NOTE: This article first appeared on the original TruthForFree.com site June 20th, 2005.
It was the proverbial Christian catch phrase of the 90’s and it’s still going strong. You see it practically everywhere you look: On bumper stickers, fish emblems for automobiles, t-shirts, banners, hats, bracelets, necklaces, Christian television and virtually everywhere else imaginable in church world. It is sounded over the loudspeakers of rock concerts, conferences, radio and printed in the religious educational materials of many churches and youth ministries. It is the question that almost literally fuels Institutional Christianity itself.
- NOTE: For those who may be unfamiliar with my verbiage here, what I mean by “Institutional Christianity” is, essentially, the modern day church system (which is largely identified by its buildings, denominational and clergy designations, programs, static routines and Sunday services – and the mission to advance the building of such organizations and structures as frequently and in as many places as possible). In other words, it is “Christianity” as most of the world recognizes it – a religious institution or a system comprised of religious institutions. Real, biblical Christianity (in this author’s perspective) is something far more simplistic and organic; it is a global, spiritual community of believers in Jesus who find their identity in HIM (not in meeting places, programs, denominational titles, and religious rituals). This is not to say it is wrong for Christians to meet in a building, but buildings and programs should never be the focus for they do not define, embody or validate true Christianity as the Scripture teaches it.
The reason I say that WWJD is the question that almost literally fuels institutional Christianity is because anyone who observes the institutional church system can easily and quickly recognize its flagrant fascination with titles, catch phrases, and externally imposed methods to invoke a religious response or action. Rather than the simple, inward motivation of the Holy Spirit and actions that flow purely and spontaneously from sincere love and faith, catch phrases like WWJD invoke people to take action based on the presumption that their identity and acceptance by God is wrapped up in religious activity. WWJD also leaves Christians to determine on their own what they presume Jesus might do, rather than recognizing that a living relationship with God reciprocates communication and activity based on love, faith and obedience to a living Lord. All in all, WWJD is something that involves an external regulation of conscience and does not require any influence by a living Lord.
Equally surprising is the fact that the Institutional Church’s thriving on the question of what Jesus would do, demonstrates as reality what so many who walk with the Lord on the outside of the four walls of institutional Christianity (i.e. traditional church attendance) have been saying for years; THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH SYSTEM CONCEPTUALLY SERVES A DEAD JESUS!
“What?” you say… “How can you dare say such a thing? WWJD is such a good, positive, righteous statement! Surely all Christians should intend to pattern their lives according to a consideration of how Jesus would do things… isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” Well… in a word… NO! That’s not what Christianity is all about. NOT EVEN CLOSE!
While there is nothing wrong with observing the life of Jesus and desiring to live as He lived, WWJD tends to engage such pursuits by presumption and not relationship. There is a huge difference! Presumption is self-determined while relationship involves living and direct communication with the Father. Furthermore, the reality of living as Christ desires us to live is impossible without His grace and His direct influence and involvement in our lives. It is my earnest opinion that the phrase “What Would Jesus Do” is a question that, ideally, ought never to be uttered by a sincere follower of Jesus Christ, for it is not truly representative of those who believe He is alive and ruling their hearts. Please think this through with me here… I understand how some are likely to initially react to my comments and perhaps think I am exaggerating the issue, but please hear the heart of this message. What Christian, who accepts the reality that Jesus is alive and has made His temple within the very lives of His people, doesn’t know what Jesus is doing and desires to do because He is Lord, Savior and intimate friend? WWJD, rather, is a question asked by those who would act as though their God is dead, inactive and silent. It is a question asked by those who would inadvertently presume He is unable to communicate His active will to His own people. It is a question asked by those who (to put it bluntly) appear to believe they know better how things ought to be done since it is they who ultimately will answer this question of what Jesus would do; They presume OF Him instead of listening to Him and being led by Him. Think about this for a moment… “What Would Jesus Do” implies that one doesn’t already know and thus must ponder and imagine (on his own) what Jesus might do IF He were here. Thus it is implied that Jesus ISN’T here, that He is gone (and has been gone for 2,000 years), and that we CANNOT possibly know what He would do today, therefore we are left to our imaginations – vain imaginations at that! What do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus is alive and desires active, intimate relationship with you? Do you believe that He will lead you and make His will known to you? Or do you think such is impossible to really know; that Christians are only left to educated guessing about God’s will for our lives? Is this just semantics, or is this one of the most important questions we need to consider? Is Christ our living Lord and closest friend, or is He merely the historical figurehead of a religion we call “Christianity”?
Given this consideration of what real, living relationship with Jesus Christ is, I could never again see myself being in a situation where I would ask the mindless, relationally-void question: “I wonder what Jesus would do?” My question would rather be something like, “Lord, what do You want to do through me in this situation?” or “Jesus, what are You doing?” or “Lord, what is Your will in this?” My expectation would literally be that Jesus WILL respond to my prayer according to His will. As a Christian I ought to be able to discern His voice and the leading of His Holy Spirit. “What Would Jesus Do”, on the other hand, is not a prayer at all or even a statement of submission to the Headship of Christ. The question doesn’t even address Him personally; He is merely the indirect subject of a question answered only by individual presumption. Someone who doesn’t even know Him could do as much.
Anything less than submission to and communication with a living Lord amounts to dead religion in this author’s perspective. If we find ourselves responding to situations merely according to some religious principle, pattern or presumption – instead of in response to a living relationship with Christ, we are missing the mark and being ruled by vain imaginations; the clever concepts of men. When our concept of that which motivates and directs the ministry of Christ through the believer is replaced by vain imaginations, we become blind to God’s true will and shut ourselves off from hearing His voice. Israel did the same thing in the Old Testament. They pursued what was right in their own eyes… they followed their own imaginations of what they presumed would please God; WWYD – What Would Yahweh Do? Do you know how God responded to them? He ignored their imaginative worship and instead stretched out His hand of salvation to pagans who never even sought after Him!
- Isaiah 65:1-2 (NIV) – “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations…”
Isaiah 66:18 (NIV) – “And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory.”
The big problem with imaginations is that they presume we can determine on our own how God would/should want things done, instead of entreating God Himself to sovereignly lead us as He wills and commands. This is, in fact, the basic definition of “organized religion”; man’s methods and reasoning concerning how to reach God. Scripture does not call us to imagine how Christ might do things, but it calls us to lay down every proud notion (the vain imaginations) we have and bring every thought into the OBEDIENCE of Christ. WWJD operates on a deceptive premise, that YOU can decide YOURSELF what Jesus would do and it leaves the matter of obedience to Christ completely out of the picture.
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 (GNB) – we pull down every proud obstacle (vain imaginations) that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.
This is not to say that “imagination”, simply in and of itself, is evil – for certainly God gave us the ability to positively dream, create and imagine with our minds and to even do good with those imaginations (when that good is enacted from a pure heart – one that is in love with Jesus and submitted to His authority). But we are talking about what the Bible refers to as “vain imaginations” (a significant distinction – for “vain” imaginations involve the pride of man, carnal wisdom and self-righteous religious presumption).
Certainly some will argue that much “good” is done in the name of religion and there is a measure of truth to this; however, it is correct to say “in the name of religion” and not necessarily “by the command of Jesus”, for whether a deed is “apparently good” or not, does not prove that deed to be Christ-led any more than an atheist helping a neighbor out by giving him $10 bucks for gas proves that atheist is actively being led by Jesus. 😉 The problem I am referring to is when imagination replaces reliance on the Holy Spirit of God, submission to His will, and presuming instead of following His lead. Christ in us is what separates us from the world and its “good deeds” because it reveals that we are His hands and feet being moved wholly by Him. The institutional church today, on the other hand, is fueled primarily by its own imaginations. It doesn’t really care about being the hands and feet of Jesus (except to the end that those surface “good actions” might increase its numbers). Often times, institutional churches seem to shun those who dare to follow the leading of the Lord without consent of church hierarchy. They have their prescribed formula they want followed. Those imaginations dictate everything from action to doctrine and, while it may hold some appearance of godliness on the surface, it denies the power of the Gospel because it removes the Lord from His throne while elevating itself over the will of Christ. It is very close to an anti-Christ mindset (and I am probably just being kind).
In the institutional church system, it is these kinds of concepts (themselves) that hold the intent of motivating Christian service and not purely the work of the Holy Spirit. The thinking goes that if Christians are not motivated enough to serve God they need help through inventive schemes, colorful images and catchy phrases. Excuse my bluntness but I must say, “HOW WEAK!!!” If a believer isn’t motivated by Christ’s grace, HE ISN’T MOTIVATED! If works do not flow from a sincere response to God’s grace THEY ARE JUST DEAD WORKS – NOTHING MORE! They might cause someone down here on earth to pat them on the back, but they are not impressing God who only is pleased with our sincere faith in response to His rich mercy. The word “witness” in the original language of Scripture is not a term that speaks of slapping bumper-stickers on your car to help you “share your faith”… how pathetic! There is no call for this kind of “evangelism” in the Scriptures. I’m not saying it’s a sin to place bumper stickers on your car, just please don’t call that kind of nonsense “evangelism” or “witnessing” – at least don’t say it and take yourself seriously. The term witness is a word that, literally translated, means to be a martyr for Jesus (one who has been persecuted for believing the Gospel and proclaiming it boldly regardless of any threat of death as a result). The more general use of the word in the New Testament speaks of proclaiming the Gospel; His death and resurrection… Not out of duty, but because we are literal witnesses to the active saving grace of God. We are not called to “witness about our faith”, we are called to BE WITNESSES and to testify of the Gospel. I’m sorry friends, but WWJD is not the Gospel (it’s not even a demonstration of faith in the Gospel). I’ve seen Mormon’s wear the bracelets and try to do what Jesus did. WWJD is not evangelistic nor does it constitute “witnessing” for Christ (let alone “being” a witness for Christ).
This is all without pointing out the fact that millions of dollars have been made on this cute little “Christian” catch phrase (and I use the term “Christian” lightly there). The other day I visited a website selling WWJD bracelets and could not even find a reference to the Gospel story… but simply a page selling the bracelets under the guise of “witnessing” (i.e. sharing your faith). Folks, these are glorified rubber bands with 4 letters from the alphabet on them and are sometimes a bit pricey. Of course, if you’ve got the cash, they do sell much fancier bracelets and necklaces as well (made with silver, gold and diamonds). One website advertises, “a fashionable way to keep the faith.” Fashionable? You got to be kidding me! This isn’t about encouraging evangelism or excitement about Jesus, it’s about making money off of naive people. Does this really sound like the kind of motivation we would receive from Christ? To dish out our hard earned cash so that we can act as though our Lord is still dead and just make educated guesses at how He would have us live? Think about this friends… What are we really saying when we sell this idea of imagining what Jesus would do? Pay $10 for this cool bracelet that will remind you to imagine what Christ might do if he were actually here working in and moving through your life… or, just $30 for this stylish sweatshirt will help you make the statement to everyone around you that you can take your best guess at what your God would probably do if you could actually hear Him or have Him present to guide you, even though you don’t believe there’s any way that’s really possible thus the sweatshirt to let everyone know it. Or maybe a bumper sticker for your car that will guilt others into remembering that they ought to always imagine what God would have them do, but not really walk with Jesus and expect Him to lead or guide and convict you on His own. If this is what it’s all come to, then we might as well ask the bigger question; Why, With Jesus Dead? Why pretend to serve a God that we don’t even believe is alive to speak to us and lead us? If He’s only good enough to treat as a dead man, then why ask the question WWJD at all?
“What Would Jesus Do” tells the world that we don’t know (and only kills their hope even more – because if we who supposedly are saved by Him don’t even know, then what hope is there for them to know?). It tells the world that we don’t really seem to believe He is alive and able to speak today (Again, what hope is that for a lost world, if we present them with a dead Jesus?). I cannot reiterate enough that this is the way people speak concerning those who are dead! For example, my own father passed away in January of 2001 from Cancer. We were very close and I loved my father dearly. Often times I find myself wondering what he might do in a given situation. I remember how I observed my father handle certain things and then I attempt to imagine how he might respond in the situation I currently find myself facing. If I were to slap a cute little label on this thought process, I might call it WWDD; What Would Dad Do? The thing is though, dad isn’t going to tell me what to do because dad has gone to be with the Lord. He is not present nor does he speak to me in any way. As far as this natural world is concerned DAD IS DEAD. So I act based on my presumptions according to what I remember of my father. I am inspired by his memory but I am only left to imagination, something I ultimately control, to act upon.
Some of those who pattern their lives according to “What Jesus Would Do” no doubt (we presume) have a sincere love for the Lord – just as I have a very strong and sincere love and respect for my departed father. They have read the Bible and know the things Christ did in the first century and so they attempt to pattern their lives according to presumptions of how Jesus might act IF He were alive today. Are you seeing the problem yet? By asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” they are overlooking the vital fact that JESUS IS ALIVE TODAY! There should not be any cause for wondering what He might do if He were here because HE IS HERE! Unfortunately, however, Jesus is largely dead to the institutional church (except in name and concept) and statements like WWJD are a prime example of this reality. Organized religion largely seeks to manipulate, influence and control Christian behavior out of religious presumption, spiritual imaginations and arrogant hierarchy. The damage this has caused is evident! Religious concepts like WWJD do not encourage true relationship with the Lord… in fact, they tend to sidestep it. So it is with just about every facet of church world; principles, points, laws, steps, rules, regulations, formulas, rituals – all to achieve some result of self-deceptive righteousness, but all void of any requirement of personal communication and obedience to a living Christ who stands as the only Head of His body.
The scary thing is, these little concepts are very convincing. They suck the masses in and most have no clue they are being deceived with a distraction that could ultimately rob them of their relationship with Jesus entirely. Notice how many people in churches today swarm to hear celebrity preachers. They can’t seem to get enough of all the latest books, videos and programs to help them overcome personal struggles, financial lack and even sin. They’re always looking for a new “key” or a new “routine” to overcome some problem in their life (usually a method that sidesteps the cross). The ministry staff’s schedules are booked with counseling sessions as congregants eagerly await to have their pastors and prophets give them the word of God for their situation. So dependent are Christians on all of these things because they all want to know, “What Would Jesus Do – if He could speak to me about my situation.” The really sad thing is, most pastors won’t tell them that what they need is to stop banging down his door for the answers or waiting for the next sermon or seminar. What these people need is a good dose of SEEK HIM YOURSELF AND FIND OUT! It’s time for them to wake up and realize that Jesus is not dead! HE IS ALIVE! We ought rather to ask What Is Jesus Presently Doing and What Is He Saying?
Let’s stop for a moment and ask the question, “What Did Jesus Do”? As we look to the account of Scripture, it tells us plainly. At no time did Jesus ever say, “I wonder what my Father would do…” Instead, observe the following:
- John 5:19-20 – So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing. In fact, the Father will show Him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.
Jesus did not have to guess, imagine, suppose, presume, or wonder what the Father might do if He were there… Jesus KNEW what He would do because HE ONLY DID WHAT HE SAW THE FATHER DOING! Because the Father loved (and still loves) the Son, the Father showed (and still shows) Him EVERYTHING He was (and now IS) doing!!! Now observe what Jesus said was to occur once He returned to the Father and sent us His Holy Spirit:
- John 14:12 – “I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.
Jesus Christ, the living Lord, the Creator of the Universe, lives within us! Think of the magnitude of this reality! “WWJD” amounts to little more than a slap in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ as men choose to cater to their religious presumptions about a dead God they can control with religious imagination rather than yield themselves wholly to a living King who ALONE is the only HEAD of His Church and the Holy Spirit who provides conviction, counsel, and comfort. Jesus purchased us with precious blood and owns us completely!
- 1 Corinthians 7:23 (NIV) – You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
1 Peter 1:18-19 (NLT) – For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
His purpose is to live THROUGH us with HIS LIFE! This is why the institutional church’s approach to relationship with God is so severely flawed; They believe that God saved us “because He has a wonderful plan for our lives” and that plan (they teach) is actuated through our finding meaning through keeping rules and rituals and religious performances. Church therefore becomes about something we engage in to “have our needs met.” But this is a farce! This is a LIE! It is a complete distraction from the truth! If we can sincerely say we have been crucified with Christ then we must acknowledge that we are dead! Dead to the Law and dead to sin! Therefore, this life we live is not about US and what WE NEED. It’s not about God’s wonderful plan for “our” lives. God saved us because He has a wonderful plan for HIS LIFE! We are HIS body – not our own! Everything purposed by Him is according to His will for His life. The institutional church wants to present a Gospel that is seeker sensitive; that feels good; that puts men on a pedestal and softens the offensiveness of the cross. But the truth of the Gospel is that none of us deserve God’s grace! But He gives us grace freely of His own choosing and if we believe His truth, then we must acknowledge that His blood was the sacrifice that sealed the contract of ownership. We our not our own any longer if we claim to be His. We do not get to decide or imagine “What Jesus Would Do”; We belong to Him and it is HE who LIVES in us.
- Galatians 2:20 (NKJV) – I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me.
The Scripture boldly says (in Revelation 19:10) “THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY!” While believers are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, looking for “a word” from God, they neglect the reality that the Prophet (i.e. Jesus Christ by His Spirit) lives inside them! Moses himself testified of the day when ONE PROPHET would speak the counsel of God to His People (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37). This would not be a man, but the Lord Jesus HIMSELF! Jesus declared that the Law and the prophets were until John (the Baptist) and since that time forward THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS BEEN PREACHED! This is representative of a New Covenant and a King who would be the sole mediator of this New Covenant; Christ the Lord!
Christianity is not a matter of wondering how Jesus might have liked to do stuff IF He were walking the earth today… that’s just DEAD religion! But the (so-called) shepherds in today’s churches are not shepherding well. They are stealing the focus from the Great Shepherd and drawing men unto themselves. They are making disciples, but NOT of Christ. They love to have the attention and the control and they are slow to yield any of it to the Master Himself. One of the fears may be that if people become too dependant on Jesus, they will become less dependant on them and what the church organization has to offer. If they become too interdependent on each other as well, they may find even less reason to yield up their resources to feed the massive, resource-hogging beast of organized religion in exchange for more simpler and meaningful ways of drawing together and responding to each others needs. Well, like it or not, the Lord has already issued His opinion concerning such false shepherds who only feed themselves and the sheep need to wake up from all deception and realize that they have but ONE SHEPHERD! (Ezekiel 34 & John 10)
At the very least, perhaps we ought to alter the meaning of WWJD to “Walking With Jesus Daily”. At most we ought to scrap it altogether along with every fascination and fabrication of man that sets itself in-between the Lord and His body. In these days Christians must sharpen their discernment for these kinds of distractions are not small matters. I hope this short article has encouraged some to realize that something so apparently minor as WWJD can actually manifest an enormous obstacle to Gospel reality. It’s truly a difference between LIFE and DEATH! Would to God that we may never again utter the words “What Would Jesus Do” but would embrace the reality of His life in us!