The Imaginary Jesus

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Singer/entertainer Elton John recently suggested if Jesus were living today he’d be in favor of gay marriage.  A recent poll suggests that a majority of Americans (55%), believe Jesus would have backed universal healthcare.  I occasionally get responses from readers who insist Jesus would have written with more grace and understanding than I.  I’m sure that’s true.

What would Jesus do?  That question is often asked by believers and unbelievers alike to determine appropriate behavior.  It sounds like a good approach.  After all, 1 Peter 2:21 says Christ left us an example that we should follow in his steps.  So, how can anyone go wrong asking, “What would Jesus do?”

The problem is that question is sometimes used by people who have a limited understanding of who Jesus actually is, in order to advance their personal agenda.  They manufacture an imaginary Jesus who sees life exactly as they do.  The Jesus they conjure up may be considerably different than the Jesus revealed in Scripture but He conveniently places His stamp of approval on their individual preferences.  “I think this is what Jesus would do,” can be used to legitimize behavior and ideas that Jesus would never endorse.

Remember the old fable about the six blind men who tried to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body?  The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who grabs the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who holds the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who touches the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

The limited experience of those men skewed their perspective and none of them had a big-picture image of what an elephant was really like.  People who haven’t studied much about Jesus grab hold of a Biblical quotation like: “Don’t judge” (Matt. 7:1) and conclude since Jesus would never pass judgment on anyone’s behavior, neither should we.  They would say that He was all about forgiveness and tolerance.  They are unaware of Jesus’ teaching, “…judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24) and, “If your brother sins, rebuke him” (Luke 17:3).

By pulling out isolated verses of Scripture Jesus is made out to be a pacifist by some and a warmonger by others.  He’s imagined to be a harsh judge who delights in condemning people to hell or just the opposite a doting grandfather who would never hold anyone accountable for their sins.

Jesus was God in the flesh, therefore, He is multidimensional and sometimes complex.  He is compassionate, yet capable of discipline.  He is omniscient, confounding the most learned scholar, yet He is capable of communicating with a little child.  The Bible says, “As high as the heavens are above the earth so are God’s ways higher than our ways.”

Some might suggest that it’s impossible to really know God and therefore it’s arrogant for anyone to suggest they know what Jesus would do.  But Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Jesus taught that it’s possible to know who God is and to understand His will.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  We should learn to think with the mind of Christ.  But how do we do that?  How can we know what Jesus would do?

1. Become familiar with the Christ revealed in Scripture.  Read the gospels thoroughly.  But read the entire Bible because all of it is the teaching of Jesus.  Saturate your mind with the Word of God.  He will not contradict His word to accommodate popular opinion.  He prayed, “Sanctify them with the truth.  Your word is truth.”

2. Accept Him as your personal Savior.  When you become a Christian your sins are forgiven and you are granted the gift of the Holy Spirit who will guide you.  The Spirit enlightens you and helps interpret spiritual truth.

3. Walk in obedience to God’s revealed will.  If you are living in flagrant disobedience to God’s Word, you are quenching the Spirit and are not likely to discern truth in other areas.  “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6).  People who reject Christ as Savior and violate His commands have forfeited the right to suggest what Jesus would do in a specific situation.

4. Counsel with others who have a close relationship with Jesus.  There is wisdom in many Godly counselors.  If mature believers are in agreement as to what Jesus would do and you reach the opposite conclusion, chances are you are prideful, rebellious and your Jesus is one of convenience.

5. Pray for wisdom.  The Bible promises, “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God who grants it to all men liberally without finding fault.”  If you want to know what Jesus would have you do, sincerely pray about it and He will grant you wisdom to follow in His steps.

J. Vernon McGee once pointed out we could refuse to pay state taxes and insist, “My governor would never punish me for refusing to pay taxes. He’s a generous man.”  However, it wouldn’t matter what your imaginary governor would or would not do.  There is an actual governor who has the mind-set to levy taxes and the authority to hold you accountable.

McGee adds, “Frankly, it doesn’t matter what your imagined Jesus would do.  There is a real Jesus and before answering a question about what he would do it would be wise to get acquainted with Him by studying the book that reveals exactly who He is and what it means to follow in His steps.”

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