So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
In our thinking about the Incarnate Christ we have been laying the foundation for one of the most important ideas we have yet to negotiate - that of Christ as our example. Our recognition of the fullness and integrity Christ’s own humanity and of the role of the Holy Spirit in His life ensure a sense of proximity to our own experience of discipleship.
There are of course aspects of Christ’ life and ministry that we cannot emulate, and should not try. And yet even these create the context for our imitation of Christ in those aspects we can and should. His substitutionary death, bearing our sin in our place before His Father, is not something we could replicate, even if we wanted to. But the fact that Jesus has done that means the power of sin in us is at least in principle broken. Christ bearing our sin paves the way for our bearing His righteousness, and for our beginning to work out that righteousness in the reality of our own experience by the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, it is the guarantee of our own resurrection and glorification.
There are at least three further restricting features as we seek to follow His example. The first is that Christ’s humanity was sinless. Although He took our humanity scarred as it is by the effects of sin, He did not take sinful flesh. By contrast we continue to live in these lowly bodies of death (see Rom.7:24; Phil.3:21). Secondly is the fact that Christ’s humanity is allied to His Divine Nature. This emblazons His genuine humanity as fire glows in metal, and adds a unique aspect to His relationship with the Spirit. And thirdly, the ‘measure’ of the Spirit seems at least quantitatively if not qualitatively different, and with it a perfect correspondence and co-operation between the Spirit and the Son. These all create a sense of discontinuity between Christ’s experience and ours, and limit the extent to which we can duplicate His life in our own. But when all is said and done, the continuity remains as well. There are keys ways in which Jesus in His incarnation provides a paradigm for Christian (i.e. authentically human) living. In the New Testament we see this working out in a couple of different ways.
Initially in the brute fact of the incarnation itself. The reality that our Lord was prepared to, and delighted in, becoming human is itself a model for Christian living. When the Philippians are struggling with pride, and the contentiousness it brings, Paul takes them back to the humility of Christ in surrendering His rights as God in order to become human, indeed a servant-human, a rejected human (Phil.2:5-8). When Paul seeks to inspire generosity in the Corinthian Church, he does it by appealing to Christ, who ‘though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (II Cor.8:9).
But there is also those examples drawn from Christ’s life after he has become incarnate. Peter, encouraging disciples to endure in suffering reminds them that Jesus left an example for them to follow: ‘when they hurled their insults at [Christ], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly‘ (I Pet.2:21-23). Similarly Hebrews inspires perseverance by calling us to imitate the psychology of Jesus: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:2-3).
With all the qualifications in place, understanding our discipleship as a learning to follow the example of Jesus is a good way to think about being a Christian. Jesus consciously taught His disciples from His own example (e.g. Matt.20:25-28), albeit in this qualified way. We are called to follow His example of servant heartedness, especially in leadership, but we are not to give our lives as a ransom for many. Some things only Jesus can do!
What do you think it means to grow as a Christian? How do you assess spiritual maturity? What do you think are the main obstacles to growth? How can we help each other grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus?
Do you think Jesus could have sinned? If not what is the point of His being tempted in the first place? Does Jesus’ sinlessness make it harder for us to identify with Him?
How can we learn from Jesus how to resist temptation?
Read John 13:1-17
Read v.14-15: Do you think we should in fact wash each other’s feet as part of our discipleship? …or as part of our worship service?
Why are the disciples unwilling to serve each other? Why do we find it so difficult? How do you know when you have genuinely served someone, and when you’ve done it from ulterior motives?
vv.6-9: Why does Peter feel so awkward about being served by Jesus?
What does Jesus mean in v.8, when He says that unless He washes Peter, he can have no part with Him?
v.10. Many Bible students see here a ‘parable’ of the cross. If it is that, how can we follow Jesus’ example? Surely we can’t cleanse people the way Jesus does?
How can we support each other as we seek to follow Jesus’ example - in this and in other instances such as those listed above?
v.17: What does it mean to be ‘blessed’? How compelling a motivation for you is the prospect of being blessed?
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
For further reflection:
In our next Jesus-Centred-Life term we will consider much more fully the work of Christ in His life, death, resurrection and ascension. But He is able to do what He does only because He is who He is, and because He is what He is. As we draw this term to a close here is a great quote from John Chrysostom who was Bishop of Constantinople at the end of the 4th century: ‘I do not think of Christ as God alone or as man alone, but as both together. For I know He was hungry, and I know that with five loaves He fed five thousand. I know He was thirsty, and I know He turned water into wine. I know He was carried in a ship and that He walked on water. I know that He died and that He raised the dead. I know that He stood before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father on His throne. I know that He was worshipped by angels, and I know that He was stoned by the Jews. And truly some of these I ascribe to the human and others to the Divine nature. For by reason of this He is said to [be] both God and Man’.
This uniting of His God-ness and His human-ness is not dissolved even in His death (though it does separate elements of His humanity, which are duly restored in His resurrection). It is in His enduring humanity, His glorified humanity, that Christ reigns, intercedes for the Church, and will return to judge the world. It is of a glorified Human that Paul writes when He says we will ‘be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Rom.8:29); and whom John says we will be like (I Jn.3:2). Our future is a human future, and ‘just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man’ (I Cor.15:49). Our origins and destiny are inexorably intertwined with the Man Jesus of Nazareth. For this we are truly grateful, and for this we will bow in worship for everlasting ages.