exceptional, unusual person who lived long ago and whose life and words continue to inspire us, we might avoid the realization that Jesus wants us to be like him. Jesus himself keeps saying in many ways that he, the Beloved Child of God, came to reveal to us that we too are God’s beloved children, loved with the same unconditional divine love. This is the great challenge of the spiritual life: to claim the identify of Jesus for ourselves and to say: ‘We are the living Christ today!” (Bread for the Journey).
We have access to the same Father, we are filled with the same Spirit, we share the human qualities that the “son of man” (who relinquished his position as the Son of God to walk this earth) displayed. As Nouwen also proclaims, “We can enter into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had. That relationship is called Spirit, and that Spirit is given to us by Jesus” (Bread for the Journey).
Discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus. It is also the process of becoming fully human. As Dallas Willard has said, “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.” Blessings on that journey!
* “Who, being in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV).