As Christians, we want to be like Jesus. We desire to think as Jesus would and react in a manner that resembles him. We want to speak words of life and to love selflessly. Christlikeness is important to us, but how do we increasingly become like Jesus?
One school of thought says that we become like Jesus by modeling our lives after him. Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, explains it this way: “We can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”[i] The idea is that Jesus left us pathways to follow. When we do so, Willard says, “We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father.”[ii] Jesus fasted, so we fast. Jesus prayed, so we pray. We see a regular rhythm of solitude and silence in Jesus’ life as he often withdrew from the crowds to spend time with his Father, and we should do the same.
There is great reward in modeling your life after Jesus.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus brings us closer to him and his way of life. Paul calls us to “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). This “imitation of Christ” approach has great value when it comes to training ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). For example, when we fast during Lent, we vicariously enter into the temptations of Jesus when he was led by the Spirit to fast in the wilderness for forty days. (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Such imitation establishes patterns of behavior—spiritual muscle memory, if you will—that we draw upon when needed.
Having said that, if we actually want to be like Jesus, we can’t stop here. This approach to Christlikeness still has us looking in the spiritual rearview mirror. It’s still past tense in its perspective. Jesus, however, told us how to become like him in the present tense when he said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40).
We become like our teachers.
Therefore, if Jesus is your teacher, then you will become like him. So the ultimate path to Christlikeness is to be discipled by Jesus himself.
Have you chosen Jesus as your teacher?
Have you ever wondered why the disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Prayer is extremely important in our relationship with God. It’s essential to a vibrant, meaningful relationship with him, but Jesus didn’t take the initiative in teaching his disciples about this. Rather, they had to ask him for his teaching. In Luke 11 we are told that, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).
Jesus lived a prayer-dependent life.
Luke remarks often about the prayer life of Jesus.
“And as he was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21).
“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place” (Luke 4:42).
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).
“He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41).
Jesus prayed all of the time.
Not only before big moments like his baptism, the feeding of the five thousand, or the choosing of his twelve disciples, but also as a normal part of life. Jesus was found praying late at night in the dark, early in the morning as the sun was rising, and in solitary, lonely places. Jesus was so passionate about prayer that he overturned the tables in the temple and proclaimed, “My house will be a house of prayer” (Luke 19:46).
Yet, Jesus didn’t teach his disciples how to pray. Other rabbis did. The disciples pointed out that even John had taught his disciples to pray. But it wasn’t until they implored him, “Lord, teach us to pray” that Jesus delivered the perfect curriculum (complete with analogies, specific instructions, and the Lord’s Prayer) for those who desire to talk to God (Luke 11:2-13). You don’t get the sense that Jesus forgot to teach them these things. No, it seems like he was just waiting for them to ask.
This makes me wonder if Jesus is waiting for us to ask too.
Not just about prayer but about everything. If we want to know something about life with God, Jesus is more than willing to answer our questions. What do you want to know about the spiritual life? Have you asked Jesus to teach you?
Take your requests to Jesus:
Lord teach us . . .
. . . to pray.
. . . to fight sin.
. . . to love our neighbors as ourselves.
. . . to bless those who curse us.
. . . to turn the other cheek.
. . . to forgive.
. . . to love unconditionally.
. . . to pick up our cross and follow you.
Lord, teach us.
What do you want him to teach you?
Jesus is the greatest teacher, but he waits for us to walk into the classroom, take our seats, and raise our hands. Maybe the old adage is true: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Jesus is ready, willing, and able to be your pastor and to teach you directly. You and I can be discipled by Jesus. Are you wondering how this all works? Practically, how can we be led, loved, and taught by Jesus even though he is not physically present with us? Robert Gelinas, pastor at Colorado Community Church in Aurora, Colorado has written a book about it. To learn more, read the first chapter of Discipled by Jesus: Your Ongoing Invitation to Follow Christ. You can buy the book at NavPress.com or wherever Christian books are sold.
[i] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), ix.
[ii] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, ix.