What Does It Really Mean to Be Like Jesus?

…and does our definition of “Christ-like” include a cross?

Chris Hutchison on April 4, 2023

Christians know that being like Jesus is a good idea. We’ve probably all heard someone express a desire, or encourage others, to “be Christ-like.”

But what do we mean by that?

I wonder if, much of the time, we use the phrase “Christ-like” as shorthand for Jesus’ “nicer” qualities: His gentleness. His humility. His silence before his accusers. His kindness to children. His attentiveness to the weak and the marginalized.

These are wonderful characteristics, and are certainly a significant part of what being “Christ-like” means. But is this all that it means? 

When we say, “I want to be Christ-like,” do we ever mean anything like the following?

  • “I want to upset my hometown so bad that they try to kill me.” (Luke 4:28-29)
  • “I want to speak strange and hard-to-understand truths that alienate large groups of potential followers.” (John 6:25-71)
  • “I want to be homeless.” (Matt 8:19-20)
  • “I want to engage in sustained, heated debate with my opponents.” (John 7:14-8:59, Matt 21:23-22:46)
  • “I want to do the dirty jobs.” (John 13:1-20)
  • “I want to make a whip and turn over tables.” (John 2:14-16)
  • “I want to offend my family and make them think I’m crazy.” (Mark 3:21, 31-35)
  • “I want to deliberately provoke the religious leaders, making them so mad they want to kill me.” (Matt 12:9-14, 23:1-36)
  • “I want to pour out my life for others, only to be falsely accused, lied about, and slandered.” (Matt 26:59)
  • “I want to die in the most painful and humiliating way imaginable.” (Luke 23:26-48)

Some might respond that Jesus’ disciples aren’t supposed to mimic every single activity He performed. Cleansing the temple is a good example; unless you drive chuckwagons, you should probably go put that whip away.

Nevertheless, Jesus Himself explained that being like Him means more than being nice and well-loved: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). Similarly, when Paul thinks about being “like Jesus,” he expresses his desire to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10).

Does your definition of “Christ-like” include a cross?

The good news is that, just like for Jesus, our suffering and death are not the end of the line. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:11–12). If our definition of “Christ-like” includes a cross, it also needs to include an empty grave.

These are important truths for us to remember as we head into Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Praise God that Jesus died for us, as our substitute, so that we wouldn’t have to (1 Pet 3:18). But let’s not forget that Jesus also died and rose again so that we might die and rise with Him—here and now (Luke 9:23, 1 Cor 15:31, 2 Cor 4:10-12), and one day, truly and finally as we rise with Him to life eternal (1 Cor 15:49-52).

Soar we now where Christ has led

Following our exalted Head

Made like him, like him we rise

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies

John Wesley
Picture of Chris Hutchison
Chris Hutchison is lead pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nipawin, SK. Have any feedback or questions about what you've read here? Get in touch at .
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