The classic book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon is the story of a small town transformed by a question: "What would Jesus do?" In the story various characters radically change their attitudes and behavior as they ask themselves, in every circumstance, what their Lord would say or do.
Since its publication at the turn of the century, the book has sold upwards of 22 million copies around the world. Today, In His Steps is experiencing something of a resurgence. Charles Sheldon is hot, and his book's familiar question - "What Would Jesus Do?" - has become all the rage.
Has the WWJD craze touched you yet? The acronym is everywhere and on everything. No doubt you've seen a WWJD bracelet on someone's wrist - over 1.5 million have sold in the last year. In Christian bookstores and catalogs you'll find WWJD mugs, key chains, Bible covers, pens, back packs, necklaces, t-shirts, journals, devotionals, theme Bibles and last but not least, a WWJD album with various Christian singers.
Overkill? Consumer-madness? Yes, but the popularity of WWJD products also gives Christians an opportunity to draw people's attention to the person and work of Jesus - if we're prepared to ask a few follow-up questions. It's important to understand that "What Would Jesus Do?" can't be the only question we're asking. Left by itself, it can subtly undermine Christ's work on the cross. In the 16th century the Socinians developed a heretical teaching that Jesus' death didn't actually pay for sins, it just set an "example" of how we're to live. Obviously that's not the message of WWJD, but without clarification and elaboration it can lead people towards the same error.
So how do we maintain biblical truth? I've come up with a few "supplemental questions" that should be included in our own thoughts about Christ as well as our conversations with unbelievers. I submit the following acronyms for your consideration:
WDTBCMTD? This jarble of letters stands for "What Does The Bible Command Me To Do?" The one true guide for living a life pleasing to God is the written Word of God. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Even Christ came not to abolish but fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). It's clear that His example isn't the only thing God has given us. In His infinite wisdom God used men to write the Old and New Testament, much of which either points to or explains the implications of Christ's death and resurrection. The Bible - inspired, infallible and inerrant - is where we look for guidance on how to live before a holy God. It's not enough to give someone a few stories from the gospels and say "Go do what Jesus would do." No, the Bible tells us how to treat others, it explains how the gospel transforms our lives and how we're to build churches and order our homes. As Christians we must continually look to Scripture to guide our attitudes and behavior.
WCIDAFTEOTHS? It's not very catchy but it stands for "What Can I Do Apart From The Empowerment Of The Holy Spirt?" The answer is simple: nothing. Mark Mullery, the pastor of Abundant Life Church in Pasadena, CA, notes that too often we have an overly optimistic view of man's goodness. In other words we believe that if people just thought about it long enough they would choose to do right. Wrong.
The Bible teaches that apart from regeneration (being born again) we are dead in our sins and unable to please God (Rom. 7:18; 8:7; Eph. 2:1-3).
This truth is also important for Christians as we face various trials and temptations. Living the Christian life successfully isn't merely a matter of stopping and thinking about what Jesus do if he were in my shoes. The fact is that Jesus was perfect - He was without sin in every way. Jesus would do a lot of things that you and I in our falleness could never do. The hope we can find, however, is that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can obey. By God's grace we can mortify sin, live sacrificially, and love others. But the power to do so doesn't come from our own will - it starts and it ends by the grace and power given us through the Holy Spirit.
WDJD? This last acronym is the shortest and only one that has a shot at making it on a keychain. It stands for "What Did Jesus Do?" As I stated earlier, the greatest concern we should have with emphasis on "What Would Jesus Do?" is that Christ might be relegated to merely a moral person whose example we should emulate. This is the greatest disservice to His person and His purpose in coming to earth. We might as well wear "What would Ghandi Do?" or "What Would Mother Teresa Do?" bracelets.
Christ did live the perfect, moral and selfless life. The desire to imitate him in that is noble and even commanded by scripture (1 John 2:6). But if a person's understanding of Christ ends there they have missed the hope that Jesus came to bring. Mullery states, "Jesus, is not less than an example but He is much more than an example."
What did Jesus do? He died on the cross taking the just wrath of God so that sinners could be pardoned.
What did Jesus do? He did something that you and I could never do for ourselves - he lived a sinless life so that we could be credited with his righteousness. And it is only by believing on Him and His finished work that any man or woman will be saved. The most important thing any human being can understand is not what Jesus would do, but what he did do when he died at Calvary.
Anything that draws people's attention to Christ has some value. The danger, as my pastor C.J. Mahaney puts it, is that "Our culture is attracted to cliches and catchy slogans. We're a sound-bite culture and we want sound-bite theology, but no such thing exists." Let's be careful not to allow catchy phrases to replace solid doctrine and sound theology. Let's be sure we're asking the right questions and that those questions are pointing people not just to right living, but to the finished work of the Cross of Christ as revealed through the Bible. I think it's what Jesus would do.