My friend Aaron Shafovaloff recently posted a correction on how we think of the term “Christ-like.” Here’s an excerpt:
“Jesus was incredulous. He was exasperated. He was furious. He insulted. He ridiculed. He told of coming judgment. He EXORCISED DEMONS. He said he was GOD. He said he had final authority given to him to judge the living and the dead. He said he had power over life and death. He scared people. He confused people. He repulsed people. He wouldn’t answer questions asked by the local authorities. He stayed away three days knowing Lazarus would die, and then wept when he showed up to his tomb. He supplied the party wine. He preached fire and brimstone. He used satire and mockery. He frustrated his mother. He told his apostles they had new names when he met them. He used frustratingly vague metaphors and parables to purposefully judge a stubborn people (fulfilling Isaiah), and then later told the hidden meanings to the apostles…. What is “Christ-like” about any of that?”
We often use “Christ-like” as a blanket term to refer to the virtuous character of Jesus we ought to emulate. Some use it to refer exclusively to love. But, as Aaron skillfully points out, such an understanding of the character of Christ is insufficient.
This is not to say that we should do everything Jesus did. The “What Would Jesus Do?” movement seemed to entail that. Rather, it means we should be clear about who Jesus is before we aspire to be like him. If you simply want to be more liked amongst your peers, you should follow someone less confrontational. If you want to pursue God, your boldness before men must be Christ-like.
Like most doctrine, pursuit of Christ-likedness must be balanced. Jesus was not simply confrontational to tick people off. He knew the hearts and minds of his audience and he knew exactly the best approach to accomplish his goals. We do not know these things. For us, to be Christ-like is not a license to be unnecessarily confusing or offensive. It means that if he are Christ-like there will be situations where the gospel we preach is confusing and offense to our audience and we must accept that. If we water down the gospel to “clarify” it or make it less offensive, then we cease to preach Christ’s gospel and we have failed to be like him.