Becoming more ‘Jesus-like’

(originally posted May 10th, 2008)

Some people love the religion game. They love to talk a real good game , but when it comes right down to it, they are just like the rest of us…incapable of being ‘Jesus-like for more than a minute or two…if that’s even possible.

How can this be? The Bible surely tells us in Jesus’ own words what He expects from us. And the Bible is replete with examples of Jesus’ own works. So there it is; a road map clearly drawn. Open and follow.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life”, the lawyer asked Jesus,  Jesus answered, “What does the law say?”( There it is…the first part of the Law/Gospel paradigm) The lawyer answered, “You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Je sus said to him, “You have answered rightly, do this and you shall live.”

You want to be more Jesus-like?  There it is. “Go and do, and you shall live.”

What does doing what Jesus said we need to do to live have to do with being more Jesus-like? Everything! Jesus was all about loving, and being faithful to the Father with everything He had , and loving everyone else as Himself. You want to be Jesus-like…then do that. That’s all. It’s not complicated. You don’t need 3 Spiritual advisors and a dozen different books to figure it out. You don’t need to pour over the scriptures looking for clues and hidden tidbits in obscure passages for the divine secrets that will reveal the formula. There is one formula. ” Go and do”.

We just love that, don’t we? Give me a list and let me go. I can start knockin’ ’em down and checkin’ ’em off. ‘I’m on my way! Better and better each day!’

“Well, God would never have told us to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do it!”

Pelagius said the same thing. He was a 4th century monk who denied the doctrine of original sin and said that we carry within ourselves the goodness required to do God’s Law.

Even though Pelagius’ teachings were branded by the early Church as heretical, they’re still alive and well today, living in the hearts and minds of many Christians, and as practical doctrine in many Christian churches.

‘A little bit of God and a little bit of me.’

“So what’s with all that ‘Sermon on the Mount’ language that Jesus used, giving us a list of to-do’s and to-don’ts?”

Jesus was re-presenting the Law of God, just as Moses had done earlier, but this time Jesus left us no wiggle room. He laid down the law and He laid it down hard. “If you even look at a woman in that way…” “Do not worry…” “If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out” “Your righteousness must exceed  that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

“OK…that’s a pretty good starter list…let me get to work on it.”   What!   You can’t even begin to work on it. You are done…as I am done. The things on that list that Jesus used are not meant to spur you to improvement…they are meant to drive you to despair…to kill you off to your own religious project…to stop you from thinking that you’ve ever got a shot at becoming what the law demands. 

Nope. We still want to become more like God. We still think that we can muster up just enough goodness to make a difference.  “I want to become more Jesus-like if it kills me!”

In explaining the first article of the Apostle’s Creed in the small catechism, Luther writes that we “owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

Of course we do! The law is still in place. But Luther was no fool. He realized that while what he said is true, we ought do those things, he also realized that we cannot do those things with the pure hearts and untainted motives that God requires of us.

So Luther, understanding our core problem, writes this in explaining the third article of the Apostle’s Creed,  “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith…”

There is the gospel side of the Law/Gospel paradigm.

The law always accuses, and the gospel always gives life; frees us of the accusation.

You want to be more Jesus-like? Then jump off the WWJD bandwagon and live in the freedom that He has won for you on the cross and in your baptism, and that He gives to you in the preached Word, and whenever the Sacrament of the Altar is offered.

Let God be God, and you be you. Isn’t that enough, anyway?

    – Steve Martin

29 Responses

  1. “he also realized that we cannot do those things with the pure hearts and untainted motives that God requires of us.”


    so very true!

  2. Jon,

    Thanks for reminding me of this old post.

    It’s worth another shot (I think).

  3. Great one Steve!

    Since becoming a Christian I’ve always been amazed and still am at the number of Christians that think they are pulling it off.

    I used the RYR once on an old friend and SB pastor at lunch once, he thought it to be Gospel and the way to heaven, like John MacArthur’s interpretation. I looked at him and said, “You mean you’ve done this…gone and sold all that you have, etc…” He flinched, literally, then said quitely, “Yes.” His sheepishness behind the verbal answer was the real answer, which was no. Kind of like when I was a kid and got into the cookie jar when I wasn’t suppose to and your dad says, “Did you get into the cookies?”. You flinch and sheepishly say, “No.” But the flinch and sheepish voice behind the “N” “o” is really a big fat “YES I DID”. Anyway, I looked at him, recall we are in a restaurant for lunch, and said, “I suppose I better pay for your lunch and give you a ride home.” Of course if he had done what Jesus said of the RYR to do, Law, I wouldn’t even had to have given him a ride home…for he should have sold that too and gave the receipts to the poor and thus followed Jesus.

    It takes an INCREDIBLE amount of delusion to think you’ve even come close to physically having done these works, LET ALONE with the right motive of heart. One might imagine oneself mustering up enough gumption to actually sell everything he/she had and distributing it to the poor (there are actually in fact real stories of men doing this) – but the heart motivation behind it? Hardly!

    If the RYR had done what Jesus said do we really think Jesus would have replied, “Well done, now you don’t need Me at all to die for you on My cross.”

    People forget, to actually be a real “doer” of the Law such that you really “do it” from the heart, what it requires – you should NEVER ONCE NEED TO HEAR THE LAW. If you need to hear it, you’ve ALREADY fallen into original and deadly sin and are seperated from God and IN the control of sin, death and the devil.


  4. Nice!

    I get a kick out of hearing folks talk about the Sermon on the Mount as a CHECKLIST for Christians to live by. NOT!

    These words of Christ should exhaust us, so that we don’t even reach the ‘Starting Gate’ let alone the ‘Finish Line’. Rather, our rest is Christ! Getting used to this is also beyond us as well. Only as we are brought to be broken and resting is there hope.


  5. He contrasts the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the temptation of Jesus (the Second Adam) in the wilderness. Christianity

  6. Nothing is more generally known than our duties which belong to Christianity; and yet, how amazing is it, nothing is less practiced?
    George Whitefield

  7. Another way to look at what the holy Law requires of the pure heart is to look at an antithesis of the whole thing. That is an unholy Law and the fallen heart. In this anti-world paradigm the unholy law of self, either gross sin or self piety (justification OR sanctification) our hearts are DOERS of this law (i.e. the unholy law). There’s a reason the devil hasn’t published his “ten commandments”, he does not need too since fallen heart do it “from the heart” per se – naturally (i.e. naturally as fallen creatures). We are not “under the unholy law” but “in it” by nature of the fall. We don’t need a law that states “thou shalt lust”, “thou shalt seek yourself in everything”, etc…we do that as natural as the law of gravity, our minds snap back to self with utter recalcitrant return. It is the natural gravity and point blank NATURE of the fallen man. We don’t need an “unholy law” that says “thou shalt do/not do…” because we are it by nature, flowing in its train like a molecule of water with the over all movement of the stream.

    So when some say “I need to hear the law so I can do it”, in some form or another they don’t realize that in the very hearing of it one is ALREADY fallen from it. This is why Luther could say for example, “the Law says do this and nothing is ever done”, and, “Whenever Scripture commands you to do something it forbids you (simultaneously) to do so by yourself”. This is why Jesus said good fruit comes from the good tree, the recreated tree and not a tree trying to be a good fruit tree.

    It’s also why the right division between Law and Gospel is not always rank imperative versus indicative, but rather the Gospel is heard in the Commandments sometimes. The Word and the L/G distinction is a double edged sword as Pastor Cwirla points out not two disjointed things nor confused things. Luther for example shows that the first commandment can be heard as Law or Gospel, when through the lens of the Gospel it is heard as Gospel in so much as it promises “I am your God”…Who alone saves you. And sometimes the deadliest Law to the deluded old man (the incurable doer) that simply refuses to give up his doing is the naked Gospel itself, heard through the lens of the Law, in so much as it says “YOU CANNOT DO A THING – JESUS HAS TO DO IT ALL SUCH THAT NOTHING IS LEFT TO DO EVER and I mean EVER”. That is a DEADLY DEADLY DEADLY LAW to the old man, the doer –because it’s a Law he utterly cannot DO. So deadly he must refuse it as false. It is the literally the odor of death to him and as such INSTANTLY repugnant. While it is the odor of life to those being saved.


  8. “This, then, is the basis for the Lutheran charge that Reformed piety is servile, legalistic and not evangelically free. The Reformed Christian fears nothing more than that under the pretext of evangelical freedom licentiousness might set in. That is why he emphasizes the law, so strongly at times that he comes dangerously close to infringing on evangelical freedom.”

    –August Pieper

  9. “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Matthew 11:29

    “Now it is very remarkable that the only passage in the whole New Testament in which the heart of Jesus is distinctly mentioned is the one before us. . . .

    The words employed here include, first, a readiness on the part of Christ to pardon all past offenses. ‘Come to me,’ he says, ‘for however much you may have offended in the past, I am meek and easily to be entreated. I am ready to forgive, to forget and cast behind my back all your provocations. I do not say this to cajole you; my very heart says it, for my heart is full of tenderness and compassion for you.’

    The words also include a willingness to endure yet further offenses. ‘Not only do I forget the past but I am ready to bear with you still, though you should still offend me. I will endure it all. Come to me, although you cannot hope that your future character will be perfect. I will help you to struggle into holiness and be patient with your failures. As frequently as you shall grieve me, so frequently will I forgive you. I am meek in heart, ready to forgive the past and willing to bear with you in the present and in the future.’

    Beloved brethren, what a heart Jesus has to receive sinners in this divine manner!”

    C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament, I:177-179.

  10. Thanks for the comment on my blog. I like what I’ve read on yours. So very true, we don’t get a “12-step program” to being Christ-like. It’s a change of heart, not a set of rules.

  11. Steve,

    Good post… I’ve been thinking about that same thing a lot lately… The Gospel turns mans economy upside down:

    Purpose Driven-Promise Keepin-Principal followin Christian
    Forgiveness Given-Grace Livin-Rest enjoyin Christian

    Theology of Glory
    Theology of the Cross

    Measure up
    Give up


    More Commitment
    Collapsed Resistance

    WWJD What Would Jesus Do?
    WDJD What Did Jesus Do?

    My Decision
    His Decision

    Men of Integrity
    Men of Iniquity – saved by the GOD-MAN of Integrity

    Self Esteem
    Christ Esteem

    You ask me how I know he lives… he lives within my heart. I feel it
    Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.

    Self Improvement
    Death to Self

    The list goes on…

    We don’t break the law, we break ourselves against it… only the King can put us together again.

  12. Thanks Patrick…those are great examples…As I have begun to understand…Lutheran speak…I have seen many times a questioning of the “Theology of Glory”…The truth is, if there is not first the Theology of the Cross…there can be no Theology of Glory…

    • Thanks Nancy. I think the phrase “theology of glory” is sometimes confused with a theology that gives glory to God… which is a good thing. “Theology of glory”, however, in ‘Lutheran speak’ is better understood this way: “Martin Luther accurately defined sin as man turning in on himself. While a theology of glory continues to turn you to yourself as you measure your growth in holiness against a plethora of spiritual experiences, the theology of the Cross turns you away from yourself. As a result of the conviction of the Law, you forsake your own good works and spiritual experiences and cling to the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.” – Matzat

      Glory to God!

  13. Great comments all!

    I appreciate your input and the realization of who and what we really are…and Who and What, He really is.

    The theology of the cross calls a thing what it really is.

    Only two things will happen when someone has an encounter with Jesus the Christ…

    either they die…or He dies.

    The theology of the cross starts with death and ends with life.

    When you start with the resurrection, the needed death just never seems to happen. And that is quite normal, for who really wants to die.

    So He does it for us. And then (thanks be to God) raises us again.

  14. Theology of the Cross … grace alone… faith alone… Christ alone… people will be viewed with suspicion by those who seek to convert the old Adam by keeping the law.

    I stumbled upon this quote the other day (not sure who said it)…
    “If they don’t suspect you of being an Antinomian, you probably have not preached the Gospel.”

  15. “If they don’t suspect you of being an Antinomian, you probably have not preached the Gospel.”

    I think there is a lot to that.

    And the irony is that these folks(the law-bangers) do not take sin seriously enough.

  16. Patrick,

    “If they don’t suspect you of being an Antinomian, you probably have not preached the Gospel.”

    Was Dr. Martin Loyd Jones.


  17. Thanks, Steve. I’ve always wondered how people could think “God would never have told us to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do it!” It’s surely never been true of me. It even brought me to wondering if I was the only one that couldn’t pull it off.

    All your posts and comments of posters are helping me in how to speak to people more than I’ve ever been able to. I do appreciate your posts.

  18. You are quite welcome, Becky.

    I am learning a lot from the comments made here, as well.

    Keep up the good work, my friend!

    – Steve

  19. SM,

    The very example of Jesus is the very thing that actually condemns us.

    Because we are never like him, and that should keep us constantly under repentance.


  20. Right on, LPC!!

  21. Sometimes when I hear people saying “be like Jesus” and they state or imply that they are I want to say, “are you sniffing glue or something?” Not to just be mean, but really, I don’t get it, not on the best of my best of my best days. It’s tempting to test them on this, very tempting. Kind of like the RYR, just put your money where your mouth is…all of it. Then see how far we get.


    • I’ve seen it this way to; those particular types tend to hype the church yard duties over actually loving your neighbor duties, which IF you are going to at least ‘take a stab at it’ you ought to do the later as the former is false. I’ve seen hyper pious types preach this “be like Jesus”, and they make a big show in the church yard doing the church list of duties, but in their jobs and family duties they tend to leave everyone else high and dry. Which is of course “NOT bearing your cross”. As Luther said he who does self appointed works actually hates the Law of God, and is avoiding his cross. No matter how outwardly good and laudable the work is. E.g. one man might think highly of his work in the church but yet not apply himself at his vocation well M – F. This is a man who both hates the Law of God and is avoiding his cross. Yet in upside down pious world they would think the cross for him is the church yard and the vocation the temptation to avoid the cross. It’s as Patrick well said above, man’s religion is upside down to the religion of the cross, theology of Cross versus theology of glory.


  22. I wonder if you would agree with the sentiments and distinction Watson made between fulfilling and keeping the commandments – – near the bottom in reply to the question “But who can keep all his commandments?”

  23. John,

    If I remember right, Watson was a Puritan. I am a bit cautious with them because they have affinities with Pietism.

    The distinction between fulfilling and keeping is not necessary.

    Jesus said, if you love me keep my commandments.

    If I am not keeping them I for sure am not fulfilling them. I don’t really love Jesus, but I rest on his love for me.


  24. No one (but Jesus) has ever gotten past the 1st Commandent.

    St. Paul tells us that if we’ve broken one of them, then we have broken all of them.

    Anytime we break one, we are breaking the 1st one, because we are willing something to take precedent over the will of God.

    We are guilty of idolatry.

    But, what is it to do the work of the Father, Jesus was asked.

    “Believe in the one whom He has sent”.

    That’s it. (I believe)

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