Charles Sheldon wrote a book in 1896 titled “In His Steps.” It was subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?”
The book grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his congregation. The thrust of his book was that Jesus was not only our Savior, but also a moral example for our daily lives.
Later, Walter Rauschenbusch would acknowledge the impact Sheldon’s novel had on his theology and his understanding of the social implications of the Gospel.
In the novel, a minister encounters a homeless man who challenges him to take seriously the life and teachings of Christ.
The homeless man cannot understand why so many Christians seem to be oblivious to the needs of the poor. He wonders why they do not live the things they sing and teach.
The phrase “What would Jesus do?” became popular in our country again more than 20 years ago among many evangelical Christians.
It was a fresh call to live our lives in a way that would demonstrate the love and values of Jesus. Many youth groups began promoting wristbands with the initials WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?
Unfortunately, the question has sometimes become the subject of jokes and the answers given have, at times, been trite and corny.
Even serious efforts to understand the life and ministry of Christ sometimes degenerate into theological debate and stale legalism.
I find this a sad commentary on the Christian church. The reality is that each generation of believers must find a way to live out their faith. Every believer struggles to answer these same questions:
- What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
- How can I know God’s will for my life?
- How am I to live?
- How am I to treat other people?
- What should be the priorities for my church’s ministry?
- How am I to interpret the Scripture?
Baptists are often fond of saying “Jesus is the way,” but we are not particularly interested in adopting “the Jesus way” for our lives.
If he really is the way, then certainly we should be doing more than merely affirming, “he is the way.” Maybe we should actually try to incorporate his ways into our daily lives.
Jesus spoke words of comfort to his followers in John 14:1-4, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
“My Father’s house has many rooms,” Jesus said, “if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas responds that they do not know where he is going and, therefore, cannot possibly know the way.
Jesus answers with these wonderful words: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
We tend to add this statement to our list of propositions to which we must give intellectual assent, but I believe Jesus was providing instructions for our journey.
The only way to find life, to discover truth and to know God was to adopt his way of life.
We are to interpret Scripture as Jesus did. We are to value people – friends, strangers and enemies – as Jesus did.
We are to make his life priorities our priorities. The focus of his ministry is to become the focus of our ministries.
He was not giving us something else to believe. He was helping us learn how we are to live.
Maybe it is time to take a fresh look at the Gospels to see again the way Jesus lived so that we can begin to live “the Jesus way.” We are to strive to give him the freedom to live his life in his way through our lives.
It is not just what we believe. It is how our beliefs change our lives.
Jim Hill is executive director of Churchnet, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Our First Priority, and is used with permission. You call follow him on Twitter @myfirstpriority.
An ordained Baptist minister, Hill has served 50 years leading local church, denominational and non-profit organizations. He lives in Jefferson City, Missouri.