Christian author and professor Dallas Willard used to tweak the oft-referenced acronym WWJD. “It’s not so much asking what would Jesus do,” Willard liked to say, “but rather what would Jesus do if Jesus were you?” Willard put it this way in his book Divine Conspiracy: “As a disciple of Jesus … I am learning to live my life as He would live my life if He were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything He did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that He did all that He did.”
There are at least two components to Willard’s perspective. The first is very likely the one we’re used to grappling with (though this makes it no less challenging): To be a follower of Jesus, we learn to obey what Jesus taught and to live as Jesus lived. The second, however, is perhaps less familiar: To be a follower of Jesus means that God’s Spirit teaches us and transforms us to be a unique expression of God’s joy, goodness, holiness, and freedom. In other words, as we learn to follow Jesus, we become increasingly like Him—but we do so in ways that make us more (not less) the unique person God has created us to be.
Read Matthew 16:21-28
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Discipleship to Jesus was something Willard referred to as apprenticeship. Like apprentices, the disciples spent much time diligently following the Master and obediently practicing what He taught. Through the process, God was transforming them to be more like Jesus, while at the same time they were becoming their truest selves. Apprentices not only learn the teacher’s craft but also bring to it their own unique imprint as they mature. Following Jesus expands rather than restricts a person’s true humanity.
As we follow Jesus, we become increasingly like Him—but in ways that make us the unique person God has created us to be.
The Lord illuminated these two aspects of following Him as Savior. “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” Jesus explained, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (vv. 24-25).
In other words, to become an apprentice of Jesus Christ, we surrender ourselves (that is, our future, our demands, and our loves) to the One who is our Lord. And then, as we receive Jesus’ love and learn Jesus’ ways, we find ourselves, for the first time, freely ourselves. We find our broken pieces mended and our gifts, vision, and energies multiplied. We know who we truly are. We don’t become robots; we become living evidence of God’s life-affirming transformation.
It’s common to think that following Jesus requires some template where we all learn from Him the same way, use identical language, have matching opinions, and grow at a similar pace. After all, life in Christ is a corporate experience, which requires some unifying forms. However, part of the mystery of Christianity is that in laying down our lives, we access the beauty of our true selves. Among Jesus’ early followers were a fisherman, a tax collector, a wealthy businesswoman, a physician ... Even after years of life with God, His adherents could never have been considered clones. One was hot-headed and impulsive; a second was slow to make any decision. A third was logical and precise; still another was imaginative and mystical. Women and men. Old and young. Revolutionaries and plodders. Yet all surrendered their life to Jesus, and all found their beautiful, unique life returned to them in spades.
As we receive Jesus’ love and learn Jesus’ ways, we find our broken pieces mended and our gifts, vision, and energies multiplied.
• Look again at Matthew 16:21-28, and slowly digest Jesus’ words to His disciples. What would your reaction have been if you were Peter or James or Andrew? What would have terrified you about Jesus’ message, and what would have inspired or intrigued you?
• Read Ephesians 5:1. What does it mean to be an imitator of God? How does it expand or illumine the idea of imitation to think in terms of apprenticeship? What about the phrase “walk in love”—how does that play into these ideas?
• Ponder Ephesians 2:10. What does this image of being God’s workmanship say to you? If you think of yourself as God’s beloved craft or God’s beloved piece of art, how does that inform the way you understand your life as a follower of Jesus?
• Have you ever been an apprentice or learned some craft or discipline from watching another person? What was that like? If you haven’t experienced apprenticeship yourself, search out an article or book that describes someone else’s involvement with the process. In terms of becoming a disciple of Jesus, what does that teaching model offer?
• Take inventory of the ways you feel most challenged by Jesus’ call to lay your life down in surrender. Where do you feel the most tension or resistance? What hinders you from freely letting go of your life?
• What most excites you when you think about Jesus returning your true life to you? What do you imagine it would look like to be your truest self, free in God?
• Why are we are so afraid of surrendering ourselves to Jesus? How does this fear conflict with Jesus’ promise that in following Him, we find our true life?
• Reflect on one or two people whom you admire for their life of apprenticeship to Jesus. If possible, have a conversation with them to learn what they have discovered about the Lord and themselves along the way.
• Speak this affirmation each morning and night: Jesus, I give my life to You. I pick up my cross. I trust You. I want to follow You. I want to fully be the person You have in mind for me to be. Make my life into a thing of beauty.