Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Measuring Up”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do…”

(John 14.15)

Jesus is our standard.  This is no surprise—to begin with, he’s the Son of God, the Anointed Prophet, High Priest, and King, and he told us as much.  But on top of that, not only is is his word absolute and binding, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1.29), he is entirely free from the blemish of sin.  We can see that this must be the case, because it’s crucial to the scheme of sacrificial atonement God ordained; but on top of that, the evidence from his life confirms it.  Of course, when the apostles wrote that “in him there is no sin” (1Jn 3.5), the skeptic may simply say they were mistaken, if not lying; but even the skeptic must admit that Jesus was executed on charges of blasphemy, because he made himself out to be equal with God—which, of course, isn’t a blasphemous thing to say, if it’s true!  Many times Jesus issued a challenge to those who wanted to get rid of him: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (Jn 8.46).  But, in fact, despite having all the reason in the world to delve into Jesus’ past and his private behavior in order to discredit him, their every attempt fell flat.

Of course, modern skeptics occasionally attempt to succeed where Jesus’ accusers failed, and paint one or another of Jesus’ actions, recorded in the Gospels, as sinful.  Likely candidates for this treatment are his use of force in cleansing the temple, (cf. Jn 2.15), attempts to catch him in a lie (e.g. Jn 7.8-10), or in recent years the more creative accusation of racial bigotry surrounding the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.  Christians are often tempted to skirt the issue with respect to these, and simply refer to one of the several verses that affirm, “He committed no sin” (1Pe 2.22).  That’s a mistake—we ought to confront the specific accusations and wrestle with them, in light of the Scriptures’ consistent line on this point.  And in fact there is a simple explanation available for each of these imagined infractions.  But that brings us back to Jesus’ sinlessness, and his instruction to follow his example.  This is where it gets uncomfortable.

If we are to do the works that Jesus did (Jn 14.15), it would be sensible for us to create a rough list of his works.  Browsing through the Gospels, we see that he resisted temptation; that he taught the will of God; that he instructed sinners to repent; that he called average people to devote their lives to his service; that he prayed—a lot; that he endured persecution; that he fasted; that he feasted; that he associated with the lowly and sinners as easily as with elite pharisees; that he perplexed many and enraged some; that he humiliated the self-righteous who tried to entrap him; that he forgave those who sinned against him; that he blessed and gave attention to children.  This is a long list, and includes some difficult, yet attainable behaviors for us to emulate.  But it’s hardly exhaustive!  On that long list, there’s a surprising lack of the “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father,” which is “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Ja 1.27)!  But that sort of thing is missing, only because we’ve carefully skipped over Jesus’ supernatural works!

He also healed the sick and disabled; cast out demons; calmed storms; raised the dead; fed enormous crowds; and much, much more!  In fact, these are the “works” Jesus himself meant, when he said,

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

(John 10.37-38)

As we strive to imitate Jesus, we should not ignore these deeds of mercy!  Of course, we’re quite limited in our ability to do these things—lacking his divine power, we can only do our best to accomplish similar ends, by natural means.  But failure to do these things does not come from a lack of miraculous power; rather, it comes from a heart that pursues only its own interests, ignoring those of others!

When we compare ourselves to Jesus—as we should do on a weekly basis, at the very least—we will always come up short.  We simply fail to measure up to the standard he has set, and any suggestion otherwise is the product of either ignorance, or arrogance.  Our inability to accomplish his supernatural feats of love is mirrored by our repeated failure to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” (Ja 1.27). 

But the situation is far from hopeless!  Yes, we are prone to sin—but “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1Jn 2.1).  He doesn’t sit on his throne, shaking his head in disgust and looking forward to sending us to hell.  It’s the opposite!  He’s our advocate before his Father, interceding on our behalf, since he has experienced our human weakness.

In similar fashion, we lack the power, for example, to feed thousands of people with no more than a handful of fish and loaves.  But it’s not just about the outward form of these things.  It begins with a mind and heart to serve—the mind and heart of Jesus.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

(Philippians 2.3-7)

Jeremy Nettles