This is one of the most dangerous and harmful words used today. Both followers and enemies of Christ use the term, and when used disingenuously, this term can have terrible consequences. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, surely we have no greater goal or work than to become like Christ. “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Nephi 27:27)
In theory, as His disciples we are all striving to be Christlike, and that is exactly why this term is so dangerous. If we allow the world and its definition of who Christ is to shape our understanding of what it means to become like Christ, we will find ourselves frustrated in our journey, and eventually, we may find ourselves diametrically opposed to our original goal. If we are not careful, the use and weaponization of this term will have us striving to make “Christ” more like ourselves.
We must avoid this trap at all costs. Only the real Jesus has the power to save, and we must not replace him with any worldly counterfeit. Here are three things to always remember whenever you find yourself using the term “Christlike”:
- Christ is a person, He is not a set of principles
- Christs teachings are not always going to be easy
- We need to be humble before the Lord
Christ is a person, He is not a set of principles
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”John 14:6
Many many philosophies and worldviews create sets of good principles to live by. The gospel is not a set of principles. Yes, there are behaviors and attributes that Christ embodies and we should seek to embody, but we should never take Christ out of the equation and try to take the principle on its own.
The world is not always an easy place to navigate or understand, and God in His wisdom didn’t just give us a rulebook of “do’s” and “dont’s”; he gave us stories. When we read about Christ’s life, we learn about the behaviors and attributes of Christ, but they are not presented in a vacuum. Through reading the stories of Jesus, we find a context and degree for every Christlike attribute. Taking those out of context can lead to terrible misunderstandings.
For example, in the New Testament, Jesus is recorded as speaking very harshly, particularly to the Pharisees, they were condemned because of their hypocrisy. He called a group of Jews who sought to kill him children of the devil. He famously fashioned a whip and drove out money-changers, defiling the temple. This behavior shows great frankness, forthrightness, and boldness in decrying sinful behavior and enforcing standards. But if we then extrapolate that those attributes are Christlike in and of themselves, we may try to exhibit them in a situation that’s more akin to the mercy Jesus showed to the woman taken in adultery or to Zacchaeus. True Christlike behavior depends on the context, and only through study and through the Spirit can we know which approach the Savior would have us take.
Christ’s teachings are not easy
“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? … Will ye also go away?“John 6:60-61,67
This scripture comes from one of my favorite moments in the entire bible. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus became very popular overnight. Many flocked to Him, praising and adoring him, demanding that he be their king. It’s easy to understand why they were drawn to Him after he performed such a beautiful and remarkable miracle. Like many of this crowd, we are inclined to come to Jesus when we learn and feel of His love, goodness and experience His miraculous touch. But as the crowd flocked to him, Jesus began to teach concepts to them that they struggled with, greatly. Imagine what it takes to accept a man who is telling you to eat his flesh and drink his blood — we have abstracted and gotten used to these teachings, but this crowd did not have that luxury. It was easy for them to accept the loaves and fishes, but the doctrine He taught next was too hard.
At times, all of us will find ourselves in this same situation, struggling to accept (or even just cope with) teachings that we either do not understand or simply do not like. It may be easy for us to accept the doctrines that are focused on in Primary: “love everyone”, “be kind”, “tell the truth.” These are easy to understand and the world sees them as good also. When we come upon teachings that involve standing against the world or maybe cause uncomfortable situations, we are likely to struggle.
Struggling with a teaching is not a sin, and it is not necessarily a problem at all. When we struggle we have a choice. We can choose like the crowd did, to leave. There will be easy excuses, “This is not like what I learned in Primary,” or “This doesn’t feel very loving.” Some saints feel this way, but do not wish to leave, so they commit the great error of reshaping Christ to give them an excuse. If we find ourselves in this situation it’s easy for us to then reduce Christ to a principle; then declare that this hard teaching does not comply with that principle and is therefore not Christlike. Analyze the context and the example of Christ, and perhaps we’ll find that we were interpreting this teaching wrong. Even after study and prayer, we may not completely understand or like certain teachings, but we can still choose to react as Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69)
The importance of humility
“Not my will, but thine, be done.”Luke 22:42
The most important doctrine in our church is that of Christ’s sacrifice. In the Garden of Gethsemane, while facing the grimmest, darkest prospect any being will ever face, Christ submitted his will to the will of His Father. Of course, Christ was omnipotent. He knew what He needed to face and He knew that it was the only way. We may not know, we cannot tell the pains He had to bear, but we do know that in this most dire and terrible moment, He taught us the ultimate lesson in humility. Despite that knowledge, He did not desire to drink the bitter cup, but He did. Truly only Jesus Christ could have submitted his will to the Father at this moment. This is the greatest and most pure example of what it means to be Christlike.
Next time we find ourselves using the term “Christlike,” remember this moment. Are we accusing someone of being un-Christlike? If so, let us ask “Am I being humble?” and “Is my will in line with the Father?” We may find that we are trying to bring someone else’s will in line with our own when we should be more concerned with bringing our own will in line with God’s. Christ is our exemplar, not our weapon, and if we find ourselves using Him as a weapon, we are likely very lost.
I hope these points can help us in this work. This world wants to warp and distort the image of Christ into its own image. “I have given them thy word,” he explained, “and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14) We know that the world has always hated Christ and also hates those that accept His word. As His followers, we can never misrepresent Him, and we also must certainly not allow the world to misrepresent Him either! We must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do not allow others to use Christ as a means to exert the philosophies of men. Feast upon His word, treasure up His example, and rely on the spirit. These things will help us become truly Christlike and discern attempts or temptations to remake Christ in the world’s image.