Monday, April 04, 2011

The Difference Between "WWJD" and "JHCIPYTITM".

Many of you are familiar with the phrase or question, "What Would Jesus Do?" or 'WWJD'.  It certainly was popular in the mid-nineties and it started showing up on wristbands and shirts that people wore.  You still see a number of them around today.  At face value, it is indeed a very good question.  The intention of the phrase, question, and the artifacts on which it was inscribed was to remind us all to try and live our lives as much as possible the way we believe Jesus may have lived it, or in its widest application, to live it in such a way as Jesus would want us to live it today.  Very honorable intentions indeed.  I too thought it 'neat'.  However, I believe we need to be careful of some of its implications as well as some of its limitations.

The whole idea it is believed came from a book entitled In His Steps and written by Charles Sheldon late in the 19th century.  The plot, at its simplest, was about a number of characters who agreed that for one year they would not make any decisions in their lives without asking the question, "What Would Jesus Do?"  As a teenager it was indeed one of my favorite books.  There are some who have rejected the WWJD trend as a 'fad' simply because they found error in much of the author's theology, seeing him as a 'liberal' and that may be.  For me at least however, it is not a sound policy to reject something of value because you disagree with the proponent on other issues.  To do so would be akin to rejecting a weatherman's warning of the likelihood of showers being 100% simply because he drinks and smokes and you don't.  It may be acceptable, however, to consider such arguments if indeed, as Ryan Habbena has suggested in his blog, "The 'W.W.J.D.?' Phenomenon -- Evangelism or Liberal Ethical System", the phrase has 'liberal' undertones.

Habbena points out, and I agree with him, that "there is a fundamental difference between Jesus of Nazareth and the rest of humanity.  Jesus of Nazareth is God-incarnate. Every other human being that ever existed (and will ever exist) does not fall into this ontological category. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the unique One."

Given this distinction, Habbena points out that there are things we cannot do that Jesus did.  One example is to "accept worship" as Jesus did in Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 28:17, and John 9:38, and as he will in Revelation 5:14.  We are to be like Peter who when Cornelius went to worship him, Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man." (Acts 10:25-26).  So, yes, we agree that there are situations where we are not to do what Jesus did.  And perhaps another such occasion may be how Jesus judged the heart of man and clearly we are not to do that.  But again, are those distinctions and others like them, sufficient to totally disregard the idea of asking ourselves 'W.W.J.D.?'

But really, is asking the question "W.W.J.D.?" sufficient?  Assume we realize there are circumstances in which we cannot and should not act like Christ.  And assume we understand that wearing such shirts or bracelets is not a form of 'evangelism' as Christ taught it (unfortunately, some did see it as evangelism rather than as a reminder to Christians of "how then shall we live?").  Even then, I believe asking "W.W.J.D.?" is not sufficient.  "W.W.J.D.?" falls short in several respects.  Let me explain.

First, and foremost, because we are in no way even close to being in the same category as Christ, we really have no idea what Jesus would have done in any particular circumstance that we find ourselves in.  Not that He could not have handled any situation we may find ourselves or that He would not understand any situation that we find ourselves in.  On the contrary, He would be able to understand and handle them better than us.  The problem is, that because of Who Jesus Is (God Himself), we cannot possibly have any accurate clue as to what He would do in any given situation.  We may think we would, but we would not.  In fact, if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that what Jesus did in various situations during His life on earth, totally took us by surprise.  Some examples may be how He dealt with Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene, how He said, "Who are my mother and brothers?", or why He sent people to wash themselves seven times in a pool?   And not only that, there are instances in the New Testament where Jesus was did not even do the same thing twice when faced with similar opportunities.  The example here being the different ways Jesus handled those who came to Him on behalf of a loved one: In the healing of the nobleman's son (John 4:46-54) Jesus just sends him home, saying "Your son lives".  Yet in the healing of the centurion's servant (Luke 7:1-10) Jesus starts to go to the centurion's house.  And different still was how Jesus raised Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:21-43).  There is no way we can outguess Jesus in what He would do in any given situation.  And to think that we could, is perhaps at best, a lack of humility.

There is a second difficulty with 'W.W.J.D.?'  It reminds one of the kind of question the Scribes and Pharisees would ask, only they would enquire, "W.D.T.L.R.?" or "What Would The Law Require?"  And in fact, many of them who tried to trap Jesus in His own words and actions did just that.  For us today, to simply ask the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is analogous to us studying our Scriptures and trying to identify clearly what the New Covenant would require of us.  Not bad, but would that indeed endear us to the heart of our Lord?  I think not.

So, what would.  What could take the inherent good intention of 'W.W.J.D.?' and make it more acceptable to the very heart of God?  I'd like to suggest that "JHCIPYTITM" would.

"Jesus, How Can I Please You Today In This Matter?"  Here's why I prefer this approach to the issue of "How then should we live?"

First and foremost, I believe this question has a better chance of being answered more accurately because it does not purport to identify what Jesus would do in any given situation since we cannot be positive as to what that may be.

Secondly, it is an attempt to ascertain what we, not Jesus, need to do in the situation with Jesus' help and in a way that would please our Lord.  It requires us to seek His help, His guidance, His direction.   And that includes His timing -- whether it be urgent or whether it be 'in due course'.  It is indeed a question and approach which also indicates our "obedience to God."  We're not just seeking to do the right thing, but we want to do the right thing in obedience to Him.

Thirdly, it recognizes that we are in a relationship with God, with His Son, and with the Holy Spirit.  That is why we want to live our lives in ways that would please God in all matters. That relationship recognizes that we can do nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ living within us and we living in Christ.  We, therefore, seek to follow Christ's example in, as Habbena puts it, "His unwavering obedience to the Father, for 'the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner He walked' (I John2:6)."

In conclusion, doing "what Jesus would (have us) do" is more than being aware of what He did or even what He says in His Word.  It is about knowing Him intimately.  It is about being totally dependent on Him.  It is about desiring Him above all others and all things.  It is about a growing love relationship.

Asking, "Jesus, How Can I Please You Today In This Matter?" is one way we can show the world that our faith is not just another religion, but a dynamic living relationship with the Living Triune God.

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