It is not uncommon in the Christian community to hear the lament, “If only I could be like Christ.” or the stated goal, “I want to be like Christ.” This certainly seems like a noble goal, and seems like something we should all, as Christians, strive for. Unfortunately, it is, in reality, not only unachievable but also self serving and, in my mind, not at all what God’s intent is for us. I even wonder if saying that we want to be like Christ isn’t offensive to God. Please, indulge me, as I attempt to explain my thinking.
In Isaiah 14:14b, Satan is rebuked by God for saying, “I will be like the Most High.” Because attempting to be like God, in this case, is to mimic Him and attempt to replace Him in the hearts of men. In other words, Satan attempts to replace God as our deity. Now, before you accuse me of attempting to demonize well meaning Christian believers, I realize that whenever a believer states his desire to be like Christ he is not meaning that he wants to replace Him in the hearts of other believers. Even so, it would still only be possible for said believer to mimic Christ rather than to actually be like Him. Now, much good can be done if a person mimics Christ in his daily life. This, however, will not bring praise to God, but to the mimic. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 that performing good deeds in our own name will accomplish nothing for us no matter who it is that we mimic. Paul says that we must have agape – love or charity – in order for our efforts to be meaningful. It is my belief that this means that we must have – possess – Christ in our lives i.e. I substitute the name Jesus for the word agape. Try it: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not (Jesus), it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3.
So, what is the distinction here? How does having Jesus in us differ from being like Jesus? In my mind it is not just semantics, but rather the difference in doing things God’s way versus doing things our way. It is Spirit vs. flesh. Allowing Christ to work in us and through us is what we do when we when we have Christ in us – it is a work of the Spirit. Doing the work ourselves because we want to mimic Christ is a work of the flesh. Though the outcome may appear to be the same, the benefit we receive is not, nor is God glorified in the same way.
In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “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”. I want to believe that as a Christian my actions, when faithful, are the actions of Christ and not my own. If I set aside my flesh to allow Christ to work through me, I will be acting according to the desires of God. John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease” and I can think of no better way to describe what we must do to accomplish God’s work in the world. Allowing His presence in our lives to show through us is the utmost way to honor Him. If we were ever to accomplish the goal of “being like Christ”, would it not give us the right to brag about our own accomplishments? However, if we allow Christ to work through us can we not brag about the wonders of our God. Did Gideon take on God-like powers to defeat the Midianites or did God do a great work through him?
Remember the Gatorade advertising campaign, Be Like Mike? Did you ever believe that drinking a bottle of Gatorade would allow you to dunk a basketball over 7 foot behemoths? I never did. I could do what Mike did only in limited ways. If Mike could have inhabited my body maybe he could have done more through me than I could do myself, but I could never have mimicked his moves around the basket on my own. In the same way, when we allow the holy spirit into our lives through profession of faith in Christ, He can do more through us than we could ever do on our own. In every situation, we need to put aside the flesh and allow the Spirit to work through us and bring Jesus to the forefront. We don’t need WWJD bracelets, we need Jesus in us, in every way, in every situation. Oh how wonderful to be able to declare as Paul did that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. This should be the desire of every Christian.