Written by Philip Roa, Philippines
Did you ever hear these lines growing up (and perhaps even until today)?
- “Stop being so _________! Jesus would never do that!”
- “Don’t say/do that! You’re behaving like an unbeliever!”
- “You just came from a service and you’re acting/talking like that?”
These usually come from well-meaning authority figures who want us to “be more like Jesus”, and sometimes, they could be right. But other times, it can seem like we’re expected to always be laidback, meek, and compliant, as if Jesus is always only a quiet, nice, peaceful person who accepts everyone regardless of what they do.
But is that really what the Bible tells us about Jesus? Is He the Lord of “good vibes only”? Or is there much more we have to learn—things that may go against a well-meaning but misrepresented view of Him?
When we carefully read through the Gospels, we may begin to notice how we’ve formed these misconceptions about Jesus in our heads:
Jesus as a nice guy
Whenever we think of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), it is easy to imagine these to mean that we are to be nice, good followers who don’t rock the boat, and to keep our heads down until we meet Jesus again.
While Jesus definitely showed gentleness and kindness, there are several situations in the Scriptures where He was anything but:
- He called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).
- He publicly rebuked cities that rejected Him (Matthew 11:20-24).
- He turned down His own family when they wanted to meet with Him (Matthew 12:46-49).
Christ responded that way towards these people because they knew what He was talking about. The Pharisees were using the law to profit themselves at the expense of the citizens. The cities that rejected Him had heard about His exploits first-hand but still chose not to believe. His family knew of His calling, and yet did not fully believe Him and were trying to keep Him from causing controversy.
These people weren’t uninitiated with Jewish history, culture, and customs; they knew the context of what Jesus was teaching. And so Jesus was stern with them because they knew what was right and yet chose to do differently.
Even though we may not have the exact same context, what this can teach us is that good doesn’t mean “nice” and “nice” isn’t necessarily good.
And in situations where we have the authority to correct someone and recognise the need to be firm, it’s important for us to first show grace. This means lovingly reminding them that their actions are not pleasing to God and can bring about negative consequences.
Jesus as a stern taskmaster
There are times when we can go the other extreme by portraying a Jesus that’s overly militant, who constantly called people out for their misdeeds.
When we become too focused on righteous anger, we need to remember that Christ was also very gracious and kind:
- He healed a leper due to the compassion He felt towards him (Mark 1:40-41).
- He forgave the sins of a paralytic (Mark 2:4-5).
- He developed relationships with His society’s outcasts (Mark 2:15-16, John 4:7-24, 39-42).
- He healed an ailing woman and brought a dead girl back to life (Mark 5:21-43).
In these encounters, Jesus demonstrated how the gospel includes extending grace and kindness towards people’s conditions and circumstances. His heart on the matter can be seen in Matthew 9:12-13, when the Pharisees condemned Him for spending time with sinners:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’s kindness here did not result in their apathy about their sinfulness. Rather, His compassion moved them to repentance as they came to realise that it was not impossible for them to be saved.
Jesus as being “above” emotions
Sometimes, we become too focused on what Jesus says we should do that we end up thinking that Jesus never struggled with or dwelt on feelings. And so, we try to brush our own emotions aside, only to end up swinging from one extreme—kindness—to another extreme—anger.
But in fact, Jesus was often quite open about how He felt and showed us a range of human emotions, including amazement (Luke 7:1-10), grief (John 11:33-35), hunger (Matthew 4:1-2), and stress (Luke 22:44).
If Christ was transparent with His emotions without sinning, then we need not repress what we feel, lest they fester and lead to more sin. Showing emotions without sinning can mean prayerfully confronting an issue with someone and discussing it honestly with them—not at the height of your emotions, but also not sweeping them under the rug as they can cause us to implode.
And so, to help us express emotions without sinning, we need to do away with phrases like “Suck it up”, “Bite the bullet”, or “Just grin and bear it”, which are insensitive and unhelpful responses.
Even Jesus poured out His emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane. We, too, can learn to express sorrow and show compassion by acknowledging feelings and working through them through prayer and counselling.
There’s a funny Internet meme that references the “What Would Jesus Do” movement. It’s a painting of Jesus driving out the moneychangers in the temple, with this caption: “If anyone ever asks you ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.”
Jokes aside, the point here is that our understanding of who Jesus is should be informed by Scripture, not by our own cultural standards of “good” and “nice”. We need to let go of our biases and tendency to be people-pleasers and allow God to teach us His ways. Being Christ-like means grieving for what grieves Him, and rejoicing in what makes Him rejoice, even when it’s not in line with what most people would think or prefer.
May this challenge us to walk closely with God, to ask Him for wisdom so we can know Jesus for who He really is and grow to become like Him.