What Jesus Did and Didn’t Do

And just what did Jesus do – and not do?

It is obvious that in so many ways Jesus is our example – our perfect example. He is our role model, and he is the one we must emulate. However, one can only go so far in using his unique and particular life as a sure-proof template for how Christians today should live their lives. Not everything he did should be emulated. And not everything he did not do should be avoided.

Obviously we should all fully follow him in all things when it comes to his moral character. We should be loving as he was loving. We should be merciful as he was merciful. We should hate sin as he hated sin. We should do good as he did good.  

But some care is needed here. Let me discuss this in light of a meme I just saw on the social media. It said the following:

A few things Jesus didn’t do:
Start a program
Teach a syllabus
Build an institution
Employ anyone

By itself this is a rather dumb meme as I will explain in a moment. But at least the person sharing it did offer a bit of a qualifier: “Not saying they are sin. But we need to ask why He didn’t. Not trying to bring condemnation here. Rather encourage us to meditate on Jesus’ way of doing things. He told us to make disciples teaching them to do what He did.”

But still, even with that prefatory remark, a meme like this really is of limited value. Indeed, a few folks did give her a bit of pushback. As one person remarked, “Maybe we should be asking what he *did* do and what he instructed?”

She replied: “That’s the point of this post. To get a different perspective and ask why He didn’t. Most people assume these are all good things to do. Employing people is of course and Jesus told parables about employing people. So maybe that one needn’t be on the list. But the whole issue requires attention from any serious disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Well, with that admission, that is a full quarter of the list now being withdrawn! Indeed, with just a bit more careful thought and reflection, the remaining three items could also just as easily be scrapped! It is a rather foolish idea in other words to use the life of Christ as some sort of fool-proof checklist for what we should and should not do as Christ followers.

One can only go so far in this regard. Let me offer a few more lists. Here are just some of the things that Jesus did not do. But it would be the height of folly to suggest that Christians should not do them either:

-get married
-raise a family
-have a full-time job to provide for his offspring
-start a Sunday School
-attend Bible college
-teach in a theological seminary
-buy commentaries on the New Testament
-drive a car
-become a schoolteacher
-work in an AIDS hospital
-set up a ministry to fight sexual slavery
-vote in elections
-run for political office
-go to Chinese restaurants
-use the internet
-fly to other countries to attend conferences
-use a lawnmower
-have knee surgery
-use Facebook to share gospel truth
-pay off a mortgage
-take the occasional holiday

I think you get the point. There are all sorts of things that Jesus did not do, and usually for very good reasons. But that does NOT necessarily mean that he disapproved of them or thought that his followers should forever steer clear of them.

And consider also some of the things that Jesus did do:

-get circumcised
-call 12 disciples
-pick one guy he knew would betray him
-walk around a rather limited area teaching and preaching
-predict his death and resurrection
-die on a cross for our sins
-rise from the dead on the third day

Again, you hopefully get the drift. Yes, maybe in a spiritual sense we can speak of emulating some of these things: for example, we can be spiritually circumcised, we are to carry our cross, and so on. But Jesus did not expect us to do all the exact same things that he did. He was after all on a one-of-a-kind unique and unrepeatable mission.

Of course I don’t mean to be picking on this one gal who had shared this post. Many folks share comments and memes like this. And they often mean well. They rightly want us to be more like Jesus. As such, these folks are often more or less on the right path.

They may rightly be concerned that we have too much strayed from what Jesus and the disciples want from us. We might be doing things today that have long been done by our forebears but might just be the mere traditions of men. They may well need to be questioned, perhaps challenged, and if need be, fully rejected. Seeking to keep close to the original design is normally a good thing.

We should be imitators of Christ where and when this is the proper thing to do. In this regard, consider this: back in 1896 Charles Monroe Sheldon wrote the best-selling religious novel, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? It has sold millions of copies worldwide, and it has encouraged countless contemporary Christians to think seriously about how Jesus would do things today. And that is certainly worth pondering.

But having said all that, there is of course always a place for some innovation, to think outside the box, to run with new wineskins, and to engage in some creativity as we seek to best do church and to best reach the lost in the 21st century.

In other words, we must not slavishly stick to everything that was done – or not done – by Jesus and the disciples. For example, we must avoid the fallacy of arguing from silence. The fact that Jesus did not say certain things or do certain things need not mean he disapproves of them or wants us to also eschew them.

The religious revisionists and radicals for example will foolishly claim that Jesus never said a word about homosexuality, and therefore there is nothing wrong with it. That is both ludicrous and fallacious of course. As a first century Jew, Jesus fully disapproved of it, and all that he did say about God’s purposes for human sexuality make it clear where he stands on this matter.

So we need to be a bit cautious here. Yes, let’s always seek to go back to our roots when and where possible. Yes, let’s always question where we are now at. But no, let’s not erroneously think that the four gospels give us our complete and perfect marching orders for everything that we should and should not do today.

One simple way of summing all this up is to differentiate between three ways we tend to do things in this regard:

-Liberal Christians believe that we should change both the gospel message and the methods.
-Fundamentalist Christians believe that we should keep both the gospel message and the methods.
-Thoughtful Christians believe that we should keep the gospel message but we can change the methods.

Yes we all must desire to be like Jesus. But let this desire be channelled by wisdom and understanding.

[1220 words]

4 Replies to “What Jesus Did and Didn’t Do”

  1. From all the ‘advise’ written in this segment there is one thing missing – Gods words and intentions.
    Jesus made clear that he came to bear witness to the truth – what truth? “Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” which includes the condemnation of homosexuality; adultery; bestiality; dishonour of parents and so forth. Jesus made clear that God must come first and he died on his cross even so that he could have saved himself from the cross and even his mother expected that and waited for him to come down from his cross which gave her hope and strength but Jesus refused to put himself first saying “your will not mine”.
    Most of us have been silenced by those who are corrupt and evil for fear of reprisal just like saint Peter did. A classic example is the lack of overall condemnation of LGBTIQA+ and so called Christians expressing ex-wife and ex-husband. I have no doubt that God is taking notes and each of us is being tested so that God may know who is and who is not worthy of his word. Jesus passed with flying colours, can we do the same?
    John Abbott

  2. I am more fundamentalist because the methods of old work. While I am not against adding new methods they should be proven to work not just the latest craze going around. We have to balance between using tools the world offers to advance the kingdom and becoming too worldly. Sometimes new tech can lead to a advanced in gospel sharing AND a increase in sin. The world wide web for instance while exposing more to the gospel has made porn more a part of Christian men, and boys, lives. I think there could be many debates over whether the web has been a overall good or bad thing. Same to social media. One can even ask has televangelism been a good thing for the body or would we be better off without it???

    Personally I am for non religious circumcision for Christians but that whole topic seems to be can of worms in society.

    I bought a book Jesus behaving badly showing that he wasn’t just a peace and love guy. Would probably shock most Christians and get me kicked out of some churches for mentioning he wasn’t tye-die shirt wearing peacenic.

  3. Thanks Paul. Of course it all depends on what is meant by new methods. If we mean all the seeker-sensitive gimmicks, and turning worship services into rock concerts complete with black walls, strobe lights and smoke machines, and so on, then no, I am not a fan of the new methods. But if it means using the internet to reach people with the gospel – something that of course IS a new method – or using television in various ways in evangelism and teaching, and so on, then I have no real problems with it.

  4. Regarding those who argue that since Jesus never said a word about homosexuality He wasn’t opposed to it, Jesus also never said a word opposing the killing of homosexuals which was the law of the day. Is it not therefore more consistent to argue that Jesus supported executing homosexuals for their immorality than to argue that He opposed the standards of His society but somehow failed to preach that message? He did not even prohibit the execution of adulterers and prostitutes – rather telling them to go sin no more, and OT language for ‘natural sexual immorality’ was less harsh than that for homosexual.

    NB: I am not arguing this is the Christian position, merely that once you step away from the Christian position you open the door to all possibilities!

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