The Beautifying of Imperfect Living
J. R. Miller
Men have written 'lives of Jesus', setting forth the beauty, the grace, the wisdom, the gentleness, and the power of him who was the chief among ten thousand, the altogether lovely one. In the New Testament we have four lives of Jesus—we call them the four gospels. But Paul tells us that in every Christian's life—the life of Jesus is to be written—"That the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:9. And it is these lives of Christ, written in men's daily lives—which are needed to save the world.
How is the life of Jesus to be manifested in his followers? It is not enough to talk about him. There are those who, with silver tongue, can speak of Jesus eloquently and winsomely, in whom it cannot be said that his life is manifested in them. When the apostles were sent out, they were not to witness for Jesus—but were to be witnesses for him, unto him. In this sense—it is not more preaching which is needed today to advance the kingdom of God among men—it is more gospels in the lives of Christians. It is not what we tell people about Christ, which makes his name glorious in their eyes, which makes them want to know him, which draws them with their needs, their heart-hungers, their sorrows, their defeats, and failures to him. It is only what we manifest of Christ in our own life that is really witnessing for him. We preach just as much gospel—as we get into disposition, character, act, life.
What was secret of the life of Christ? You have read your New Testament and have been charmed by the matchless beauty of that life which is portrayed in the gospels. His great central feature was love--love full of compassion; love serving even to the humblest needs and at the greatest cost; love which was patient, forgiving, thoughtful, gentle; love unto the uttermost--which went to a cross to save sinners!
It was indeed a wonderful life. The half of its blessed meaning has not yet been discovered, even after nineteen centuries of scholarly study and research and of precious Christian experience. Every page reveals some new beauty in the character of Jesus, and uncovers some new depth of his love. And the qualities of that blessed life—are to shine in our life! His disposition, His spirit, His compassion, His patience, His meekness, His peace, His joy, His humility—these are to reappear in us! It is not enough--let us again and again remind ourselves--to preach about these gracious things in Jesus, to talk about them in our conferences, to extol them in our hymns--they must be manifested in our life! We must repeat in our own dispositions and lives--the story of Christ!
People sometimes wish they had lived in Palestine when Jesus was living there, that they could have seen his face and heard his words and received his touch and been blessed by his love. They ought to see all this in us Christians—that the life of Jesus should be manifested in us so that all who know us shall see Jesus.
Let us not forget that the cross is the truest symbol of the life of Jesus. When we think of being like him we are apt to gather out a few gentle qualities and let these make up our conception of Christ-likeness. True, he was a kindly man, a patient man, a quiet man; he was thoughtful, compassionate, unselfish, and loving.
But we must not fail to think of the life of Jesus, as well as of his character. Right here we have the other part of the picture. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus—that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body." "We who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake." Here we have the strenuous aspect, the costly side.
An artist was trying to improve on a dead mother's portrait. He wanted to take out the lines. But the woman's son said, "No, no; don't take out the lines; just leave them, every one. It wouldn't be my mother, if all the lines were gone." It was well enough, he said, for young people who never had known a care, to have faces with no wrinkles; but when one has lived seventy years of love and serving and self-denial, it would be like lying to cover up their track.
He did not want a picture with the sacred story of all the mother's toil and pain and tears, taken out of the face. Likewise, no picture of Jesus is true which has only the lovely graces, and leave out the marks of pain and sorrow and struggle. His visage was marred. There were marks of thorns on his brow. His hands were most gentle and helpful—but now in heaven there are prints of nails in them. It would be false to paint the picture of Jesus, and leave out the marks which sorrow and pain ploughed in his face. Ah, it was at infinite cost that Jesus redeemed us!
If we would be like Christ, therefore, we must be like him in serving even to the uttermost. We must not merely tell people how Christ loved men—we must manifest the love of Christ for men in our own life. We must not merely point them to an historic cross, standing on Calvary, far back in the centuries—they must see the cross, right before their eyes, in our life!
Too many of us seem content to have the hope of being like Jesus merely for far-away future. We appear to have little thought or desire or expectation of a present likeness to Jesus. But it is in our own mortal flesh that this life of Jesus is to be manifested. It is here and now that we are to show the world, in our own love and service, how Jesus loved and served. Of course we shall wear the full beauty of holiness in heaven; but it is here, amid temptation and struggle, that Christ wants us to be his witnesses—holy in the midst of unholiness; in the world—but living heaven's life; amid need and sorrow and poverty—but ever helping, serving, relieving. No doubt Christ loved the world and gave himself for it—nineteen centuries ago; but now we are the body of Christ, and we must love the world and give ourselves for it. In no other way can the life of Jesus be truly manifested in our mortal flesh.
There are those who say it is impossible to repeat the life of Jesus in our life. He was the perfect man—the one perfect man in all the ages—and we are imperfect, fallen, and sinful. He was the Son of God—God manifest in the flesh, and we are children of earth. We cannot be like Jesus in holiness and beauty. We cannot live as he lived, pouring out love like his. God does tell us that we are to manifest the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh. The meaning is that the blessed life will manifest itself in us, if only we will yield ourself to it, that it may fill us and possess us. Christ himself lives again—in every one of his true followers.
Poor indeed may be the best of our striving to live Christ's life, to manifest the life of Jesus in our body. But if we are sincere in our endeavor, if our heart is truly yielded up to Christ, he will enter into us and live out his own blessed life in us. Then our imperfect living will be made beautiful in God's sight, and the world will be impressed with the shining of the face of Jesus which it sees in us!