If you want to know what the full potential of your life can be, look at Jesus. All that he did during his earthly ministry was done through reliance upon the Holy Spirit. That means we can imitate his example. “Impossible!” you say?
As Evangelical believers in the previous century placed the emphasis more and more on the divinity of Christ our understanding of his humanity began to fade. That’s a problem: if we lose sight of Jesus the Man we also lose sight of his plans for us right here and right now. If we lose sight of everything he did and said before his death and resurrection we have fallen into the role of salvation consumer instead of disciple of Christ.
Let me share you with a “secret” seldom considered by most believers today: Jesus is fully God and fully man. We need to make distinctions between the two aspects of his identity because each one drives different aspects of our Christian walk: we worship Jesus because he is God; we can pattern our lives after him because in his humanity he lived the perfect human life as our example. We should recognize the difference between his unique sacrificial death on the cross and the pattern of living he set for us during his earthly ministry.
His death on the cross is unique because of who he is—the sinless perfect Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. History is filled with examples of sacrificial deaths; soldiers have died on behalf of their comrades and parents have died on behalf of their children, but no one else could accomplish what Jesus accomplished on the cross because his sacrifice came by virtue of his identity as God-come-to-earth. His sacrifice was for the sin of all peoples, in all times, in all places. Only God’s own blood could satisfy the guilt of our sin. His death was unique: one time, once, for all. God himself provided the lamb. No one else could do it and no one else will ever have to do it again. We emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus as God’s only Son precisely because only God could do it.
But there is the danger of over-emphasis: when we concentrate on the substitutionary death of Jesus to the exclusion of his life and teaching we limit his ministry to a divine rescue mission—a rescue mission that only becomes effective for us when we die. When we see his ministry exclusively as the action that purchased heaven for us it is difficult to make the connection between his sacrifice and our everyday lives. Many Christians are moved emotionally by his suffering on Calvary. Many are grateful that he paid a debt he did no owe. Many Christians understand that they have no hope of heaven apart from the price Jesus paid on their behalf. But apart from gratitude for his kindness we see little connection between what Jesus did then and how we can live today.
Here is the challenge: our appreciation for what he did does not empower us to fulfill his example. Our gratitude for his suffering does release the wisdom, insight, or strength for each one of us to live as a new kind of person. Jesus urged his followers to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The rest he speaks of here is not our eternal rest, but rest and peace for everyday living. His gentleness and humility may have led him to the cross but they are also character traits available to his disciples today. He offers the opportunity for us to learn from him—not about how to go to heaven when we die but about how heaven can come to earth now. This is the very first request we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 10, emphasis added). During his earthly ministry his wisdom, his actions, the radical nature of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and his powerful works were examples of how we could live on earth as well.
His mission included purchasing our pardon from sin by going to the cross, but it was much larger. The life-stories of Jesus seldom mention the word gospel apart from the phrase Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew). His mission on earth included pardon for sin, but it also gave new life and a new family identity to everyone who believes in him. That new identity, available right now to anyone who will follow him, is “Child of God.” When we discover the breadth of the gospel message we discover our adoption into a new family, and the possibility of taking on the family likeness.