What would Jesus Do? This phrase became very popular in the 1990’s and had the power of merchandising behind it. Christian Rock bands made songs by the title, T-shirts were made, and a bracelet that simply read “WWJD” was all the rage. Jesus is our ultimate example and this is echoed by Klaus Issler who writes, “By refining our understanding of Jesus Christ we can benefit from the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is our genuine example.” In imitating Christ we are just not imitating a man, but the incarnate Son of God who was our perfect substitute for our sin. Medieval writer and theologian Thomas Kempis puts it this way, “By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”
Many writers have discussed imitating Christ, but there are several passages in scripture that do just that. Some of them even record Jesus saying those very words. The Lord said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul also wrote about Christ being our example in Philippians 2:4-11, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews echoes this in Hebrews 12:1-6, and Peter writes about it in 1 Peter 2:21-23. The passage in 1 Peter is especially clear as Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:21, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. If one truly accepts Christ, repents, and makes a confession of faith then it is expected that he will seek to imitate Christ.
During the 19th century, and into the 20th, liberal theology had started to gain a foothold within Christianity. Liberal theologians believed that Christianity had to adapt or die, and in doing so several key doctrines were denied. According to theologian Roger Olson, “It may be identified with denial of biblical inspiration and rejection of dogmas such as the Trinity or the Deity of Christ.” In 1897 Charles Sheldon wrote a novel titled In His Steps, and it challenged the very foundations of the liberalism that was running rampant. This was very appealing before World War I as it was easy to read and cut to the heart of Liberalism. Charles Sheldon writes, “giving illustrations from the life and teachings of Jesus to show how faith in the Christ helped to save men because of the pattern or character He displayed for their imitation. Charles Sheldon also describes the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the atonement in his novel. This is also why Bible-believing evangelicals found the work so appealing. Not only was it readable, but it was a great devotion that reinforced the foundations of Christian dogma.
What are the values or dangers in the What Would Jesus Do Movement? The value is that one has the potential to become a better disciple of Christ. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of how to live the Christian life. We will have setbacks, but we can go to him for anything as he knows how we are tempted since he himself was tempted. We can learn from his character, his study, his quiet time, and his prayer life. So are there really any dangers? If we are looking to how Jesus lived then there is the very real possibility of turning Jesus into a good moral teacher. If this happens then the point was missed, especially if we are no longer looking at him as the perfect savior.
In conclusion imitating Christ is a practice with biblical merit, and it is something that Christ told us to do. It does not mean that we will be sinless, but it does mean that our perfect savior expects us to live godly lives. These godly and loving lives will be seen by non-believers and will be helpful in evangelization.
“In His Steps By Charles Sheldon,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed July 5, 2016, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/sheldon/ihsteps.ii.html.
1 Peter 2:21 (New International Version).
John 13:15 (New International Version).
Kempis, Thomas A. Imitation of Christ. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1996.
Newton, Gary C. Growing Toward Spiritual Maturity. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2004.
Olson, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999.
Sanders, Fred, and Klaus Issler, eds. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing, 2007.
Yarnell, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine. Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2007.
 Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, eds., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing, 2007), 192.
 Gary C Newton, Growing Toward Spiritual Maturity (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2004), 88.
 Thomas A Kempis, Imitation of Christ (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1996), 1.
 John 13:15 (New International Version).
 1 Peter 2:21 (New International Version).
 Malcolm B Yarnell, The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2007), 191.
 Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 538.
 Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, eds., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective (Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing, 2007), 197.