In Christ’s Name

What Would Jesus Really Do?

There’s a lot done in the name of Christ, but how much represents what Christ would do? Asking the numberplate/fridge-magnet question “What would Jesus do?” may yield only opinion or hearsay unless we get back to original sources.

On the lips of the politician, “Jesus speak” can be far from the truth, designed merely to co-opt listeners for personal advantage. It may be similar with religious leaders. Religion and politics don’t mix, it’s said—except when their respective representatives do so for mutual benefit. In Putin’s Russia, for example, Orthodox church leaders support his attack on Ukraine, and religious themes and ideas mesh with his political aims. In many nations, Christian politicians imply God’s approval of their policies and actions.

And yet one wonders where Christ and His widely admired moral code is in all this. Perhaps that’s the problem: He is not in it, and His values are nowhere to be seen.

In the first century, Jesus came face-to-face with some who professed to speak for God, and He pointed out their hypocrisy: “You say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him” (John 8:54b–55a). He went further, plainly stating, “You are not of God” (verse 47). Many of these “worthies” were willing to suborn witnesses to lie about the innocent man from Galilee, conspiring to get the Romans to crucify Him. But the superficial practice of religious principles cannot hide a hollowed-out moral core.

How, then, should those who claim to speak for Christ demonstrate their loyalty and honest commitment? Well, saying means doing. Going back to Jesus’ words to those same people: “He who is of God hears God’s words” (verse 47). And by hearing, He meant doing. Hypocrisy has no part in practicing the principles of God and His Son.

A politician who got it right, in this one respect at least, was Thomas Jefferson; despite his own moral failings, he described Jesus’ teachings as “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has been called “the single most important discourse on Christian law and living.” What we find there is radical in terms of standards for godly behavior. Those sayings are so often at odds with what we see in the religious and political spheres.

Though not a Christian, Mahatma Gandhi enthusiastically embraced the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. But he believed that Western Christianity had missed the point of Christ’s sermon, preferring violence and war over nonviolence and peace. He knew that its precepts had to be practiced in everyday life: “I think the Sermon on the Mount has no meaning if it is not of vital use in everyday life to everyone.”

Much of what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount.”

Consider a few of its best-known statements. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Everyone wants mercy in the midst of troubles. But here the emphasis is on showing mercy to others. How would our relationships improve if we extended to others what we desire for ourselves? People who do this will be blessed, or happy. How would this play out in Russia and Ukraine right now? Could a merciful attitude from all parties lead to peace?

Couple this with “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (verse 9). Peacemakers absorb opposition, even when they’re right, to bring about cessation of violence and the achievement of peace. On the individual and national level, peacemakers take the lead in reconciliation—in saying “I’m sorry.” How much would be achieved if this godly value were practiced?

Another of Christ’s teachings that day on the mountain stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 3). This refers to an attitude of humility, of not being self-absorbed, narcissistic, thinking too highly of oneself. With this approach we will treat our neighbors as ourselves. This is a building block for cooperation in all our relationships, individual and collective.

Lastly consider, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (verse 8). This essential quality is the answer to the problem we began with: human hypocrisy. Being pure in heart is all about integrity, being honest and upright in character. This inner quality will bring access and closeness to God.

If you’d like to read more about how these moral teachings might play out in our 21st-century world, check out our article collection titled “A Question of Values.”