Jesus is a Bad Example

We can't follow an example that's designed to point us towards the kind of examples we're to follow.

Most people have role models. Growing up, many of my friends would throw out names like Michael Jordan, Carter Beauford, occasionally Bill Gates (I was always partial to Les Claypool). Some kids were brave enough to name their mom or dad. But all of that changed once we were on church grounds. Suddenly every kid had the same role model: Jesus.

We never said that to each other, but we felt obligated when asked by a Sunday School teacher or youth leader to fulfill our vow of piety and give the correct church answer. As I got older, I expected all of us to get more honest, but as it turns out, even grown-up Christians still play church. You might say that it's about time we all started getting serious about our pat answers and actually imitate Christ. But I can't help feeling that Jesus was never meant to be our role model.

The apostle Paul might as well be rolling in his grave since he was the one who told the Corinthian church, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Even Jesus told us to be perfect (read: complete) as our heavenly father is perfect. And we can't forget the oft-quoted Levitical refrain of be holy because God is holy. However, despite all evidence to contrary, mantras like WWJD can only produce a caricature of sanctification.

That's because the Jesus of the Bible is a character. Not in a he may or may not have been real kind of way, just in a literary sense. For example, the apostle John testified that the world couldn't contain all of the books that could be written about Jesus. In other words, the picture of the person of Jesus that we have is not complete. Yes, we're assured that he was tempted in every way like the rest of us, but we have no record of how he handled all of those temptations. And for those of us still under the age of thirty, we know almost nothing about Jesus' childhood.

Did he throw tantrums? Did he fight with his brothers? Did he masturbate (calm down, it's just another part of being fully human)? And since Jesus didn't live beyond his thirties, would he have had a mid-life crisis, or questioned his legacy, or dyed his hair? He also never married or had kids so what kind of husband and parent would he have been? Any answers to these questions would have to be pure conjecture because we simply don't have enough information. Which means that modeling our lives after an incomplete life would result in a similarly incomplete life.

Bible characters were never intended to be role models, and the character of Jesus wasn't written to serve an emulative purpose but rather a theological one. Only about three years of his life make their way onto the pages of Scripture because the emphasis was on God's plan of redemption for humanity made possible only through this one life. Which means that many of his recorded acts are inimitable.

When we try to imitate him anyway, we're chasing the victorious life. It's the model of a Jesus who never failed and had victory in all he did because, we surmise, he trusted God enough. And it's a pretty difficult act to follow since that verse in Hebrews goes on to say that he was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. That alone makes Jesus a bad example for us: he was perfect and we never will be in this life. He's a glimpse into our future and the firstfruits of a new life awaiting us, but he's someone we can never fully emulate.

So, if not Jesus, who should we seek as role models?

Each other. That's why Paul called the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ--because they knew him. Unlike the character, Jesus, they had only heard stories about, Paul was a person they had actually met. They hadn't met Jesus, but they had met someone who had.

None of us know Jesus the way that Paul did. Through the Spirit, we can see parts of him in others, but we'll never know him in this life the way the apostles did. That's why God gave us the church. No one person can claim to have an answer for What Would Jesus Do? because God chose to reveal himself through our accountability to each other. And just like the Bible doesn't have all the answers, we can't emulate a person about whom less has been written than an episode of Lost.

But we can emulate those who display the fruit of the Spirit. We don't need to know what Jesus would have done because we can see what he's doing in his people. Instead of imitating the biblical character of Jesus, we need only imitate the person of Jesus we find in others. No, they're not perfect and their example won't always lead us in the right direction so we have to be discerning with our role models. Thankfully, there are a lot more people on earth than there are words in the gospels.

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