Is it possible to act like Jesus without becoming like him? Can we behave well, but not have the substance behind it? I think so. I think I’ve done it for a long time. I know the right things to say and do, but my heart is not always in the right place when I say or do them. Am I alone here?
If the point of walking this planet is to become more and more like Jesus, how does that actually happen? We can study Jesus’ life and try to model our lives around him and ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” But even if we start acting like Jesus, does that mean we are really becoming like him?
Have you ever noticed that the more you hang out with a friend, the more alike you become? You tend to gesture similarly or laugh similarly and even think similarly. I have caught myself laughing with a friend and been struck by how similar our laughs sound. But then I might take note of my laugh with a different friend, and it sounds a little different. Or maybe we pick up on little phrases that a friend says, and they stick with us. We tend to become more and more like the ones we spend time with.
God even warned us about who we choose to spend time with: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Becoming more like Jesus can only happen by spending more time with Him, by being in relationship with him. I can do and say things the way Jesus would, but what if I am like a Pharisee? What if the outside looks good while the inside is rotting and decaying? (Matthew 23:27).
I can say to my pregnant friend, “I am so happy for you,” because that’s what Jesus would say. But do I mean it?
A couple weeks ago, I had a friend announce she was pregnant and my first reaction (outwardly) was extreme excitement. I jumped off the couch and hugged her (and I’m not a huggy person). That first 20 seconds of reaction time was pure excitement on her behalf. Okay, maybe it was more like 8 seconds. I experienced pure excitement but almost instantly I started feeling bad for myself. The jealousy kicked in and I began fighting my own emotions while listening to her share about how she was feeling. I continued to act like Jesus, but I did not feel like I imagine Jesus would’ve felt. I think he would’ve genuinely felt happy for her without any regard for how it made him feel. He was able to be fully present with each person he spent time with. His attention and focus was on them and not on himself at all. I guess, at this point, I am 8 seconds-worth of being like Him.
The very next time I saw this friend, she starting explaining how worried she was to tell me (because she knew of my struggles to conceive). She explained how surprised she was with my reaction. And based on my reaction, she assumed I was in a good place about it all. She did not know that I held it together only long enough to bawl my eyes out on the way home. I sure fooled her. Or did I?
All of the “right” things that we are supposed to do, that are selfless, that are like Jesus, have to be rooted in love. We can not do them without love. Sure, we can act like we are doing these things, but the Bible says that if we do them without love, we are only a resounding gong (1 Cor. 13) – we are the shadow of something great, but there is no substance.
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Any love we have for others comes from the fullness of a love first received from God. Without having God’s love, we may have something that resembles love for each other, but it is always tainted with “self.”
“Self” is like dirt and God is Living Water (Jer. 17:13). When our selfishness enters the scene, the goodness of God that may live in us (if you have chosen to follow Jesus), mixes with the dirt of self, and mud flows out.
We are not able to purely love others well until we have tasted what pure love really is. The longer that His love flows through us, the purer (less muddy) the product that comes out of us. God’s love is so rich, so pure, so unconditional that having it enables us to pour love out to others. Once we have put our trust in Jesus, we have been given everything we need to live a life of love:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Jesus has cleansed us of self. We have the ability to live the way Jesus did. We just have to fight to keep “self” from muddying the clean water (Jesus) that lives in us.
Without God’s pure love, the love we offer looks a little more like mud. The desire and idea are there, but the junk inside of us mixes together with what we hope to pour out, and then others receive the best we have to offer – a little muddy water.
The enemy would love for me to get completely down on myself for only being 8 seconds worth of like Jesus, but I will take 8 seconds. That’s 8 seconds, of clean, pure love that flowed out of me. That’s 8 seconds longer than I could offer on my own. And maybe it was only 8 seconds of being purely like Jesus, but the effects of his goodness at work in me continue to spread beyond 8 seconds. If I wasn’t a little bit like him, I would have sat there and bawled my eyes out in front of my friend. I would have sat there and lamented to her about how hard it was FOR ME. I would have turned the whole situation around to be about me instead of sharing in her joy in the moment. Had I not chosen so painstakingly to die to myself in the moment, her special moment would have been stolen.
Being like Jesus is really hard. Being selfless is hard. It usually hurts to die to ourselves, but there is something beautiful, pure, and alluring about dying to ourselves (choosing to put our own desires aside for the sake of someone else). Dying to ourselves is like putting up a filter to catch the dirt so that what flows out of us is not tainted by the dirt of self that wants to mix with God’s pure Living Water that flows out of us. We just can not be selfless without the help of the One we are hoping to become like. We can try for a while, but selfishness will win out again and again if we are not clinging to and relying on the only One who has successfully walked this planet without giving in to selfish desires.
Here’s to 9, maybe even 10 seconds of being like Him next time…