What Would Jesus Do?

     In 1896 Charles M. Sheldon, a Congregationalist pastor, wrote a book entitled “In His Steps” and subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?”  The theme of the book is predicated on 1 Peter 2:21, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”  While the book is a fictional account it accurately mirrors reality in many respects.  Let me give you a synopsis.     
     An unemployed man who is down on this luck visits Henry Maxwell, pastor of an affluent church in the city of Raymond one Friday morning.  The man had been a typesetter who had lost his job with the advent of linotype.  Reverend Maxwell is making final preparations for the Sunday morning service and is annoyed by the man’s intrusion.
     The man explains his situation to Pastor Maxwell.  Since he has a wife and family, he has had to travel to seek work to support them, and wants to know if the pastor is aware of any job opportunities.  Pastor Maxwell tells the man he is not aware of anyone who might be hiring and sends the man on his way.    
     The following Sunday the man attends the morning worship service at Reverend Maxwell’s church.  At the close of the service, before the congregation can retire, in desperation, the man steps forward to address the church and present his case to God’s people.  While making his plea the man, weak from hunger and ill from exposure, collapses.    
     Reverend Maxwell has the man taken to his home and calls for a doctor.  The medical attention is too little too late and the man dies within the week.  His death has a profound effect on Henry Maxwell.  At the close of a following church service Pastor Maxwell asks for volunteers.  He wants to know who would be willing to commit to making decisions during the next year based on a simple question, what would Jesus do?    
     Most of his parishioners file out of the church ignoring his challenge.  They think he is overreacting to recent events and is displaying an undue fanaticism, but some stay.  A young heiress, a railroad superintendent, a newspaper publisher, a wealthy merchant, a writer, a singer and others covenant together with their pastor to make every decision in their lives for the next year by asking themselves, what would Jesus do?    
     The rest of the book is an account of their experiences.  One suffers financial reverses in this business.  Another looses a position of influence and social standing.  They were ridiculed by friends and misunderstood by their families.  But through all their troubles and triumphs, their sorrows and joys, they accomplished much good in their community for the glory of God.    
     In the 1990s church youth groups wore cloth bracelets with the initials WWJD, an abbreviation for, what would Jesus do?  For a short time this question enjoyed a resurgence among Christian young people and to some degree gained a foothold in the lives of Christian adults.  Like most well-intended movements it eventually lost its attraction and faded into memory, but I still think the question has a legitimate and Christ-honoring goal.    
     There are some who hold on to the idea that we can redeem ourselves by changing the way we live.  That is a completely unbiblical perspective.  There is nothing we can do to earn the gift of eternal or merit its reward.  Our actions are not the cause of our salvation, but they should be a consequence of our salvation.  We do not live a certain way to be saved, we walk “in His steps” because we are saved.    
     Sure, the book is a fictional story.  Henry Maxwell and the other characters in Sheldon’s book are not real.  But the analogy to reality in what he wrote cannot be ignored.  Pastor Maxwell asked for volunteers to commit a year of decisions based on the question, what would Jesus do?  But the call of Christ is much greater.  He is not asking for just a year.  He is asking believers to give their all for Him, because he gave His all for us.    
     So, what’s it going to be?  What are you going to do?  For who or what are you going to live?   What would Jesus do?


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