You have probably heard the popular Christian idea that “you are the only Bible many people will ever read.” We are exhorted to love like Jesus loved, and to live like Jesus lived. Which sounds like a fantastic concept until you actually try to do it.
With all the preaching toward “being Jesus” you would think that the resurrection is a farce and he is only present in some spiritual sense, locked away in heaven only manifested in his progressively maturing followers who must represent him well if there is any hope for redemption and restoration.
Of course very few people actually believe this intellectually but practically (and in many cases theologically) this is exactly how we present the Christian-life in the here and now. We are given the idea that after Jesus’ ascension he left it up to his followers to continue the work he started a few millennia ago. The Church is presented as running the anchor leg in the redemptive race. Adam ran the first leg and failed miserably. The Jewish nation ran the second lap and caught us up a little bit with the help of the law. Jesus then showed up, ran the third leg putting humanity in the lead and then handed the baton off to the Church to finish the race empowered by the Holy Spirit and the stellar example Jesus left.
It is now our job to finish the race well so that sinners can be introduced to a Savior that loves and forgives them. Rather than simply preach the good news, that it is Jesus and him alone that accomplishes this, we are continually told that it is actually us who must be this for fallen humanity. This is not only burdensome, it diminishes the finished work of Christ. Christianity is not about the Christian, it’s about Christ and what he does for us! Funny enough the Church will proudly proclaim, “it’s all about Jesus” but when you preach Jesus and nothing else all of sudden Christians start to get nervous. So it is really “all about Jesus” until you start preaching nothing but Jesus.
You might be thinking, “yes, but Ryan, doesn’t the apostle John exhort believers to walk as Jesus walked?”
Yes, in fact, John says this quite explicitly in his first epistle:
“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6)
Taken in its greater context John has already told us that if we (believers) claim we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves to the point that the truth is not in us (1:8). Therefore, we recognize that at best we will never “walk” like Jesus walked because he was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15). Furthermore, in the direct context, John has told us that Jesus is our advocate with the Father (2:1) and the propitiation for our sins (2:2). Then he goes on to say that “we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (2:3) that anyone who does not “keep his commandments is a liar” (2:4) and “whoever keeps his word, in him the love of God is truly perfected.” (2:5) If we have already been told that believers will indeed sin (break his commands) then how can John double back and say that believers must always keep his commands and walk like Jesus? Is John speaking out of both sides of his mouth? John, of course, is doing no such thing. He, by the Holy Spirit, is doing what God consistently does — he is using the law to put our old man to death so that we might find life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ alone.
The law says, “keep my commandments” for anyone who says they know God and fails to keep his commands is a liar! Guess what? That’s you… you are a liar. The law says, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” As sinners, we have a very big misconception about God’s law. We are under the delusion (remember we are liars) that when God says we “ought” to do something he thinks we can actually do it. God is not under this delusion. He gives us commands and oughts so that we come to the realization that we cannot do it. This is the purpose of the law: to put us and our self-salvation projects to death. This is what John is doing in his first epistle; he is using the law and the gospel within their proper functions. The law to show us our sin and the gospel to proclaim that Jesus alone is our only means of forgiveness and new life. This new life is not a second chance to fulfill the law and do all that we ought to do. That is not good news because no matter how many chances we are given we will find a way to fail miserably.
The gospel is the good news that in Christ we have been given the very righteousness of Christ himself. This means that everything God commands of us is given to us in Christ as a gift. In Christ we are not only fully absolved of all of our sin, we are actually given perfect standing as fully obedient saints. This means that in Christ we have already kept his commands, fulfilled his word, and walked as Jesus walked. It is only from this place of freedom that we have any hope to love our neighbor and walk in obedience. The pressure is off, the race is won, you are more than a conqueror in Christ. You cannot possibly screw this up because Jesus has accomplished for you what you could never do on your own.
You are not the “only Bible many people will ever read.” The good news the Bible proclaims is fully found in Jesus alone. Jesus is alive, and present, completely accessible to any who receive him by faith. It is this message that must be proclaimed, from one sinner to another. For while your neighbor needs your good works, they cannot possibly save him, only Jesus can do that.