By David McClister
The apostle Peter tells us that Jesus left us an example which we are to follow (1 Pet. 2:21). It is the job of every follower of Christ – anyone who takes it upon himself to be called by Christ’s name “Christian” – to copy that example as best he can, regardless of whatever else he may do. It is really senseless to call oneself a Christian if he is not going to follow the example and teachings of Christ. “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 12:46) Thus as we live from day to day we must constantly keep the example of Christ before us. We must discipline ourselves to think of Him and His example all the time.
If we are to do this successfully, it will require that we turn the example of Christ into the habit of our lives. We must form the habit of asking, in every situation, “Would Jesus do this if He were in my place now?” Others have said that this is the “acid test” of what it means on the practical level to follow Christ’s example, and they are correct. It is a matter of living as He lived.
Please consider three kinds of forms of behavior which are popular among some, and let us ask “Would Jesus do this?”
Would Jesus Do Anything, The Morality of Which Was Questionable?
In God’s law there are some things which are always right and some things which are always wrong. For example, it is always wrong to steal, and it is always right to pray. But there are some things which are neither right nor wrong in themselves; they are morally neutral or indifferent. Eating meats is an example of this kind of activity (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12-13). However, just because an activity is itself morally neutral, does not at all mean that it may never have a moral effect upon the one who practices it. A thing may be lawful but not always profitable (expedient) for the one who does it (1 Cor.6:12a). If doing it will be unprofitable or harmful spiritually, then the Christian ought not to engage himself in it (even though the act itself is morally neutral). Furthermore, a thing may be lawful but addictive in some way, leading to a measure of control over the Christian’s life. If this happens, then that morally neutral activity should be abandoned (1 Cor. 6:12b).
We all know that Jesus never sinned, but it is just as true that He never engaged Himself in any morally neutral activity which, even though not sinful in itself gave a doubtful impression. In every situation we find Jesus doing that which was above question. This is remarkable in light of the fact that we are specifically told by the gospel writers that Jesus’ enemies watched Him carefully, hoping to find something in which to accuse Him (see Mk. 3:2; Jn. 8:4-6; Lk. 11:53f). They looked for anything and found nothing. Throughout His life He remained sinless and above question.
But did not the Pharisees question Jesus’ eating with the sinners and publicans? Did not that activity give a questionable impression to others? The truth of the matter is that it was questionable only to those who thought that they were perfect or that they were better than others. The scribes and Pharisees were generally arrogant, conceited hypocrites. Only this kind of person saw Jesus’ activities in a questionable light, not the common man. Furthermore, Jesus never once worried about how He appeared to the self-righteous. Thus the charges of the Pharisees were not valid.
Now as we attempt to imitate Christ, we must never engage ourselves in anything that may be deemed questionable behavior. Sure, the arrogant and the self-righteous of the world will question nearly everything we do, but their opinions are not the ones we should value. We should try our best to make sure that, in the eyes of those who think rationally, we are not doing things which, even though not wrong in themselves, may leave a questionable impression because of the circumstances or nature of the activity itself.
For example, playing golf is a morally neutral activity. God neither condones nor condemns it (actually He permits it, but does not bind it). But playing golf may leave a questionable impression to the world if it means that one must necessarily engage with drunkards or liars in order to do it. In that case, the activity itself is not wrong, but the circumstances in which it is practiced leave a morally questionable impression. If playing golf means that you must be identified with liars, drunkards, etc., then you should not play. Nor should you play if golf becomes an obsession with you, one that controls you (instead of you controlling it).
Playing golf is a fairly innocent example to use. But let us consider some popular practices which are not so innocent.
Smoking: Would Jesus Do That?
Assuming that smoking is a nonmoral practice (which assumption is very questionable), sit down with your Bible, read the life of Christ and then see if you could honestly ever picture Jesus with a cigarette. Can you see Jesus rebuking the Pharisees, saying “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” with a cigarette hanging from His lips? I cannot. Can you imagine our Lord talking with the Samaritan woman at the well about living water, and pausing ever so often in the conversation to “take a drag”? Is our picture of Him delivering the Sermon on the Mount one which includes flicking the ashes off of a burning cigarette stuck between two fingers? I think not. Such a portrait of Jesus is completely contradictory to everything we see of Him in the Bible. Furthermore, smoking is addictive (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12).
Dancing: Would Jesus Do That?
It is sometimes heard that there is really nothing wrong with dancing. It is, according to the thinking of some, simply a harmless social activity, good exercise, etc. In other words, the attempt is made to identify dancing as a morally neutral activity. I do not believe that dancing is morally neutral, but let us just grant that much for the sake of argument and ask, “Would Jesus do it?” Dancing is ordinarily synonymous with lust and indecent actions. That is exactly why it is so popular (and it is naive to think otherwise). Jesus never engaged Himself in such an activity so as to let others think that He condoned the lust that goes along with it. And if Jesus did not, neither should His followers.
Wearing Immodest Clothing: Would Jesus Do That?
“But! say unto you, that everyone that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Would Jesus have uttered these words if He Himself wore immodest and revealing clothes? Is the picture we have of Jesus one of wearing short shorts, no shirt, and sandals simply because the weather was hot? The fact is that Jesus’ influence was always pure, and nothing less than pure. He never did anything that was even questionable morally. Clearly, Jesus did not regard the matter of clothing simply as something which was only a concern to society. That is, it was not a morally neutral matter in His eyes. Even if it were, the New Testament cannot allow us to hold to a view of Jesus which would allow His clothing to cast suspicion upon His moral stance or character. Even if it were not wrong, Jesus would not have done it.
There are many things which some claim are morally neutral but in fact are not. Even if we could grant those assertions, we still could not picture Jesus engaging Himself in them. We must examine everything we do in the light of the example of Jesus. We must prove our own selves, whether we be in faith (2 Cor. 13:5).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 4, pp. 108-109
February 20, 1986