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The Greatest Story Never Told: part 1 by Ron Habermas
How Jesus' Human Example Empowers Us to be Fully Human Today
Blog #1 of 5: "Let’s Start at the Very Beginning—A Very Good Place to Start"
From time to time, I hear this trite—yet accurate—summary of global Christianity: "By contrast, the Church’s evangelistic efforts and results are mile-wide, but their members’ collective maturity is only inch-deep."
This reminds me of the new baseball coach who gathers his nine-year-olds at the local diamond for the season’s first pep talk: "Okay guys, this summer we’re going to win it all!" (cheers) "Nobody’s going to stop us!" (more cheers) "And we’ll win by getting back-to-the-basics!" The frenzied screams grow louder still, as each player scampers off to his assigned position.
Ten seconds later the yelling dies, and the team captain sheepishly walks over to the man who predicted success. A slow pace allows him to survey the perplexed looks on each of the other eight players.
"Ah, Coach, none of us know ‘bout those ‘basics’ you just said. Where can we buy them?"
Back to the Basics
The Church’s perennial "inch-deep" problem will not be resolved by a quick-fix. And it was not caused by any of the contemporary excuses or problems we hear: post-modernism, prosperity theology, pornography, biblical illiteracy, and so forth. These are serious roadblocks, but the real issue is that saints don’t have a complete target. And that fact makes our talk more confusing than ever—with phrases like "back-to-the-basics"—since a well-defined objective in nowhere in sight.
Church Father Athanasius assists every disciple with this challenge through his centuries-old wisdom: "Jesus became like us, so we might become like Him."
Nobody denies that second part. Christlikeness (becoming like Him) is what many Christians claim as their primary duty. It’s a significant portion of the antidote for immaturity. Numerous resources point this out. That’s not new—in fact, it’s old.
So is Christlikeness our target? Yes and not really.
Yes, it’s where we ultimately aim. But the more complete target must initially focus on the first part of Athanasius’ saying—what it means that Jesus became like us.
Until we understand what that 33-year Example looks like, it is impossible for any Christ-follower to ever become all that God intended. Jesus shares the Image of God with us, illustrating what a mature Image is supposed to be. We can never master the second part of Athanasius’ wisdom until we comprehend the first part. His full humanity must be understood if we are serious about Christian maturity. We don’t need a perfect or exhaustive portrait of Jesus—but it has to be far better than the picture we typically proclaim. It must offer representative and reproducible qualities of our Lord’s total humanity.
The Greatest Story Never Told
Even though I am humbled by an appreciation of just how little one blog series can accomplish, and I am alarmed by how little Christ’s full Example has been understood, the dauntless objective of this week-long post remains: to provide a sufficient overview of Jesus’ Example in God’s Image, to encourage Christ-followers to become more like Him.
That’s why I called this series The Greatest Story Never Told. I don’t believe any of us have come close to exhibiting Christlikeness based upon His complete humanity. Why? Because Christlikeness is rarely taught, learned, and applied in all its complexities. Rarely taught from within its considerable relevancy with full reverence. Rarely taught with focused passion. Rarely taught according to its incredible potential—for every age, every human domain, and every challenge of faith.
One of the upsides of this series’ stated objective is there’s no need to do nearly as much speculative thinking as what was required by the earlier fad, "W.W.J.D.?" Rather, this blog series requires disciplined Bible study to discern W.D.J.A.D.? ("What did Jesus actually do?") The results will surprise many readers.
Jesus as Our Example
Let’s clarify one axiom from the start: The Bible explains that a major reason for Jesus’ full humanity was to provide us followers with a lifelong Example of how to live. Several passages tell us to explicitly replicate our Lord’s total life (excluding Messiahship). For instance, the Apostle Paul admonishes, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1), and the Apostle John confirms, "Whoever claims to live in him [Christ] must walk as Jesus did" (I John 2:6). The word "walk" implies saints should not merely imitate Jesus’ spiritual testimony but all of His life. In John’s other writings no dualistic thinking is ever found to distinguish spiritual from non-spiritual matters. Actually the opposite is taught. Third John 2 shows deliberate integration: "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well."
In Martin Luther’s day some people took Jesus’ commands of imitation so literally that they regressively participated in children’s activities, such as playing with hoops and sticks in the street. Their reasoning? They determined to "become like little children" in order to gain heaven, which they were sure our Lord taught! This errant behavior so disturbed Luther that he unfortunately over reacted to certain aspects of biblical imitation.
We Christ-followers must do better than this historical precedent.
Outline of the Next Four Blogs
Here is what the rest of this blog series offers this week:
• Tuesday’s Blog #2 faces the issue, "Who Was Jesus?"
Christ’s complete humanity is the second day’s focus, even though He was always fully God and fully man. A helpful model illustrates the integration of Jesus’ five human domains (physical, mental, emotion, social and moral areas) with His spiritual life. A brief look at the doctrine of kenosis also helps us appreciate how our Lord’s divinity blends with His humanity.
• Blog #3 addresses "When Did Jesus Grow and Mature?"
Just as Jesus was "made like [us] in every way" (Heb. 2:17), so He grew and matured like us. Christ’s lifespan (from infancy to adulthood) is featured this third day, along with age-appropriate topics. Two other reasons for His maturity are also cited: His development from four not-so-familiar disciplines and a wide range of purposeful learning.
• The Blog of Thursday attends to "Where Did Jesus Grow and Mature?"
The content of the fourth day builds upon the broad foundation of Wednesday: Specific bases of authority are analyzed, in light of their powerful influences upon Jesus’ maturation. Three distinct phases of life are also featured.
• Friday’s Blog #5 confronts the issue, "How Do We Start Emulating Jesus’ Example of Maturity?"
The final day examines key questions that arise from the content in the first four blogs. Then, a curricular example of how to emulate Jesus (for the purpose of godly maturity) is analyzed, as it is applied to today’s believers.
One Sobering Illustration
In my thirty-plus years of professional Christian ministry, I continue observing this unsettling two-part combination, found in most believers’ lives: First, there is a shared standard complaint list, with struggles like, "I can’t feel God’s presence;" "My prayers get no higher than the ceiling;" "I have constant difficulty figuring out God’s best plans for me;" "I feel abandoned;" "My family doesn’t understand or support me;" and so forth.
Second, paralleling the first part, believers who struggle with those complaints rarely recognize Jesus had those exact human experiences. Furthermore, they miss that the reason why our Lord deliberately had those experiences was to purposefully give us specific help for those common struggles!
Needless to say, these burdened-down believers are left to go it alone—simply because they ignore the One who’s "been there, done that."
Thankfully, there is a better way.
For more information visit www.Zondervan.com/icef or see chapters 6-10 of Introduction to Christian Education and Formation.
Dr. Ronald Habermas is professor of biblical studies and Christian formation at John Brown University and a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He holds degrees from William Tyndale College, North American Baptist Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, and Michigan State University. Dr. Habermas is the author of many journal articles and several books including The Complete Disciple and Introduction to Christian Education and Formation. He and his family live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
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