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To Be Like Jesus

by Gary C. Hampton


            Most of us have seen a little boy with his toy lawnmower following his dad as he mows the lawn. Many of us have also witnessed the awkward movements of a little girl wearing a pair of her mother’s high heels, a necklace, hat, gloves and overly long dress. It invariably brings a smile to the face of grandparents who see their grandchildren striving so desperately to be like their parents.


Similarly, God is pleased when Christians strive daily to emulate his Son, Jesus. After describing his own willingness to give up things which were perfectly lawful for him to have, Paul urged the brethren at Corinth to, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).[1] Peter instructed the “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Among other things, he told them, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (2:21). In other words, when a Christian asks, “Why am I here?” one clear answer is, “To be like Jesus.”




Though our society emphasizes self and personal greatness, those who wish to be like Jesus must recognize that he came to serve and not be served. The other ten disciples were very upset when they realized James and John’s mother was asking for each of them to be seated in a place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Greatness in Jesus’ kingdom will not be seen in exalted positions but lowly service, as Jesus’ response clearly indicates. In part, He said, “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28).


            Perhaps the most powerful demonstration of Jesus’ servant attitude is found in John 13, as He ate the Passover with the twelve just hours before his betrayal and crucifixion. It was customary for a towel, basin full of water and servant to be provided for such occasions so the feet of the guests could be washed before supper. Though the towel and basin were present, no servant was there. John reports Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (4-5).


            When he had finished, Jesus took his garments, sat down and began to speak.


Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (12b-15).


The image of their Lord stooping to wash their feet must have been indelibly burned into the memories of all the twelve. Perhaps it helped them endure the persecutions and death that were to follow.


            Today, those who would follow Jesus must ever be on the lookout for opportunities to serve others. Paul instructed members of the churches of Galatia, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:9-10). James saw attending to the needs of widows and orphans as a true demonstration of the type of religion the Lord would have each of us to follow (James 1:27).


            The greatest means of serving others is through teaching them the gospel of Christ. In the middle of discussing his right to receive wages for preaching the gospel, Paul makes a powerful statement. “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19). Of the word translated “servant,” Thayer says, “metaphorically give myself wholly to one’s needs and service, make myself a bondman to him.”[2] We could say Paul made himself a slave to all people so he might win more to Christ.




            For one to serve like Jesus, he must ultimately display a willingness to sacrifice like Jesus. Paul described the Savior’s humble sacrifice with the following words,


Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).


Knowing the Son of God sacrificed all the glory, power and praise of heaven to come to earth to suffer and die for me ought to motivate me to give up whatever is necessary to gain a full knowledge of him.


If anyone could have placed confidence in fleshly accomplishments, Paul was that man. He listed his credentials in Philippians 3:4-6. They show he was a Jew in high standing. While the Ishmaelite was circumcised at 13 and the proselyte in mature life when he accepted Judaism,[3] the apostle to the Gentiles was born a Jew and circumcised on the eighth day, in accord with the law. Further, he was of the tribe of Benjamin, whose father and Joseph were Jacob's favorites. King Saul came from Benjamin and that tribe remained loyal during the rebellion of Absolom. The apostle was also a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents.  He was a Pharisee, which was a sect that set up strict rules to live by (Acts 23:6‑9; 7:54‑8:3; 9:1‑2).  His reputation for trying to keep every detail of this legalistic, outer righteousness was blameless (Phil. 3:4‑6; Gal. 1:13‑14).


Because of the above list, Paul had once counted himself a spiritual millionaire.  At the time he wrote this letter, he saw himself as bankrupt before he found Christ (Matthew 5:3; Mark 8:34‑38; Ephesians 2:8‑9; Titus 3:5).  To become a Christian, Paul had set aside the pride of the self‑made man (Philippians 3:7). The apostle forfeited, or suffered the loss, of all he once held dear and counted it a good swap for the knowledge of Christ (Matt. 13:44‑46).  Jesus says we can either deny self or be cast away (Luke 9:23‑25; the words "cast away" and suffered the loss" come from the same Greek word). 


Shepherd says "knowledge" is much more than intellectual.  It "includes faith, service, sacrifice, and is analogous to the phrase 'to be in Christ'—the spiritual knowledge by which the individual becomes one with Christ, so that his whole life is lived in Christ and he has no consciousness of being apart from Christ."[4]  This kind of knowledge would, of course, grow as one grew in service of the master.  Paul said he counted all that was once important to him as refuse to win Christ (Philippians 3:8).


            Those following Christ are also willing to sacrifice to help others find the way to the Savior. It should also motivate me to give up whatever is necessary to help my brother remain true to his Lord.


Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 8 help us see how such a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of our brethren will play out in our lives. Despite the fact that there is only one true God, the apostle indicated some converts still held a feeling of reverence for the idols they had long worshiped. They would have sinned in eating meat offered to such idols. In contrast, the eating or not eating meats had no effect on the strong brother's relationship with God. The apostle argued that since it does not make one any better in God's sight, his concern should have been for its effect upon others (7‑9).


It is a sin against Christ to so lead a weak one to sin (Mat. 18:6). Paul's conclusion was that Christians should not take advantage of their liberty because of its effect on others. Exercising their freedom without consideration for their brethren would be placing a snare or trap in the path of a weak brother (12‑13)




            The Son of God’s humble sacrifice at Calvary arose, in part, out of his overarching desire to do the Father’s will. The book of John is filled with statements of Jesus which show he intended to speak the Father’s words and do the Father’s will throughout his walk on earth.


            At the well in Samaria, the Master said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (4:34). To those who would follow him because of the bread he miraculously gave them, Jesus stated, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (6:38). In the temple, he declared, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (7:16). In an intense discussion with the Pharisees, the Lord revealed, “I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him” (8:26).


            Following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Christ proclaimed,


He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me….He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak (12:44-45, 48-49).


Immediately following the parable of the vine and the branches, Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (15:10). Just before his betrayal, Jesus prayed,

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me (17:4-8).

Then, it should come as no surprise that he would pray as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). All who would imitate the Savior must make the pursuit of the Father’s will the very core of their lives. Nothing should be done out of selfish motives.


            Those who would be like Jesus must eagerly search the Scriptures to know God’s will for their lives. Luke described the Bereans’ reception of Paul’s preaching in vivid terms, when he wrote, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Once we determine God’s will for our lives, we must act in a manner consistent with the things we have learned. The wise man who built his house upon rock is representative of the one who hears the words of Jesus and does what he says, while the foolish man is the one who hears but never does act upon the message he hears (Matt. 7:24-27). We must hear and do the Father’s will to be like the Savior and have our spiritual house on a solid foundation.




            As one who always sought to do the Father’s will, Jesus repeatedly exhibited a heart of compassion. In the New Testament, the word most often translated “compassion” is the Greek word, “splagchnizomai.” Thayer says it means, “to be moved to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity).”[5] Isaiah, the Messianic prophet, portrayed Jesus’ compassion in poetic terms. “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young” (40:11).


            An incident during his earthly ministry vividly portrays the Lord’s compassion. Mark reports,


Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed (1:40-42).


Remember, the leper was required to place his hand over his lip and warn anyone who approached with the pronouncement, “Unclean, unclean.” One wonders how long it had been since this leper had felt a kind, loving touch from another human being. Now, though he could easily have cleansed him without ever touching him, Jesus touches the leper and makes him whole, an evident display of compassion.


            The events leading up to the issuance of what has been described as the limited commission are found in Matthew 9:35-38, where it is reported, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”


These verses contain the reasons why Jesus separated his apostles from himself, and scattered them among the people. The masses of the people of Galilee had been deeply stirred by the teaching and miracles of Jesus, but they knew not as yet what direction was to be given to this popular movement. They were in a bewildered state, like shepherdless sheep, scattered over the hills and faint from running. The twelve were to assist him as undershepherds in gathering these sheep. In the second figure Jesus likens the people to a ripened harvest, and he sends the apostles among them as reapers who shall garner them.[6]


So, the Lord’s compassion was extended to those in spiritual despair as well as those in physical need. Such is clearly seen again when Jesus overlooks Jerusalem just hours prior to his death. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).


            It would be impossible to fully emulate our Lord without similarly demonstrating compassion for those who are suffering physically and spiritually. God’s people should display tender care for those who are sick or bereaved by the loss of a loved one. Further, Christ’s followers will constantly be seeking ways to share the good news with a lost and dying world.




            There was only one way for a fully compassionate person to respond to crucifixion, forgiveness. After all, our Lord was more focused on the needs of others than he was his own needs. So, looking out over that angry multitude, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).


            Those who would follow the Lord’s example must spend some time with his teaching on forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-35. In the normal course of human relations, one brother will sin against another.  Jesus prescribed that the offended brother should go to the one who sinned against him in an effort to restore his brother. This was in stark contrast to the teaching of the Jewish rabbis who said the offending party must make an effort to correct the problem in the presence of witnesses. Sometimes, they even required such to be repeated three times.[7]  Obviously, their concern was not for the condition of the offender. Instead, they practiced a form of humiliation.  Of course, if the offending party was aware of the offense, he too was obligated to correct the problem (Matthew 5:23‑24).


Even if the brother was not restored in the first approach, Jesus directed his followers to take one or two others with him.  They could help deal with the matter in an effort to restore the brother.  The loving way to handle the matter focused on gaining the lost brother.  It was only after taking the matter to the church, without success, that the brother was to be treated as one who refused the knowledge of God.


Peter's response to the Lord's instruction makes it clear he did not understand the heart of love. In light of the rabbis’ teaching, Peter probably thought he was being generous when he asked if he should forgive his brother up to seven times. However, Jesus' answer shows he was more concerned with his disciples having the type of loving heart that could truly forgive.  Then, numbering offenses would be out of the question. Actually, the bounds of a Christian's forgiveness should be the same as the bounds to God's forgiveness.  After all, those who would be children of God must strive to exhibit the love of their Father (Matthew 5:43‑48).  Such thinking is apparently behind the parable Jesus went on to tell.


The King in this parable stands for God.  He called in his servants to settle accounts.  One was brought before him who owed 10,000 talents, an amount which could never have been repaid. God's wonderful love for mankind can be seen in the king's willingness to forgive such a great debt (Psalm 103:12; 130:7). God is willing to take the deep stain of sin and remove it if we will but obey. To those who are willing to repent and be changed by baptism into a new man, he has promised a complete blotting out of sin. To those in Christ who confess, he promises faithfully to forgive (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9).


The servant clearly did not appreciate what the king had done for him as is seen when he demands immediate payment of a small amount owed him by his fellow servant. He would not even give him time to come up with the money but cast him into debtors' prison. Shocked by his actions, his fellow servants report the incident to the king. When the King heard what had happened, he was angry. He expected his servant to imitate his forgiveness. Because he had not, the master restored his original debt and delivered him to the torturers until he had repaid the whole debt. Imagine the unending goal of repaying such a debt from within prison walls!  It would be an eternal process filled with suffering. Jesus’ warning, "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses," reminds us we all will stand condemned in eternity without his merciful sacrifice.




            Everything Jesus did flowed from his determination to be obedient to his Father. At Calvary, Jesus submitted completely to God's will passing through an hour in which he suffered the deepest possible human suffering and learned the cost of obeying God's command. Those sufferings made him our perfect Savior and qualified him to offer the sacrifice for sins that would lead to man's salvation (Heb. 5:8-10). Such salvation is at once eternal and available to all who will obey his commands (John 3:16-17; 14:15).  The word “author" points to Christ as "the concrete and active cause of it"[8] (our salvation). The writer of Hebrews went on to quote Psalm 110:4 again to prove God appointed Christ to be a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He was appointed by God and satisfied all of the requirements of this position.


Paul made it plain how far Jesus went in his obedience when he told the Philippian brethren, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (2:6-8). Christ took the form of a servant when he became a man. After all, man was created as a servant. His whole existence is fulfilled in obedient service to God (Ecc. 12:13). As God, he did not have to die, but he chose to obediently lay down his life for our sakes (John 10:17‑18; Heb. 2:14‑15). He did it because of the joy that would result from his sacrifice, despite having to suffer the worst death known (Heb. 12:2; Deut. 21:22‑23; Gal. 3:13).


All who have become Christians die to self. Their total life’s goal should center in living as Jesus would live. Paul described his own life as a Christian in Galatians 2:20, when he stated, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” His obedience serves as a constant reminder of our need to totally yield to the will of the Father in heaven.




            The very name Christian suggests we are followers of Christ. Every Christian should give his all to be like Jesus. He came to be a servant so we should seek opportunities to serve others, especially by teaching them the gospel. His sacrifice on Calvary made it possible for us to be free from sin. We should be willing to sacrifice everything so we might know him and help others keep on living for him.


            Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to do the will of the Father. If we are to be like him, we must constantly study the Bible to determine his will for our lives and then pursue it. Following God’s will causes us to exhibit compassion for those in any type of need, especially spiritual. When we are compassionate, we will also forgive. Then, like our Savior, we will be obedient to God’s instructions in all we do. Being like Jesus prepares us to more fully know him in eternity.


[1] All Scripture citations will be taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977, p. 158.

[3] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol IV, J. W. Shepherd, ed., Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1939, p. 201.

[4] Ibid, p. 204.

[5] Thayer, p. 584.

[6] J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel, Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Foundation, n.d., p. 363.

[7] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d., p. 378.

[8] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966, p.


Gary C. Hampton