We’ve all heard it before, maybe we’ve even said it, “Just be Jesus to the person in front of you.” While this is an admirable thought, it is a practical impossibility.
Being Jesus means perfection. It requires that an individual be as wise, as supernaturally strong and, among other things, as able to resist sin as Christ.
The reality is that we are not wise – we fail regularly in knowing what to do. We have no supernatural strength on our own – we pray for healing and/or restoration and sometimes fail to see the outcome we desire. And we are unable to consistently resist sin – we constantly fall short of the glory of God in our daily lives. In other words, we are clearly not able to be God. Only Jesus can be fully and uniquely divine while being fully and uniquely human.
Ambassadors Not Kings
We often formulate this idea that we must be Jesus from Christ’s words in John 17:18, “As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
What happens is that we assume Jesus’ words have to do with replicating His exact actions. But this would make us responsible to be Christ in every way, including healing the blind with mud and spit and casting people out of the temple with a whip.
Christ’s meaning in this passage and in a similar text in John 21 is that He is sending His followers to be fully committed witnesses who are obedient and dependent upon the One who sent them.
Another passage that causes us to assume the responsibility of Jesus is 1 John 2:6, “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
Again, this does not mean living a life exactly like Christ’s. The way in which we are to live, as the context directs, has to do with reflecting the character of Jesus Christ.
A more comprehensive look at the New Testament actually demonstrates that instead of being Jesus, Christ commands us to be His witnesses (see Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8) to all people throughout the world. The Apostle Paul also provides a helpful synonym; he calls us “Christ’s ambassadors.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) A witness represents the truth, and an ambassador represents a ruler. Jesus Christ is both and we are neither.
A Savior Complex
To be Jesus in our local contexts is not only impossible, it is also assuming a burden that is not ours to carry. We are not expected to be the incarnate Christ on this earth. The unfortunate consequence of this assumption is that we become “rescuers” and desire to be the ones who “save” others, when this is not our assignment.
The way this affects our ministries is twofold. In a corporate sense, this perspective creates a warped sense of mission that can have harmful paternalistic consequences in many multicultural settings as we attempt to rescue as Christ did. For example, if one culture views itself as saving another, the result is often both subtle and overt attacks on ethnic dignity.
On a more personal level, the need to be Jesus keeps us in rhythms of forced perfection and over-dependence on ourselves. Every time we fail, we crumble rather than resting in forgiveness. Every time someone doesn’t come to faith or start to demonstrate fruit, we assume the weight of their spiritual fate, rather than trust that God is in control of salvation, not us.
You and I are not supposed to be Jesus. Our calling is to be His witnesses and, like John the Baptist, point joyfully to Him and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
John M. Ames is the church planting pastor of what is now Faith Community Church in Providence, RI.