This article is part of the What Did Jesus Teach? series.
Imitating Jesus in the World
Instead of retreating, isolating ourselves, and condemning unbelievers and our culture, Jesus calls us to something very different. He desires that we give ourselves to the understanding of the culture around us; he urges us to stop condemning the world and unbelievers; his passion is for us to listen to his prayer for us, that we might be in the world as he was in the world; he is eager for us to imitate him and to give our lives gladly to love and to serve non-Christians. His desire is that we be like him, and that we commit ourselves to developing intimate relationships with non-Christians. He wants us to teach our church members and our children to do the same—no matter what the belief system and the lifestyle of the people around us.
Jesus, the Son of God, shows us the way to be in the world. It is my deep conviction that our evangelism, both in theory and practice, must be shaped not only by the general teaching of Scripture but also, indeed most of all, by imitating the pattern of Christ.
Now, it is no simple matter to say: “Imitate Jesus.” We are not all called to be celibate like him. Nor are we all called by the Lord to be itinerant evangelists. Nor is every Christian commanded by our Father to be healers of all who are sick with every kind of disease (though we often wish we could do this when someone we love is sick or dying). It is not our place to turn water into wine at every wedding celebration we attend (though we might wish we could!). Nor is every believer asked by the Lord to die in early maturity as a martyr. We are not called to imitate Christ in every aspect of his life—so much is evident. But, in what ways are we to imitate him?
Jesus’s Moral Perfection
We are to observe the way God’s moral perfection shines forth from him. We see how he lives a human life that is fully conformed to the image of God. We hear him committed to speaking only the words the Father wants him to say, and to say every word in a manner that delights the Father’s heart. We see him waking up each morning eager to listen to his Father’s voice and to do whatever pleases him. We learn that he does everything set before him in the power of the Spirit.
As we observe this perfection in his life and in his words we can draw ethical teaching for the lives of all believers. We can also draw principles to govern our practice for all our relationships with others, both believers and unbelievers, and for all our communication of the truth. These lessons that we can learn by considering the example of Jesus will apply to all Christians—including those who have the particular calling to be teachers and evangelists.
Jesus’s Eternal Glory
What are some of the convictions that we hold about Jesus? All Christians acknowledge that he is the Creator of all things who upholds this universe by the Word of his power. He is the one who all through history has revealed his glory through the unwritten words of creation. He is the eternal Word bringing light to those who dwell in darkness. He is the mighty God who was born as a human baby that he might become our Savior. He is the great High Priest who prays for the forgiveness of his enemies. He is the one who died for unbelievers and who rose again to justify them before God. He is the one who will come again to reign with all those who put their hope in him.
We should most of all be asking the Lord to do his work in the hearts of those we long to see come to faith.
The Greatest Evangelist
In addition to these glorious truths, when we look at Jesus’s life and ministry we also see that he was the greatest evangelist. In his earthly ministry he was the light of the world, the one who always lived in a way that was pleasing to his Father. Therefore, he was the one above all others who made the truth about God beautiful and lived in this world attracting those around him to the Father. He was the one who in every moment of his life for thirty-three years filled every word he spoke with grace and truth.
Now that he is raised and ascended to the Father’s right hand, he continues his saving work. He, even now, is the one who draws men and women to himself, so that, whenever we seek to obey his call and take up the task of evangelism, we discover that he has already done the hard work. We are simply his fellow laborers. This conviction that Jesus does the main work of calling people to faith is a truth that all Christians affirm when we reflect on how people are saved. However, it is often forgotten when preachers climb into the pulpit and proclaim the gospel. It is all too easy to begin to think that it is our preaching gifts, or our exposition of the Word, that is the primary means of salvation. But, it is not just preachers who forget that Jesus does the greatest part of the work of bringing others to faith. We all tend to lose our memories when we get into conversation with our unbelieving family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. We begin to think that it is all up to us, when in reality, along with our efforts, we should most of all be asking the Lord to do his work in the hearts of those we long to see come to faith.
Jesus is the greatest evangelist. As we read the four Gospels we learn that Jesus is the best example of how we are to relate to those we meet, whatever their views, whatever their way of life. He is the best example of how we are to live before unbelievers and how we are to love them, serve them, and speak truth to them. We may also add that his apostles, as his first representatives whom he sent out into the world, learned to obey his command to go to all the nations with the gospel; and they also learned to imitate the example Jesus had set in his life.
This article is adapted from Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs.