Imitate Jesus

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage
;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Paul tells us that though Jesus was God in the flesh, Jesus did not use His divinity as something He “used to his own advantage.” In the Greek the word here means “to take by an open display of force like someone seizing a prize or bounty.” In other words, rather than openly displaying the power of His divinity, Jesus instead set His divinity aside and “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

Paul learned this truth from Jesus Himself:

For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. 

John 5:18-20

We see in this passage in John the same two truths that are articulated in Philippians 2: 1) Jesus was God in the flesh, and 2) Jesus made himself completely dependent on the Father, not operating out of His divinity but rather His humanity. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity it wouldn’t be true that “the Son can do nothing by himself.”

Instead, Jesus operated as a human who was fully connected to the Father and completely filled by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), walking in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). By doing so He became our example, not just our Savior.

If Jesus operated out of His divinity, Christianity becomes a spectator sport where we get to say, “Well, yeah, but Jesus was God!” We never have to take up the call to imitate Jesus because that seems impossible. But by Jesus operating completely out of His humanity, we don’t get that excuse. We are now invited to fully connect to the Father and be completely filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus modeled and just as the first century Christians attempted.

When Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead, He did so as a human who was fully connected to the Father and fully empowered by the Spirit. Then He turns to His disciples, who are in no way divine, and commands them to do the same things (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 10:1-21; Matthew 28:19-20). And we see the disciples do what Jesus had been doing. They just needed the authority of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4, 43) in order to perform some of the same signs and wonders.

All of this leaves us without excuse. The whole, “Yeah, but Jesus was God” excuse doesn’t really work. Jesus is our example, and we are to imitate His life. Paul put it this way, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1). He also said, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children…”(Ephesians 5:1).

Confirmation

The church at Philippi was definitely one of Paul’s favorites. The apostle Paul writes from prison and starts his letter to the Philippians with this:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

Philippians 1:3-5, 7

It’s a beautiful thing to have partners in the gospel like this. But what I want us to notice here is how Paul describes his own ministry. He mentions three distinct times when he truly feels the Philippians’ partnership as they share in God’s grace with him: 1) when he’s in chains; 2) when he’s defending the gospel, and 3) when he’s confirming the gospel. Christians around the world can relate to these three realities. However, in the American Church, we can mostly only relate to the second one.

When Paul mentions that he “defends” the gospel, he uses the word apologia. This is the Greek word where we get our English word apologetics. It is when we use intelligent reasoning to defend the foundational principles of the gospel.

Yet, Paul also describes his ministry as confirming the gospel. Most American Christians would read this and assume it is the same as defending the gospel. But that is not what Paul is saying here. The Greek word meaning “to confirm” is also used in Mark 16:20:

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:20

So while intelligent reasoning is what it takes to “defend” the gospel, the confirmation of the gospel happens through demonstrations of the power of God through signs and wonders. Paul says it this way to the Romans:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. 

Romans 15:18-19

Christians around the world are experiencing all three of the things Paul mentioned in Philippians 1. They are being imprisoned and persecuted for their faith. They are defending the gospel with the reasoned truth. But they are also confirming the gospel through healings, miracles, and casting out demons–the power of signs and wonders.

One reason American Christians are steeped in unbelief, doubt and skepticism is because the Church here is largely unable to confirm the gospel. If we spend all our time defending the gospel, we’re constantly on the defense. Confirmation of the gospel, through signs and wonders, is what is needed in our generation!