Rethinking 'What Would Jesus Do?'

You don't have to figure out what Jesus would do if he were there. He already is.

My earliest point of contact with the WWJD question was the same as most people's: the bracelet. Little woven bands in every color conceivable, each stitched with a stark, white "W.W.J.D?"

I seem to recall owning a red one. My friends, suddenly faced with a fashion trend that didn't unnerve their conservative parents, all owned at least one. Some kids strutted around with a dazzling collection of them shooting up their arms in an eye-splitting array of colors. Celebrities were wearing them too, we were told. I remember one friend breathlessly telling me that he'd seen Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit wearing one on TRL. I, of course, was not allowed to watch MTV.

The fad was based in the '90s and, like all things '90s, is no longer with us (though the possibility of an ironic comeback is not nil) but the phrase itself is much older, stemming from an 1896 book by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. In it, Sheldon recounts meeting a homeless man who was baffled by Christians who would sing about Jesus but not act like him. As Sheldon recounts it, the homeless man said to him:

It seems to me there's an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn't exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don't understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin.

This is a haunting story, and it resonates just as powerfully today as it did in 1896. On the face of it, "What Would Jesus Do?" is a good question, with some biblical precedent (1 John 2:6 says "Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.") But as we've co-opted this question into a sort of moral mantra—an ethical rule-of-thumb—we've lost something important along the way.

Not about morality, but about Jesus.

It's hard to tell what jesus would do

If you're looking for a question to help you figure out what the "right" thing to do in any given situation is, you could do a lot worse than "WWJD?" It certainly can't do any real harm to your moral code. But it might do a little harm to our understanding of Jesus.

Realistically, this is a question meant to get us to live nicely. When we ask it, we end up coming to the conclusion that He'd probably forgive, or donate money or tell the truth. These are good things. There's nothing wrong with them. For the most part, we arrive at more or less the same answer we'd come to if we were to ask "What Would Oprah Do?" or "What Would Mr. Rogers Do?" They're fine role models, but you have to wonder how often "WWJD?" actually gets us to do something Jesus would.

Because what Jesus would actually do could be something a bit counterintuitive—and very difficult to predict. One day, He'd sneak off to the Temple to ask questions (Luke 2:49)—later He'd go there to flip tables (John 2:15). Some days, He'd eagerly seek out the crowd (Matthew 9:36)—other days, He'd actively shun their attention (Matthew 14:13.) He's God—knowing the right course of action was a given. For us, the decision can be a little murkier. The answer to what Jesus would do in our shoes isn't necessarily obvious.

The Jesus in "WWJD" tends to not be based on the actual Jesus. Instead, he's a nice guy who's a lot like a nicer version of us. He's not the wild rabbi of the Gospels. He's not the "not-safe-but-good" lion of C.S. Lewis' allegory. He's certainly not the risen king who is coming again to make all things new.

Jesus is not hypothetical

Another problem with our interpretation of WWJD is that it makes Jesus into a thing of the past. Instead of a living, breathing relationship with a living, breathing Savior, we're stuck with a good moral teacher who had a lot of nice things to say.

Jesus, of course, is better than that. He didn't just come to show us how to live. He came to live alongside us. He came to offer us an actual, ongoing relationship with Him.

He rose again so that we don't have to settle for "What Would Jesus Do?" Instead, we can ask "What Is Jesus Doing?"

What Is Jesus Doing?

What Is Jesus Doing (WIJD?) isn't quite as catchy, but it's a question that's served me well. Jesus is not just a blueprint for someone who would always do the right thing. He is the living and active Son of God, who is at work in the world today. And He's not just there when you're not sure what the right thing to do is. He's working around you (and in you) at all times.

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"WWJD" might have some usefulness, but asking what Jesus is doing in your life is always pertinent. Asking what Jesus is doing allows you to see the bigger picture of how God is working, and how He is using you in His big story.

In fact, when you ask what Jesus is doing, you take the burden off of yourself. Sometimes, it might require you to do something radical—like clearing out a Temple of your own. Some days, it might require you to get out of the way and just let God finish the good work He started. It may be asking Jesus to help you get past your preconceptions of what He’s like, and reveal to us what He wants to do through us. It means seeking the living Jesus—not just the one who exists in church songs. Because when you do that, you can rest assured, you'll be dealing with the actual Jesus of the Bible.

He'll know what to do.




Kailey commented…

yup. amen. preach. perf smurf. Jesus



ThrowMeAway commented…


He wouldn't fulfill the messianic prophecies, such as bring world peace or be a direct descendant of David (bible states his step-dad Joseph's lineage).

He would treat illnesses for a select few via miracles, instead of teaching people to wash their hands or boil water to kill germs.

He would tell everyone that they must literally consume his flesh and drink his blood (super not kosher).

He would say "When you are in my presence, you are in God's presence." But when asked when he would return, he would say "I don't know. But definitely soon. In fact, this generation will not pass away." (2000 years ago)

He would get up on the cross and wonder why his father-god had forsaken him, like he was totally not expecting it to hurt as bad as it did.

Sean Quillen


Sean Quillen replied to ThrowMeAway's comment

You are correct, that Matthew does give Jesus lineage through Joseph, while Luke on the other hand provides Mary's lineage. Both are descendants of David from what the scripture says, not to mention that if you wish to say that, "he is not biologically a son of Joseph" he was although adopted by Joseph, therefore giving him all legal rights including being an heir to the throne.

However I do ask of which prophecies did Christ not fulfill? If you could direct those to me so I can learn more that would be great.

And while I cannot find anything about Jesus telling people to not wash their hands for health reasons, he does point out to the Pharisees, (who called him out on not washing before eating bread [which is a religious reason, nothing to do with health]) that they were simply following the rules of men, and not the word of God.

Now coming to treating a select few illnesses (paralysis, blindness, leprosy, epilepsy, deafness, mute, even death itself!) yeah, it is documented that he was select on who he performed his miracles on, because through them, others would see that he is God. Also not all of his miracles are documented, as stated at the end of John.

As for the literal consumption of his flesh and blood, I don't believe he meant it that way. Because if you think about it, why didn't his disciples just kill him and eat him on the spot? Not to mention if it was a literal case, his body is only temporary (and wouldn't save the likes of you and me), and thus would make him a false prophet.

From reading this passage, it is a metaphorical term, meant to remind us of the sacrifice and the gift that God has provided through him.

The passage that you quote: "In fact, this generation will not pass away" is taken out of context. Luke 21, which the verse is presented in, talks about the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (which did happen nearly 40 years after Jesus prophesied this). A generation by biblical standards ranges from almost 900 (days of adam and Noah) to around 40 years (time of Jesus). So in the context of scripture and from how a generation is defined in Jesus' time, it isn't a contradiction.

And true, Jesus said both, "When you are in my presence, you are in God's presence." and did say (I'm paraphrasing), "Neither the angels in heaven, neither the Son, only the Father knows." One may look at this as a contradiction, but it isn't.

Because of context. Jesus is the word in the form of flesh, and because he is both human and God, he has accepted the limited knowledge of being human. Like all humans, he doesn't know the day or the hour as he foretold.

Also contextually he won't know because of what is supposed to happen on his arrival.

Remember in Jewish cultures when a wedding was prepared, the bridegroom would be adding onto his fathers house so that he and his bride could live there. It was appointed to the Father to designate a date when the expansion could be finished and the wedding could commence. And only the Father would know when that day was.

Remember in Revelation it talks about the wedding between the Lamb (jesus) and the bride (the church)? There are still additions being made, and only God knows when there are enough additions made to his house (which has many mansions I might add) to go forth and commence the wedding. Which provides us with the return of Christ.

Now onto your last point, "He would get up on the cross and wonder why his father-god had forsaken him, like he was totally not expecting it to hurt as bad as it did."

I think you underestimate what Jesus went through before, during, and after the crucifixion. Remember in Gethsemane, he was sweating blood, being so stressed out by what was to happen. Remember that he also prayed, asking God if there were any other way, please make it so. But at the end of it, he says, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." He accepted what was to happen to him, because the purpose for it was much greater.

Now as to why he said, "Why have you forsaken me?" remember the context. In Isaiah it writes that like a lamb he was sent to the slaughter, and he took our transgressions upon him.

Paul wrote that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Jesus, when taking our sin upon him, was now looked at--in God's eyes--as evil. And then God turned away from him. That is why Jesus said, "Why have you forsaken me?" It probably had nothing to do with the process of crucifixion and the pain he was experiencing at the time.

Hope this helps.

Josh West


Josh West replied to Sean Quillen's comment

Praise God for dudes like you who are so ready to defend God's word, and speak the truth in love!

Keep on keeping on brotha



ThrowMeAway replied to 114350678776083648370's comment

1. Luke 3:23-38 actually describes Joseph's lineage (, and the prophecy probably doesn't apply to step-sons or adopted children, since "blood line" is so heavily emphasized.
2. You could ask a Jewish person this, or Google. Allow me to do both:
3. Healing a few people doesn't go as far to demonstrate godly power as introducing humanity to concept of hygiene, thereby showing impossibly advanced knowledge of the world AND saving even more lives. Instead, he taught that sickness is caused by demons.
4. See #4
5. You are obviously not a Catholic. They consider John 6:66 the "saddest passage in the bible". It's when Jesus continually insists on cannabilism and many followers desert him. Also, they think modern priests can transmute crackers & wine into literal flesh and blood for them to eat.
6. See #5. Also, yay for barbaric human sacrifice!
7. "This generation" is mentioned in Matthew 16:28, Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32. Matthew 16:28 even says that some of the people listening to Jesus right that moment won't taste death before the second coming. But you are arguing that Jesus used vague language to promise a subjective/interpreted period of time (40-900 years), a very non-specific prophecy for a god-man and empty promises to those in his audience. Also, the destruction of the temple was just one of several events he predicted to occur, but was a component of the 2nd coming (which definitely did NOT happen).
8. Oh good.
9. So he knows about details of the second coming, that he's just about to be crucified, that he's about to be betrayed and by whom, knows that one of the robbers will DEFINITELY be in heaven that very day, he knows exactly which person in a crowd touched a corner of his robes, but not when he's coming back. That's some interesting selective knowledge.
10. What?
11. Not relevant to a god-man. He has no cultural restrictions or requirements, since he is supposedly omnipotent and perfect.
12. So you're suggesting that god in heaven is furiously working to build mansions, and as soon as he has them made out of gold and clouds, then he'll send Jesus back? That's laughable.
13. Yup.
14. Asking/begging god to please not let something happen (although that was the whole point of his being), but also being simultaneously totally ok with that something happening? Tell me, does cognitive dissonance hurt as much as I imagine that it does?
15. Remember that in 50+ verses, the bible says that god will never leave nor forsake you nor test/tempt beyond your ability: Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Psalm 55:22, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 13:5-6...
16. Christians also believe that the act of baptism instantly removes all sin. This human sacrifice is therefore unnecessary.
17. All sin causes one to "fall short of the glory of god", implying that all sin is equally infinitely bad. Sin isn't supposed to be like garlic to a vampire or kryptonite to superman. It's god, for god's sake.
18. See #1-17.

Andrew H. King


Andrew H. King commented…

This was an excellent article and thought!

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