From what we have learned in our past few lessons, we should be able to understand that Jesus, the God who created us, lived his earthly life as a real human-just like us in every way! The impact of this knowledge should give new importance to the LIFE OF JESUS in our own lives today. Most religious minded people today only think of Jesus as the savior who died on the cross for their sins. Certainly, this is true, and a very good thing to remember, but, as we have seen in our study, Jesus is so much MORE than that!
The writers of the New Testament describe a Jesus that many people today do not know. Please turn to the book of Hebrews and read all of chapter 11 and then the first 3 verses of chapter 12. The background of this book is interesting. The people who received this letter were Christians and they had been for some time. From other things the writer says, we can conclude that they were in danger of losing their salvation. Evidently, they reached a point where they no longer felt it necessary to grow. There is evidence showing that they even began to return to the bad things that they did before they became Christians. What they needed was a good reminder and that is exactly what the writer did. When he came to Chapter 11, he focused his attention upon the idea of FAITH. From the first few statements, we can see that he defines faith as knowing that something is real although you do not see it. In verse six, he describes faith as being a combination of two things. First, he says that faith means believing that God exists. The second thing we learn is that faith means seeking God. “Seeking,” means looking for something, and that means action! The idea is simple. God rewards those who believe and seek him!
After defining faith, the writer provides example after example from the Old Testament of people who possessed this faith! In chapter 12, he builds upon the testimony of the lives of these witnesses with a statement of encouragement. Notice how his encouragement calls for the reader to look to Jesus as the “PIONEER and PERFECTER”1 of THE FAITH! There are several things in this passage that we need to understand because they relate back to discoveries we made in our studies!
First, we need to understand the words PIONEER and PERFECTER that he used to describe Jesus.
The word PIONEER2 speaks of one who creates a path for others to follow. This is how the writer describes Jesus.
In addition, he uses the word PERFECTER3, which speaks of a person who has completed something.
Together, they indicate that Jesus is the one who starts and the one who finishes! The writer applies both of these words to Jesus in relation to what he calls, “THE FAITH”4. Jesus completed the faith for us, by means of his perfect human life, by the sacrifice of his perfect blood, and by his resurrection and victory from death! In doing these things, Jesus set the example for all believers who would come after him. He made a trail for the rest of us to follow. The writer tells his readers that as they struggle to establish their own faith in God, they should look to Jesus as a model to imitate. They should compare their experiences with his so that they might not give up when things get bad.
The New Testament contains many references to Jesus being our example. One of these is John 13:15-17.
“15 I did this as an example for you. So you should do for each other like I did for you. 16 I tell you the truth. A servant is not greater than his master. The person that is sent to do something is not greater than the one that sent him. 17 If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.”
Perhaps the most important thing to notice about this passage is the fact that Jesus himself explains the situation. He set the example and those who claim to be his followers must follow.
Let us think about this in another way.
From time to time, we all have been told to perform tasks that we do not know how to do. Because of the competitive nature of the world, we find that we are able to cope with these challenges more often than we realize. When a person joins a company, usually the BOSS tells an experienced employee to show this new employee “the ropes”5. (Does this mean that the experienced worker will lead the new person to a closet in which is hung a collection of ropes?
This is where Jesus comes into the picture. Eventually, you and I get the opportunity to “join a company”, which we might refer to as GOD, Inc. Our responsibility is to learn the task of pleasing the BOSS and helping the company grow, but how do we learn the ropes? Does the BOSS have someone he can assign to demonstrate our responsibilities? The answers to this is, “YES!” God sent Jesus to the earth to be the PIONEER of the faith—OUR FAITH! He came to “show us the ropes!”
The thought of following Jesus’ example is discouraging to many people because of the perfection we see in him. When compared to our blunders and weaknesses, imitating Jesus can seem to be impossible, yet we encounter passage after passage in the Bible that tells us to do just that—imitate him! Let us not forget what we have already learned. It was through SUFFERING that Jesus became perfect and that he was like US in every way!
Look at this matter from the viewpoint of LOGIC! What good would it do for me to compare my life to Jesus’ if his life were not equal to mine? If it were not humanly possible for us to imitate Jesus’ life then would it be fair for God to tell us to do so? Of course not, and yet the fact remains that God tells us over and over again to do that very thing! Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus’ struggle against sin and human weakness WAS NOT done to accomplish anything for him. Everything that he did, he did FOR US. Jesus died for us, but he also LIVED FOR US! He became LIKE US IN EVERY WAY—in order to provide us with a PERFECT EXAMPLE of what God intended every human life to be like.
With this thought in mind, let us look at the following passages that speak on the matter of Jesus being our example and see what interesting things we might discover. In each, we will need to look for clues to understanding his success.
Perhaps there is still some doubt in your mind about this matter. After all, do not forget that “religion” has always told us that we are not perfect and that no one can BE perfect. Religion has not only told us that we should not try to live perfectly, but it says that anyone who claims to be able to be perfect is arrogant and a liar! On the other hand, we now have the witness of the Bible and the human life of Jesus to think about. Just so that there will be no confusion about what we are saying, please go back and read 1 Peter 2:21-25. Remember that Peter told his readers that they had been called by God to do something. He explains that God calls his people to follow in the example of Jesus’ sinless life. In fact, Peter states clearly that Jesus saves people so that they would die to sin and live for justice! No matter what “religion” might try to tell us today, if a person is a Christian then it is necessary for him/her to “die to sin”. Jesus did not sin and that is the example he set for us to follow. If we claim to have faith, then we must follow in it!
If we go forward, we find several other passages that speak about this matter. The combined message is that our crooked lives will be straightened out if we follow in Jesus’ footsteps!
Philippians 2:3-11 is our first passage. (Please take a few minutes to read the passage beginning from verse 1 of chapter 2 and determine what the main point the writer is making in this paragraph.) What is the point the writer is making here? He is speaking about humility and putting the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs. Surprisingly, he tells his readers that they should follow the example that Jesus left. Then he gives a brief description of how Jesus put the needs of others ahead of himself and concludes that God exalted him because of the way he acted.
The lesson seems to be that God will also exalt anyone follows in the example of Jesus. Can we expect to be exalted if we do not have the same attitude as Jesus? Can we expect to be exalted if we do not have the same action Jesus had?
Another interesting passage we need to look at is Matthew 16:24-25. (Please stop and read this passage.) Jesus states the idea in much stronger terms, perhaps much stronger than we want to hear. The point is very simple. Jesus must be the most important thing in a person’s life. It is not a situation where not following Jesus with a 100% effort will result in a person being a “bad” disciple, or an “unfulfilled” one, rather, the fact is clearly stated by Jesus that such a person will not be considered his disciple at all! The commitment God is looking for is an “all or nothing” kind of commitment. This is what God expected from Jesus and this is what he also expects from all of us. Jesus was able to accomplish this as a man—just like us in every way—and his life is the example for us to follow.
Please turn to and read 1 John 2:3-6. This passage is particularly important because of the background. The time when the letter was written was a time of great difficulty and many Christians were starting to go away from the original teachings and create new teachings of their own. The writer fights hard to get his readers to return to the original idea of Christianity they received when they first became believers. In this passage, notice how he lays down a foundation on which a person will be able to KNOW if they are a follower of God or not. He indicates that obeying what God says is the distinguishing mark that separates a Christian, IN NAME ONLY, from a true Christian. The whole idea of Christianity can be summarized in the end of verse 6—walking as HE (Jesus) walked. To say that one “believes” in Christ implies that one agrees to follow in his steps. Not to follow Christ, while professing to “know God”, is hypocrisy!
1 Corinthians 11:1 contains a very peculiar statement made by the apostle Paul. Listen to what he says. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Isn’t it odd to hear Paul, who is only a man, instructing his readers to consider him as a living example of Christ, who in turn is our living example of human perfection? We rarely hear our religious leaders making such statements. However, should we feel uncomfortable if our leaders were to say this, and should we feel uncomfortable about saying this about ourselves? We should not IF we are truly following the example of Jesus! Perhaps this is God’s plan for us. Perhaps he wants each of us to be a living example of “THE FAITH” for others to look at and imitate!
Without a doubt, the verses above bring out the reality of Jesus’ example in our lives. From this picture, though, we can see that being a disciple of Jesus is not going to be easy AND that the amount of dedication needed to survive is almost “super-human”. However, before we give up, let us look at a few more points about what our goal should be.
Consider this... Most of the things we do in life were learned from “the world”, and over the years they have become deeply rooted habits in our lives. When people become disciples of Christ, they all have areas of life in which changes must be made. The elimination of sin from our lives is an undeniable demand that does not go away when a person becomes a Christian. At the same time, is it reasonable to expect that ALL bad habits can be simply stopped overnight?
Please read and consider Romans 12:1-2 very carefully. This is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible because it helps set down God’s expectations in practical terms. One thing this passage teaches us is that God wants our LIVES—our entire being! He does not just want us for a day or for only a few hours on Sunday, he wants all of us, all the time! We are told to become “living sacrifices” to God. The passage goes on to say that this action is the logical way in which we are to SERVE God.6 What does “living sacrifice” mean in practical terms? How do we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice? Verse 2 provides an explanation. It seems that sacrificing ourselves means CHANGING HOW WE THINK about things! It means changing how we think about ourselves and about others. It means changing how we think about God and especially how we think about Jesus. However, this is not simply a matter of changing a person’s way of thinking. This change of thinking must also lead to a change of action. It should bring about a TRANSFORMATION! However, the transformation that is described here is a gradual one, which occurs in stages. This verse contains a very interesting Greek word, METAMORPHOSIS, which is a term we hear used in Biology. It represents a life cycle that involves several developmental stages. For example, consider the life cycle of a butterfly. A butterfly begins life as an egg, which hatches into a caterpillar, which later sleeps in a cocoon, and finally emerges as an adult butterfly. The early stages look very different from the final adult form and each stage has its own particular goals and obstacles. The idea seems to be that the change God expects is constant and continual, and that the final result of our changing will look different from what is seen in the various growth stages along the way.
This Greek word is also found in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and adds to our understanding how the idea of change through stages relates to Christianity. The idea of METAMORPHOSIS is used here to describe the transition of a Christian’s becoming more like Jesus. The key to success is also given in the passage—looking at Jesus, who is OUR EXAMPLE! As an illustration, think of an artist who wants to paint a picture of a beautiful landscape. How does he include so many details into his painting? Does he simply take one single look at the landscape, then go into his studio and paint the picture? No, he does not. Instead, he will take his painting equipment and go to the site, and then he will begin sketching the scene. He will look at the scene and then draw a little. Then he will look a little more and then draw a little more. Again and again, the process continues through the drawing and painting stages until, at last, he is finished. The process of following Jesus is very similar. We study and learn a little about him and put what we have learned into our life and then change happens. Then we learn a little more and put that into our life and then a little more change happens. Each time we look and add we change and become a little more like Jesus than we were before.
The process of our METAMORPHOSIS, like that of the butterfly, is not without its obstacles. As we change, we will become different in the eyes of the world. People will not always react positively to this difference. All kinds of bad things might come our way, some because of our change while others may attempt to stop our transformation. However, we should not become discouraged because suffering is part of following the example of Jesus. Do not forget that Jesus himself suffered many of the same obstacles when he lived as a human. He became perfect through suffering!
Let us consider the point of James 1:2-3. James speaks here about the “testing of your faith”. The idea here is one of testing for the purpose of proving the genuineness or quality of something. He states that remaining faithful through such situations produces endurance.
This same idea was taught by the apostle Paul in Romans 5:2-5, and by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-8 and 4:12-14. (Please read these passages carefully.)
All of them speak of Christians suffering difficulties in their faith. Did you notice how they instruct the readers to BE HAPPY? Doesn’t this seem like a strange encouragement to hear? We might expect to hear something like, “Be cautious!”, or “Be brave!”, but “Be Happy!”? That does not sound possible. However, the reason for this joy is made very clear as we read further into the passages. The obstacles come, not because Christians are bad people, but because they are becoming more like Christ. He was abused because he was different from the world. As a Christian becomes less like the world and more like Jesus, he/she will encounter obstacles that will make metamorphosis more difficult. The point that continues to surface over and over again is simple. Surviving the struggles of faith makes one stronger in faith!
If the struggles become more difficult the longer a person is a Christian, then more determination will be required. However, we should never forget the promise God made to all of us, that he will never allow us to struggle against more than we are capable of enduring. (Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13?) In order for Jesus to live right, he had to have a very strong commitment and great concentration. The same will be true of anyone who decides to become a follower of Jesus.
Please find and read carefully through 2 Corinthians 5:14-17. This passage mentions many of the points that we have seen so far but adds a couple of new ones that can help us achieve the goal. Why did Jesus die? Was it simply so that our sins might be forgiven? No. This passage tells us that Jesus died so that we might not live for ourselves, but that we might live for him! How are we able to do this? Paul mentioned that Christ’s love had an influence in his own life. The love that Christ had for Paul motivated him to do what he had to do to become what God wanted him to be. We might even say that Paul lived for Christ because Christ lived for him!
We can also be influenced to do right by the EXAMPLE of love that Jesus showed by dying for us on the cross. He did not live for himself. If we are convinced, as Paul was, then this conviction will moves us onward toward transformation and change! It will not be easy, but if we remember to always look to Jesus—as the PIONEER and PERFECTER of OUR FAITH—and allow him to lead the way, then success can be achieved!
As a final consideration, let us look closer at the life of the apostle Paul. We just saw his statement about how his convictions about Jesus motivated him to change his life. We have a record of many changes that occurred in Paul’s life recorded in Philippians 3:4-14. There are a number of special things to take note of. He started out as a very devout Jewish man before he was a Christian. His faith in God was very strong and he truly believed that he was doing God’s will when he persecuted Christianity.7 Once Paul became a follower of Jesus, he began to change and things began to change for him as well. Suddenly, his family and friends disliked him, and he became hunted by the same Jewish leaders with whom he once “hunted” Christians! All of this happened because of his transformation into Christ’s likeness. Notice how, in verses 12-14, he speaks of a gradual process at work inside of him that is like what we saw in 2 Corinthians 3:18, and how he says that he had not yet become the butterfly. Notice also how he mentions letting go of the mistakes of yesterday and concentrating on trying to change more TODAY, reaching always toward the future for the goal of getting rid of these problems and being able to finally rest. That is Christianity! Jesus made it to the goal and we can too!
All we have to do is put our feet into the footprints that he left behind when he pioneered the trail for us to follow.
1 This is the wording found in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
2 This word comes from the original Greek word, ARCHEGOS, which speaks of someone who takes the lead in something and thus provides an example for those who will follow later.
3 This word comes from the Greek word, TELEIOTES, which speaks of one who has completed or finished something.
4 The New Testament has several places where the phrase “the faith” is used to refer to a summary of all the different aspects that combine together to form what we know as Christianity—belief, proper attitudes, teachings and obedience.
5 This is an idiomatic phrase from American English.
6 Some translations contain the phrase “spiritual worship” instead of “reasonable service”. The correct translation should be something like “logical service”, “reasonable service”, or perhaps, “the reasonable way to serve God”. “Spiritual worship” is not what the original Greek text says and is a wrong translation.
7 The story of how Paul met Jesus is recorded in Acts 9:2-19.
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