Ever tried to be like Jesus . . . and failed? I have. And failed miserably at that!
In my early teens, I was at Tahquitz Pines Youth Camp in California, singing around a camp fire with 80 other kids. We were caught up in singing –
To be like Jesus! To be like Jesus! All I ask – to be like Him.
All through life’s journey, from earth to glory, all I ask – to be like Him.
The counselor challenged us to solidify our determination to follow Jesus by coming up and placing a dry stick in the burning coals. It wasn’t clear then what that symbolic act meant. On reflection, it was to represent my death to self, and a commitment to let Christ live in me. Regardless of my limited understanding then, God met me there. Something happened in my heart. He set a longing and determination in my young spirit that kept calling me back into the pursuit of Christ-likeness for decades thereafter.
Isn’t it wonderful how much patience our loving Lord has shown to us? He gently attends us as we grow in grace and knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). He delights in our maturing process each day. He discloses Himself to us in greater measure in our spiritual journey with Him. Even when our best attempts to imitate Christ fail, or our preoccupations draw our attention away from Him for a season, His love is unrelenting. His patience is evident. He waits. He beacons to our spirits, and draws us back to Himself.
Now, here is a little shift of thinking that will make a huge difference in our pursuit of Christ-likeness. Stop trying so hard! Surrender to His indwelling presence. Just let Jesus be who He is IN YOU. Read Paul’s words carefully:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
And everywhere the apostle preached, he proclaimed “the glory of the mystery of the gospel which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27-28
Christ in you! and Christ in me!
This is simple but profound. I see this as Paul’s personal mission statement, his “Elevator Speech.” I imagine that if Paul had a chariot, “Christ in You” might have been his bumper sticker. This truly is the remarkable result of our responding to the gospel. He actually comes to indwell our hearts. He promised His abiding presence in us.
Here is why I failed so often to be like Jesus. I would try so hard to imitate Him. I was eager to please Him, and not to disappoint Him. But then I would come up short. So I would repent and resolve to try harder – and harder.
Then, I discovered the joy and relief that comes from understanding what is called the “exchanged life.” Paul said, “. . . yet not I, but Christ.” After a prayer conference in 1995, I was in a motel room in Phoenix. The Lord awakened me at 4:30 a.m. and said to me very directly, “David, don’t try so hard.” It shocked me to hear so directly this gentle rebuke. But it was to set me ever increasingly free from self-effort at mimicking Jesus.
What does it take for us to experience this liberating truth? Believe that Jesus is not only with you, but IN you, right here, right now. In all your ways acknowledge Him. (Proverbs 3:6) Just welcome Jesus to be Himself in you this moment, and the next, and the next. Lay your flesh life of self-effort – like that stick I laid in the campfire – on God’s altar as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1-2) Talk to Jesus: “Lord, I celebrate your indwelling presence in my heart. I welcome You to live Your life through my life. Display Your presence and power in and through me. I want to say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ [to live].” (Philippians 1:21)
So, be encouraged. Christ is in us. He’ll manifest Himself in and through us, if we’ll let Him just be Himself in us. This is the secret to Christ-likeness. “For to me, to live is Christ [to live] . . .” Philippians 1:21a