Even if millions of Jesus clones could somehow produce a functioning society, his example would still fail to address the vast array of choices and experiences even within the life of one individual. Consider this admittedly-hard-to-follow quote from the singular mind of John Oman:
But, when we imagine that we can finally direct our lives by mere imitation of the life of Christ, we fall into a misleading and distracting encyclopedic estimate both of Christ’s life and our own. How, we are asked, can the life of Jesus have been perfect? Was He interested in art? Did He concern Himself about public service? Are we in our complex time to have no other interests than sufficed for His simpler age? And then we find that many interests which have nourished themselves from His spirit, are ruled out by His example.¹
We just don’t have enough information in the Gospels about the life of Christ nor did the life of Christ encompass enough experience for it to serve as a pattern to shape the behavior of every believer. This flaw would besmirch the wisdom of God if it were not for one glorious fact – God wants each of his children to be a unique individual and not a Jesus clone.
Have you ever seen one of those families where every member favored every other? When you see one of them out in public away from the rest of them, you know immediately that they must belong with that family. Yeah, we’re not those people. My wife and I look different from each other and I suppose that has resulted in all our kids looking pretty different from each other. Not only do they all look different, but they all also act differently. My two sons especially differ from each other as much as any two people anywhere in the world. One likes to be clean, the other likes to get dirty. One likes to build; the other likes to destroy. One can be gentle to a fault; the other would pick a fight with Leroy Brown.
We love both of our sons. We love the things that make them unique. We’d never want the younger one to be more like the older one or vice versa. We like their differences. God’s that way too.
Every person is unique and that’s a good thing. A cursory observation of creation reveals God’s desire for diversity. Belief in creation colors our worldview to value the whole spectrum of human variation. When God crafted beings to bear his image on this planet he made them diverse:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 emphasis mine NAW)
When we use the word, “image,” we often mean something like, “exact likeness,” such as with software, in photography, or when we say, “That boy is the spitting image of his father.” God’s image, though, must be expressed through variety. Perhaps that’s because part of the character of God is a love for diversity. God began humankind with diversity and has tended to our growth as a species to produce further diversity. As a case in point, consider this excerpt from Paul’s sermon to the Athenians:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:26-28)
In other words, God orchestrated racial, ethnic, and cultural differences between people because he’s big enough for all his children to find him in their own way.
Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not espousing pluralism any more than Paul did. In context, Paul used this truth about God’s superintending the diversification of humans to affirm that he can’t be worshipped through idolatrous practices. God loves diversity, but it doesn’t follow that he loves everything. The point remains, God’s children come in all shapes, sizes, preferences, and propensities.
The life of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels can’t possibly accommodate these differences. When we encourage people to reproduce the life of a thirty-something, male, Jewish, carpenter-turned-itinerant-preacher, we promote uniformity over diversity. Nothing could be further from the message of Scripture or the gospel.
I used to host a Meetup for religious defectors. One time I asked an atheist ethnic Jew what made him abandon his faith. He told me that he was born with mild cerebral palsy and that as a child he had to go through eight hours per day of intensive therapy. To maintain their existence and his therapy, his parents recruited strangers from the community to come into the home and help him a day at a time. He explained, “As I’ve thought about all of those people who gave up their time to help a stranger, I realized that good people come from all kinds of backgrounds. I just couldn’t accept that we Jews could be God’s chosen people when there were so many good non-Jews in the world.”
I responded, “It’s interesting that you say that because I was just reading in Joshua 5 where Joshua meets ‘The Commander of the Lord’s Armies’ and he asks him, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies.’ Now, if I was writing a tribal narrative about how the Jews are better, I would have had the angel respond, ‘For you,’ but that’s not how it goes. Instead, The Commander says, ‘Neither.’”
At that point, a young lady who was also an atheist, but former Baptist, let out an audible gasp. She did not expect that response either. Critics of the Bible want to cast it as dogmatic and racist, but nothing could be further from the truth. God didn’t institute the nation of Israel, so everyone could convert to Judaism; his work with that race had the redemption of all nations as its aim.²
This doctrine of diversity becomes nonsensical if we must hold up one expression of human life as the gold standard. How can we do what Jesus would do by leaving baby penises in their natural state or by working on Saturday or by eating pork? These issues divided the early church, but the apostles all came down on the side of diversity.³
God created humans in diverse forms. Then he orchestrated the development of humanity to produce a myriad of expressions. Then, he called people in a variety of circumstances to reflect his image within those circumstances. Not only didn’t he require them to become Jews, he also didn’t require them to change much of anything except for their self-reliance. Consider Paul’s counsel to those in Corinth:
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)
It’s hard to imagine clearer instructions not to do what Jesus did than this one. Paul asserts that God endorses our circumstances when he calls us in them. Gone are the days of leaving nets and abandoning occupations to follow an itinerant preacher. Now, God wants to demonstrate his redeeming power in husbands, wives, Jews, Gentiles, accountants, doctors, IT professionals, technicians, and even lawyers.
God wants everyone to be conformed to the image of his Son, but that image cannot be confined to the life of one man who never married or raised children and died before reaching middle age. Christ requires that those who come to him lay down their life, but only so he can give it back redeemed and released to fully shine in all its unique hues.
- Oman, John. Grace and Personality (Kindle Locations 2872-2876). Kindle Edition.
- Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 49:5-6
- Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-35