Recently, an LDS friend shared a tool his church is using this Christmas season to encourage Christ-like behavior in its members. It is a 25-day advent calendar entitled “Light of the World.” Each day of the calendar contains a brief reading highlighting a laudable aspect of Christ’s character and “provides suggestions for ways [readers] can emulate His example.” The calendar can be viewed here.
Each date on the calendar has a heading summarizing the goal of that day. The heading for Day 3, for example, is, “Jesus Helped Others to See, and So Can You.” It then offers several practical suggestions that participants can use in following Christ’s example. This particular day suggests that individuals donate a pair of old eyeglasses or promote a vision charity on social media.
As I read through the daily entries, I found myself conflicted internally about how to consider such a tool. Aren’t the Latter Day Saints promoting a good thing with this initiative? Shouldn’t we desire to be more like Christ in our daily actions? I love my LDS friends and neighbors, but I believe our views on Jesus are incompatible.
As I’ve reflected further, I truly appreciate the sincere desire to form Christ-like character in those who elect to participate in this initiative. However, I think Mormons miss (in terms of emphasis, if not explicit teaching) the biggest purpose in Jesus’ coming. Jesus Christ didn’t PRIMARILY come as a great example for us to follow. He came precisely because we COULD NOT follow the example God had so painstakingly laid out centuries prior through the prophets and the scriptures of the Old Testament. Although they tried, God’s people’s BEST efforts at morality fell radically short of God’s good standard and plan for the flourishing of His creation.
Jesus Christ came to fulfill God’s plan for us as a substitute. He came to live the life we, riddled with sin, could not live – no matter how hard we tried. His alone was a beautiful life of obedience to the Father. “Christ” means “Savior,” not moral teacher or example. His main goal wasn’t to show us how to live morally; God’s law clearly spelled that out centuries before Jesus’ coming. His goal was to save us from the consequences of our immorality by offering his perfectly obedient life to God as a payment for our disobedience.
The hope we have at Christmas time is not that we can resolve “to do the things that Jesus Christ did” (as the calendar encourages) and somehow please the Father. Our hope is that Jesus did the things we could never do to bring us to God, and because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, the Father is now ever-pleased with us!
The ironic thing in this story is that, once we embrace the good news that Jesus fulfilled God’s good standard for us, God promises to work in us, through His Spirit, to make us like His Son. Any hope we have to truly become like Christ must begin with admitting our INABILITY to follow Him. I fear that this well-intended exercise does just the opposite.
The gospel of Jesus is not about his people working to become like him. The gospel is about him working in us! We are a poor and needy people, bereft of moral fortitude. We lay down our efforts and admit our need. Only then may we begin to understand the true meaning of Christmas.
“Blessed of the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3