The difference between, “What Would Jesus Do?”, and “What Would Jesus Have Me Do?”, is something that I believe all Christians need to appreciate. I would rather see a Christian be concerned about finding God’s will for his or her life than be unconcerned or be devoted to having one’s own way in life. Up to a point, it is better to be sincerely concerned and sincerely making an effort, even if we make mistakes. The problem is that it’s still better not to make mistakes that can be avoided through more understanding of God’s Word in the Bible.
Both the apostle James and the author of the letter to the Hebrews, (believed by some of us to be Paul), mention Abraham in connection with faith, especially his two cardinal actions of faith: setting out for the Promised Land when God called him to do so, and offering Isaac on Mount Moriah when God asked him to do so. Although God spared him from actually doing the latter, providing a ram as a substitute – a foreshadowing of God sending His Lamb as our substitute – Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham did this, “concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
If we were to apply the same reasoning to Abraham’s actions that some do to Jesus’ works, we might conclude that it is a great act of faith any time one of us wants to set out and claim a new geographical area as God’s gift, or, yet worse, any time one of us were to try to “give back” our children to God in a literal sense. Why would it be right for Abraham to do what he did in these cases, and wrong for us? Abraham had been asked to do these things once, in each case, by God. No Scripture remotely suggests that God ever asked him to do either act again, so no reason exists to believe he would ask us.
Serving God, pleasing God, finding God’s will for our lives – all these involve two inseparable things: faith and obedience. Faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is described as essential to pleasing God, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” James addresses, (in chapter 2), the relationship between faith and works: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
I believe there is a key element in Hebrews 11:11, which says that Sarah received strength to conceive Isaac at an advanced age, by faith, “because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”
I have come to see faith – saving faith, Christian faith – to be faith in God personally and His character and His nature, not just faith in a system of rules or of promises that He spoke and we try to apply. If we have this kind of faith, such as Sarah and Abraham did, we will obey Him as Abraham did because we believe His plan or His request or command to be morally right, superior in wisdom, and worthy of our obeying it – and we have that same faith in His judgement and timing.
Even brash, impetuous Peter, in Matthew 14:28, first said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water,” and waited for Him to reply, before stepping out in faith. That, to me, is a good example of why, “What Would Jesus Have Me Do?”, is a better philosophy than, “What Would Jesus Do?” While the two ideas may get us to the same place at times, as they did with Peter, where are we after we get there?
Pontius Pilate said more than one sentence to Jesus Christ but the one for which he is probably remembered most is for asking Jesus the rhetorical question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) The Gospel of John says that he walked away after asking it without expecting or receiving an answer. Jesus had just told him, "Everyone that is of the truth hears My voice," (v. 37), and he had already told His disciples much earlier, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me."
Too many of us in modern times have developed a mentality that when you find the truth about someone or something, it has to be cold, hard, and decidedly ugly - or you haven't uncovered the truth yet and you have to keep digging. Viewed with this mindset, anything pleasant and beautiful has to be artificial to some degree, created or edited to cover up something we are not meant to see.
Really hard-core believers in this mindset may even assert that I can't say it doesn't apply to Jesus, asserting that His "cold, hard, ugly" side is that He sends unbelievers to Hell.
Actually, the "cold, hard, ugly side" of human nature is that we keep blaming God for our facing eternal separation from Him if we reject His offer of salvation. We call it a flaw in His nature that He is entirely and purely holy, unable to tolerate sin and rebellion in Heaven in His presence. Saving faith is, in its essence, belief in the faithfulness, love, and unblemished character of God in all Three of His Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is belief upon promises He has made and conviction that He cannot lie and will keep those promises.
Satan's original lie in Eden was not only spoken to cast doubt on whether our first parents understood God's Word, but to undermine their belief in God's character - Satan asserted that God had not told them the full truth and was holding back something extremely desirable from them - the ability to become like Himself. Satan works through many avenues, both major and petty, to try to convince us of his lie today. The fact is that we, by insulting God's character and denying His truthfulness, made ourselves unfit for His holy presence. He did and has done everything possible to provide a way back to Him through Christ's redemptive sacrifice without compromising either His love or His holiness. If a person responds to the amount of divine revelation he has, He gives more. He works hard to draw sinners to Himself. We must try to resist, to avoid it.
When we accept in the depth of our heart that Christ is who He says He is, that He has done what His Word says he's done and will keep his promises that He has made, sooner or later I think we will find ourselves questioning this "cold, hard, ugly truth" mentality. Yes, our exposure to human sin nature, which constantly manifests itself, will provide enough instances where the truth IS indeed cold, hard, and ugly. As long as we live in this mortal world, this fallen world, we will not lack for cases where that is true.
What we must question and ultimately reject is the mentality that Truth is always this way and must be. Jesus Christ, who is praised time and again for His beauty of holy character in the Scriptures, is Truth. We as Christians cannot always say, nor even think in our hearts, that the truth about anything must be cold, hard, and ugly. Nor do I think that the "hyper-religious" or "hyper-spiritual" idea is true that Jesus Christ or the Triune God is the only instance where Truth is beautiful. That - if I understand what I have heard of the Gnostics - is related to what they believed, that God was too holy to have direct contact with the material world and therefore He distanced Himself from it by a graduated system of "emanations." The problem with that, of course, was that it made it necessary to deny Jesus Christ was God, fully Incarnate. That was complete, direct contact between holy God and the material world and their system denied that was possible. The Bible says that God's Creation sings His praises and shows us His Divine nature, (Romans 1), and much of Creation has beauty.
I do not delude myself that this one blog post will bring all philosophical debates about Truth and Beauty to a screeching halt. Those debates have been going on too long and always shall until, following Him as the Way, endowed by Him with eternal Life, we find ourselves in the Presence of Him who is Truth. Until then, our attempts to define Truth and Beauty will always be partial and provisional because we cannot with our mortal minds fathom God fully. Some attempts will, of course, be much more accurate than others. Some human efforts will be off the mark by light-years. That will be true till the end of time.
My central point is that we who believe in Christ must at the very least allow ourselves to believe that the truth can be beautiful, and that beautiful things can be true. Growth will follow from there, but that is the minimum, the beginning. It is harder for some than for others. I still have to argue myself into it at times. The fact that I do is, I hope, proof of the Spirit at work.
(UPDATE on 09/04/2014): I recently had the opportunity to read the late Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn's well-known Harvard commencement address from 1978. At its beginning, he said, concerning Truth and its elusiveness, "But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter." At least he said, "almost." Despite my respect for Aleksandr Isaevich, which is considerable, I see no need to change this post. I already wrote in it, "Yes, our exposure to human sin nature, which constantly manifests itself, will provide enough instances where the truth IS indeed cold, hard, and ugly. As long as we live in this mortal world, this fallen world, we will not lack for cases where that is true." Certainly Mr. Solzhenitsyn's life, and the lives of many other Russians who contributed information to him about his country's policies and actions, contained many such instances. I can understand his perspective. The fact that he said, 'almost," still leaves room for mine.
(See "About Me")