By Peter Amsterdam
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When we are in the process of finding ways to transform our lives so that we can become more like Jesus, it follows that we should look to the example of how Jesus Himself—the only human who had full godliness—lived His life. We should find direction from the way He lived, and aspects of Jesus’ life that serve as guideposts in our quest to be more like Him.1
Jesus’ deep sense of intimacy with God: In the Old Testament, we see that humans responded to God with awe—an emotion with shades of submission and fear. For example, Scripture tells us that when God spoke, Moses “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”2 When in God’s presence, Isaiah the prophet said: “Woe is me! For I am lost … for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”3
By comparison, we see that Jesus’ relationship with God was different. He had a deep intimacy with God, which He expressed by addressing God as “Father.” Jesus knew that He had both the love and approval of His Father.
Jesus taught His disciples that they should address God as their Father as well.4 In doing so, Jesus conveyed that His Sonship to some extent also encompassed them. Even though they were not God’s children in exactly the same unique way as Jesus was, they were nevertheless God’s children; and as such they were loved by Him, had a relationship with Him, were part of His family, and had His approval. All throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized to His disciples that God was their Father.5
Understanding that God is our Father and that we are loved by Him sets the foundation for our relationship with Him. As children of God, we can be secure in knowing that His love for us is unconditional. We can approach Him with an attitude of confidence and an expectation that He knows what we need and will provide and care for us.
Jesus expressed God’s fatherly love and care for us when He said:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”6
Looking at God as Father doesn’t mean that we maintain a relationship similar to that of a small child with their parent. While we will always depend on Him for our being, He has also given us free will and autonomy. As God’s children, we are expected to use our minds and intellect, labor in prayer, seek guidance from Scripture, discuss our issues with God, and listen to His response; these things are all part of our decision-making process and relationship with Him.
Humility: Though He was God incarnate and had the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed the multitudes, Jesus used His power humbly. He could have demanded privileges, which He would have been entitled to, considering His status in relationship to God. However, He set those privileges aside and served others.
“Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”7
Instead of using His power to gain fame or exercise authority over others, as Satan tempted Him to, He used it for the sake of others. When He perceived that people were going to try to make Him king, He withdrew to the mountains by Himself.8 He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”9
He repeatedly taught His followers that they were to have an attitude of humility and service.
“Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.’”10
Jesus took on the form of a servant in humility; and as believers, we are called to follow His example.
Jesus also reached out to the outcasts of His day. An example of this can be seen when He told the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who was hated by his fellow countrymen, that He wanted to come stay at his house. The people grumbled that He had been the guest of a sinner.11 Zacchaeus was a social outcast because of his collaboration with the Roman oppressors.
This wasn’t the only time that Jesus reached out beyond socially accepted boundaries. Other examples include the Samaritan woman, the woman who washed His feet in the house of the Pharisee, tax collectors, the Roman centurion, as well as touching and healing lepers and others who were considered ritually “unclean.” They were all outsiders, but He welcomed them. He was declaring them worthy and acceptable, showing an example of His Father’s love for and acceptance of sinners as well as His desire to save them. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus spent time with the social outcasts, those who were looked down upon, the outsiders, the “others.”
If we wish to be like Jesus, we will open our hearts and lives to accept and welcome those who are “other” than we are. This could mean those with different religious or political beliefs, nationality or ethnicity, economic status, likes and dislikes—those who are different from us in any way. Reaching out to those who are not part of our normal circle breaks down barriers and reflects the spirit of Christ.
Compassion: Compassion is a consciousness of others’ distress along with the desire to alleviate it. Within the Gospels, we see that compassion is the emotion most consistently attributed to Jesus. He was moved when He saw those in need, and He took action to alleviate their situation. “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”12
Just before feeding the multitudes, He said: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.”13 When He went to Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died, “Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”14 He wept and then raised Lazarus from the dead.
In each case, Jesus was emotionally moved by compassion and acted for the benefit of others. Each time Jesus is described as having such emotions, we are told that He took decisive action to remedy the situation.
Compassion is taking action in order to make someone else’s bad situation better. If there is no action, it isn’t compassion—it’s sympathy, the awareness of someone’s need, or empathy. Jesus moved beyond sympathy and empathy and took action. While we may not be able to respond exactly as Jesus did, we can follow His example of taking some action to help those in need.
Non-retaliation: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the principle of non-retaliation: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”15
Besides preaching non-retaliation, we see that He practiced it as well. During His passion, He rejected the option of defending Himself by force.16 Peter later wrote of Him: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”17
Jesus taught His followers to refrain from rendering evil for evil, that two wrongs don’t make a right. This principle is built on trust that God is in control. Instead of retaliating, we are meant to forgive those who have wronged us.
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps by having a deep sense of intimacy with God, serving others in humility, reaching out to those who are different from us, being moved by compassion to help others, and not retaliating when others have hurt us in some way doesn’t just happen automatically because we are Christians. To walk the walk of Jesus, to grow in godly character, to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit, takes personal transformation. Such transformation comes through the grace of God, which is given to those who make the decision and put in the effort to grow in Him, to apply what He taught, and to become more like Him.
Originally published April 2016. Adapted and republished April 2022.
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1 The following points are summarized from The Psychology of Christian Character Formation, by Joanna Collicutt (London: SCM Press, 2015).
2 Exodus 3:6.
3 Isaiah 6:5.
4 Matthew 6:9.
5 See Matthew 5.
6 Matthew 7:9–11.
7 Philippians 2:6–8.
8 John 6:15.
9 Matthew 20:28.
10 Matthew 20:25–27.
11 Luke 19:5–7.
12 Matthew 14:14.
13 Mark 8:2.
14 John 11:33.
15 Matthew 5:39–41.
16 Matthew 26:52–53.
17 1 Peter 2:23.