I have a confession to make: I am not like Jesus Christ.
If you were to look at my life from my early teenage years until this very moment, you would see someone who has “blown it” many times, changing and re-directing my life-steps repeatedly. Looking closely at my life you would see that I have made a variety of sincere faith-filled affirmations, and who has have sinned, repented, sinned again, repented again, over and over. Pulling back the veneer and looking even deeper into my life you would see that I have made many promises and vows to God; some were failures, some were great successes, but even with my most successful stories I am still not like Jesus- I am not at all like the One I serve. The truth is I never have been! More truth – I will never be really like him this side of heaven – or even there.*
So why did I think for so many years that the absolute highest aim of my life and my role as a pastor and leader was to become “like Jesus Christ” and then to “help others to become like Jesus”? Scriptures do seem to support these objectives… they seem to clearly teach that we all are in the process of being transformed (Rom 12:2), and we are being conformed into His image (II Cor. 3:18, Col. 3:10, Rom. 8:29). But maybe a better question to ask is “What does this transformation and conformity really look like in our experience”?
I had one pastor friend tell me rather honestly that he believed that conforming was only about our desire, or rather our intention of desiring, to have the same attitude as Jesus” (Phil 2:5). He said: “I can desire to have an attitude like Jesus, but that is as close as I and others can get to being really like him.” I think my friend is on to something important!
I had always understood that “conforming to his image” and “being transformed into his likeness” were primarily about two things: My character (Galatians 5: 22 -26), and my participation in His mission (Luke 19:10). These were two things I believed I had good amount of control over and in my way of thinking and acting both of these marked what faithfulness and obedience were to be all about for the Christian. We are faithful only when we growing in character and growing in obedience to a mission! I further reasoned that as the Spirit, by faith, dwelled mightily within me then I would somehow become better and better at incarnating and making real the Word of God and Jesus for others to see clearly. My example would be my powerful witness drawing people to the Savior!
Yet, after the reality of 33 years of experience of being an adult Christian in church ministry and really striving to be like Jesus, I have come to recognize that I actually incarnate his character and his mission pretty poorly! Is this surprising?
If you looked at my actual performance you would notice how my pursuit of being like Jesus has actually done something in me I did not anticipate. I have become rather an expert at two kinds of hiding in front of others whenever I receive notice or recognition. First, by practicing a false, self-effacing and faintly humble exterior, yet hiding an inner delight and triumph – a deep relishing and trusting in the good remark to reinforce my own inner gyroscope that I am somebody – somebody valuable and important! The lack of a remark or the hurtful comment had the opposite effect upon me as well. Inwardly, in the place no one but me and God can go to and see, comments become so much more than comments. The pursuit of praise, recognition, affirmation, value provided and became a sort of jet fuel to stay motivated for the great work needing to be done in the church – and it worked – for a while! Alternatively, the lack of praise or the hurtful comment became a powerful water jet hitting me with precision and dousing any energy and motivation I had.
Second, upholding his character and mission as markers of my own transformation led me to something a bit more dishonest then secretly delighting or being hurt by the responses of others. It led me to hiding or covering up for others to never see what is truly unsightly within and about me! These things – can never be seen. In hiding what is unsightly I misunderstood the real meaning of character. Our character is not what we present to others, nor is it what we are trying to keep hidden, our character is what we are. It seems that for me (and I believe is well true others as well) the more we go about talking about the importance of having character, of being more like the noble qualities of Jesus, the more prone we are to hiding what is unsightly about us.
My being like Jesus, or becoming like Jesus, meant that the public image of “who I am in pursuit of his character and his mission” mattered most! For me, following Jesus and being transformed sadly came to be chiefly about “What can I safely boast about (always in a self-dismissing kind of way) and not expose what is really true within me’, and then ‘what can I keep hidden so that others can go on seeing me successful in the two key areas, but in doing so don’t really see me”. Hiding is what I was actually modeling and ultimately passing on to others concerning transformation of my life into his likeness and my own conformity to his image.
So you can see I am not like Jesus at all! But here is the thing – I had it all wrong! I had it all wrong from the beginning!
In Part II of this blog I will explore the change in me that help to both let go of some old ways and take hold of new ones
Gracebridge Alliance seeks to support ministry leaders in tending to their interior life with God in the midst of the demands and challenges of ministry. If you personally related to the idea of not being like Jesus and still very much drawn to the idea of experiencing communion with God as a daily practice, I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment on this post or use the contact form to reach out to us. Thanks for reading!
* Once in heaven, our being set free from the power, penalty and presence of sin does not make us any more like