>Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5:17
It has been many years since the acronym became popular, but still you see it everywhere: WWJD. It is worn on necklaces, bracelets, headbands and T-shirts. You see it on the back of bumper stickers, on ball caps, on the front of Bibles and on the colorful bookmarks within them. “What would Jesus do?” It is purported to be the guiding question of our time. It is supposed to bring clarity to any and all moral ambiguity. Last year, by changing the last word, this same phrase was used to raise concern about fuel efficiency and environmental awareness. “What would Jesus drive?” became the rallying cry for this movement. These questions are asked in ways that assume the answers are obvious and our human responses are simple and straight forward: imitation.
Imitating and emulating Jesus is certainly a laudable goal for every Christian. Jesus welcomes children, eats with sinners, embraces the outcast, and proclaims good news to the world. Certainly there is a sense that his disciples should “go and do likewise.” Christian classics like Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” and Charles Sheldon’s “In His Steps” are certainly writings that point us in this direction. Yet I believe there are dangers here as well. We can focus so much on trying to follow “in Jesus’ steps” that we begin to think too much of ourselves and too little of Jesus. We can focus so much on imitation that we neglect the real work of Christ in transformation. Our “do-good theology”, left unchecked, can easily reduce Jesus’ status to a Michael Jordan or a Dorothy Hamill – famous people who, by virtue of their notoriety, become role models to others.
If Jesus is only a role model, then the church can pack its bags and go home now. If that were the case, the news we do bring to the world would be less than good. But fortunately, Jesus is much more. Jesus stops at nothing less than transformation. The old must die so that the new may be raised. Paul’s letter to Rome goes so far as to say that we can’t know what God’s will (WWJD) is until we first have been transformed by God’s power – the very renewing of our minds. Jesus is not just in front of us, showing us how to follow “in his steps.” He is also behind us – erasing our false steps, beside us – holding our hand, above us – picking us up when we falter, within us – shaping our speech, our thoughts, and our living. “What would Jesus do” is only interesting if we know what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ. For it is only “in Christ” that we live, and move, and have our being.