Becoming more Christ-like. That is the goal, or at least it should be, of every Christian. That is what being a Christian is. Following Jesus’ example and becoming more like him. The name itself signifies this – Christ-ian. The Gospels, throughout most of Paul’s writings, and much of the rest of the New Testament try to expound on this very idea.
I’ve wrestled a lot with this concept over my life. What does it mean to be more Christ-like? What does it mean to love like Jesus loved? And once we figure out what it means, do we even bother to ask God for the grace to transform into that more loving person that Christ calls us to be?
More and more in our world today, a world of political-correctness and tolerance, i read in articles and opinion pieces the phrase, “Just love people like Jesus loves them.” As i read statements like this, i’m not even sure what to think anymore. The first question that comes to mind when i read these statements is, “Whose interpretation of how Jesus loves am i supposed to adhere to?”
I strive to be more Christ-like, but how do i love like Jesus loved when it seems that this idea is so subjective. What if how i understand what the NT says differs from someone else (this is not a new concept within the Church, as denomination after denomination has sprung up, often each with their own view of a number of topics like baptism, the end-times, etc.)? What if how i understand Jesus’ love differs from your understanding.
For example, throughout the Gospels, we Jesus take broken, hurting people and healing them in some way, shape, or form. He takes emotionally broken people and restores their hope. He takes physically broken people and heals their body – so they can walk, see, hear, etc. He takes spiritually broken people and restores them to right-ness – casting out demons, teaching them to pray, etc. He walks alongside people and treats them with dignity, grace, mercy, and love.
Yet on the other hand, as i read through the Bible, i’m struck by how often Jesus calls people out on their sin. It’s not just once. He does it all the time. He does it with those who believe in him and those who don’t. He does it with religious leaders and those who had no idea who he was before they met him. He continually uses the Pharisees as an example, and often calls them out on their hypocrisy. To the point that a number of them are credited with following him afterwards (see John 19:38-42). He calls out a Samaritan woman who already had five husbands and was currently with a man who wasn’t even her husband (see John 4:1-38).
But i think (and i’ll take a great liberty here maybe to say that we can all agree) that Jesus calling people out on their sin was a loving act. If we can agree that it was a loving act, and if i’m supposed to be more Christ-like, then is it not a loving act if i call someone out on their sin? In fact, i should consider it a loving act when someone else calls me out on my sin. There’s accountability that happens when we love each other this way (of course this leads to a whole new discussion about judging others).
What about the time Jesus walked into the Temple, took the time to make a whip, and then used that whip to chase the people out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-22)? Most people would agree that this was a loving act on Jesus’ part. If that is the case, what does that say about how we ought to love others? I don’t think that this gives us license to beat people up and chase them from our churches. Not at all. But i think it does give us pause to think about what kind of things go on in our churches and perhaps some of those things should not be allowed. Perhaps.
When i think of how Jesus loved the people then, and how he loves me now, i can’t help but think of the interactions i have with my own children. Most of the time we have a lot of fun. We play, run around, goof off, and enjoy each other immensely. But every once in a while i have to be a little stern with my children, in an act of love, to instruct and guide them through life. Just the other day i was out with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. We were in a parking lot and i got her out of the van and reached back in to grab the diaper bag when i noticed that she was running into the parking lot. I yelled, loud enough to startle her and stop her in her tracks, and was able to stop her from getting run over by a car (we don’t yell in our household, so me simply raising my voice lets her know that something is not right). Most would agree that this was a loving act, even though technically, i raised my voice at my daughter.
There are other times when i need to stop and correct my children for their actions. This might involve a time-out, or else just stopping what we are doing, sitting together, and having a discussion about what has taken place. In the same way, as i spend time with God in reading, prayer, and meditation, he might take the time to correct me on something that i’ve done. We would say that this is done by a loving father, and i should take that correction lovingly and apply it to my life. To be more Christ-like.
If that’s how i should act when God lovingly corrects me, does it not follow that if God uses someone else to correct me, that i should embrace that correction? Rather than being offended that they would even have the guts to approach me, i should at the very least accept that maybe God is choosing to use that person to correct my behavior. If i can accept that God may in fact be using that person, then maybe i should accept the correction.
Or else, maybe i sense God is using me to correct someone else’s behavior. How can i approach someone in a loving, caring, gracious, and merciful manner, all while calling them out on their actions?
Regardless of either of these scenarios, most of the time in society today, this is viewed as harsh, critical judgment, no matter how gracious the conversation is that takes place. The question is, and this is where this whole process started for me, why?
Should Christians, in an effort to be more Christlike, differentiate between those in the church and those outside the church? Should our actions and the love we display to fellow believers differ from those who are not believers? Seeing how Jesus reacted to believers and the religious leaders of his day, it almost seems so. Jesus challenged religious leaders as well as his followers, often in a manner different from how he related to those who had no religious affiliation. Not every time. But a lot of the time.
So how do we love like Jesus loved?
How do we exemplify grace and mercy the way Jesus did? With the stranger down the street? With the stranger on the internet in a chat room or in the comments section on social media? With a loved one who may be making bad choices? With a co-worker who needs the love of Jesus in their life?
How do we love like Jesus loves?