Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus.

photo-1421809313281-48f03fa45e9fI’ve always wondered what the phrase “be like Jesus” meant.

Does it mean to copy His appearance? If so, does that mean I had to grow a beard, sow my own clothes, and chuck my shoes for some sandals?

Does it mean to imitate His personality? Then does that mean I have to swap my hyena laugh for a sanctified snicker? Sing softer in the shower? Or replace my srilankanamerican accent for a more middle-eastern one?

Or does it mean to mimic his character?  Be more loving? Caring? Inclusive?

However way you look at it, there were people in history who made it their life’s aim to be like Jesus.
One such individual was the apostle Paul who appeals to his readers to “imitate him as he imitates Christ.” In another letter, he encourages some church folk to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run the race of faith.

As a matter of fact, both scripture and history are replete with individuals who proclaimed that the strongest argument for Christianity were Christians who acted like Jesus.

This even resonated with the famous Indian liberationist Mahatma Gandhi, who made the following statement:

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”


Here’s the bottom line:  Christ-like behavior is the acid-test of true Christianity.

But here’s the thing..

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus.

“Wait a minute, Kev. How can you be like Jesus without focusing on being like him??”

Buckle up.

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. The word that needs to be sharpied and spotlighted in that sentence is focus.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that focusing on being like Jesus was the way to do this Christianity thing. I thought I was supposed to focus on walking, talking, and acting like Jesus to display his character.

And I tried. I tried my best to be more loving, be more caring, and be more inclusive.  I tried my utmost to be Jesus-y with others, especially towards my non-Christian friends to be “salt” and “light.” I tried my best to have the right thoughts, the right actions, and the right behaviors.
But instead of becoming more like Jesus, I found myself becoming more disappointed.

Because the more I focused on being like Jesus, the less I focused on Jesus and more on my works.

Check out how Dallas Willard puts it in his book Renovations of the Heart:

“The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deadening legalisms…”


Now let’s just say that my trying to be like Jesus actually made me more like Jesus. If that was true ( and I wish it was sometimes! ) the object of glory will then be my works instead the grace of Christ!

Inevitably, my spirituality will become my savior while my Savior will be used for my spirituality.

Christians should not focus their efforts on being like Jesus. In theological jargon, that’s called “righteousness by works” and that’s not how the game’s played.

“So Kevin, if I am to be like Jesus, and focusing on being like him is not going to get me there, what else am I supposed to do??”

Glad you asked. Here’s my answer and the seminal point of this post:

Christians should not focus on being like Jesus. Christians should focus on being with Jesus.

In John 15, Jesus preaches a sermon where he likens himself to a grape vine and his followers to attached branches. Then he makes a remarkable statement:

“If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice. The branches were not asked to focus on producing fruit ( good works) to produce fruit. They were asked to remain with the vine so they can bear fruit.

Christians are not called to produce fruit. They are called to bear fruit.
Christians are not called to focus on producing Christ-like behavior. Christians are called to bear the characteristics of Christ by remaining with Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul when he says that it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.

So when you are with Jesus, spending time alone with him, talking with him, meditating on his love for you, and receiving his grace, He will transform you from the inside out. The more we admit we are powerless to beat sin and inculcate Christ-like behavior by ourselves, the more we open our souls to the work of God to change us into the likeness of Christ.

But isn’t that works? Yes it is. A lot of works.
But the most important work of a Christian is to focus all the efforts in being with Jesus in word, thought, and deed.
This requires you to forgo your need to prove your worth to God so that Jesus guide and transform you.
That’s probably why Oswald Chambers says

“all I do ought to be founded on a perfect oneness with Him, not on a self-willed determination to be holy.”

Don’t focus on being like Jesus. Focus on being with Jesus. And He will make you more like Him.

What are your thoughts? What are some ways you can start being with Jesus instead of trying to be like him?
Leave a comment below!


Published by Kevin Wilson

Third-Culture Kid. Millenial. Christian. Seventh-Day Adventist. More about me on the ABOUT page! Check it out!

22 thoughts on “Why Christians Should Not Focus On Being Like Jesus.

  1. YEEESSSSSSS! This was great title to hook me in because I was like, “WHAT?!” And then I read it 🙂 SO well done. The goal is to with Him and then we grow into His likeness. Thank you!

    1. haha it was all intentional, Ashley! tried to be a little snarky with the title and I guess it worked 🙂 This is something I have to work on everyday; to be with him and not focus on being like him. Thank you for being here! 🙂

  2. Good point Kevin. Going with the theme of your blog “cross-cultural Christian”, I see another pitfall with trying to be ‘like’ Jesus. In North America Jesus is thought of as a white, well-dressed, vegeterian male, in some other places as a radical long-haired social critic who rebels against all social norms, yet in other places as a mad vagabond, etc. So trying to be ‘like’ Jesus can be an endeavour driven by cultural preferences, whereas seeking to be with Jesus means that I am giving Him permission to defy my cultural expectations and to help me become truly cross-cultural Christian. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Wow! that is so true! “be like Jesus? what Jesus are you talking about?” is a legitimate question. Your connection to the theme of this blog is also brilliant, bro. I wonder to what extent has my picture of Jesus been colored by my cultural background. Mercy. Thanks for being here broski!

  3. Very interesting read Kevin!
    i like the content of your writing. Also its good to be reminded to spend time with Jesus for his love and power to transform our characters from within.

  4. At first I was like “What did the seminary do the KEVIN!?” Lol. It was such a good read. Thank you for the reminder that nothing is more important than being WITH Jesus.


  5. Just to repost what I said via Facebook:

    “You’ve got it exactly right, Kev. That is what takes a lot of people down a completely wrong path trying to do it on their own. The coolest thing that I’ve learned about God over the past 8 months or so is that He doesn’t expect us to fix ourselves or stop sinning… Actually, the definition of sin really comes down to anything that temporarily (or long-term) disconnects the relationship that we have with Christ, as opposed to specific actions we do. If we focus on actually knowing Jesus on a daily basis, we won’t be able to help BUT to become more like him. It goes back to that whole, ‘you become who you surround yourself with’ adage, and it is absolutely spot-on.”

    Again, great post bro! Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks for posting the comment bro! I think it was Karl Haffner who said that you don’t grow by trying; you grow by eating. That stuck with me since then bro. The only way to grow is to abide in Jesus! learning that now after all this time! Thank you for the reinforcer. 🙂

  6. Kevin this is powerful,I was confused but it came to make sense now, I was like is this the same Kevin I know, but I got it right and this is very interesting and amazing,may God help us to realize to be with him, know him and have time with him, God bless your ministry

  7. Gives pause to think about the slogan WWJD and songs like Be like Jesus is my song. All such are misplaced without a relationship with Christ. So for those who see and hear such who are not Christians it really gives the wrong message.

    Since HE took the initiative to do what would be impossible for us before we agreed with HIM(He knows your fully worth it), we should have no doubt about proving HIS worth to others

    1. Nigel uncle, I would go even as far as to say that WWJD and “be like Jesus” songs don’t, in and of themselves, are vapid and misleading. When you ask, “what would Jesus do?” my response is another query: “what Jesus are you talking about?” Our conception of the historical Jesus is inevitably influenced by our cultural preferences. And eventually, it’s a focus on my works based on my understanding of Jesus, not on Christ himself.

      Thanks for being here uncle. Keep churning those thoughts!

  8. Respecfully, Kevin, I disagree.

    I’m sure you agree with much of what I’m about to say. A lot of this hinges on semantics. But you did demote “being like” to second place, so let me articulate and argument for why “being with” should be in second place ;).

    The idea that being “with” Christ will magically transform us into compassionate souls is wonderful and all. And clearly many people believe that we can give Christ the responsibilty of understanding what compassion is, and we need simply pray and meditate in a committed and authentic way, and He will imbue us with the transformative knowledge we need to put compassion into practice. So I’m sure many people will disagree with me here, and that’s okay. I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and Unitarians have always tended toward a practical and heretical understanding of the gospel.

    But what bothers me is that a primary focus on being ‘with Christ,’ or worse, a primary focus on Christ as merely an atonement for our sins (I’m not accusing you of the latter), removes *detail* from our conversations about compassion. We risk offloading the responsibility for learning about love onto the Holy Spirit.

    In Christianity, I feel that the entire study of love is constantly at risk of being offloaded onto mysticism, to the point that the church doesn’t have anything powerful and direct left to say on how to make the world a better place through compassion and forgiveness.

    It’s not clear to me that the Spirit was ever supposed to be a replacement for discipleship to Christ. You can have a great relationship *with* Christ and still be woefully ignorant of basic principles of how love can transform conflict, etc. Maybe you don’t have to study to get saved, but you have to study to learn.

    Discipleship to a master means we learn, practice, we try to put things in our own words, and then we go back to the master for advice on how to refine our practice and make our understanding more detailed. That’s different than letting the master take complete control.

    The faith vs. works debate concerns salvation, not virtue. Once you reach the point where you are not anxious about “earning” a place in heaven, it is perfectly appropriate to make the question of “being like Christ” front and center. The goal isn’t to earn something for myself. The goal is to *be* something for the benefit of others, and to participate in the beautiful logic of God’s love because it’s just that profound and compelling. To paraphrase Michael Servetus, “loving is more central to the Kingdom than believing.”

    I think the study of love and what it means to put it into practice is a very important part of theology, and it needs to be on equal or greater footing with both soteriology and the concept of a relationship with God. The church should first and foremost have powerful things to teach the world about love that even people who don’t believe in Jesus or God can learn from.

    But we Unitarians have been saying that for 500 years, I suppose, and we’re considered odd ducks. *shrug.*

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