After Jesus washed the disciples' feet, He told them, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15). Jesus' whole life was an example for us to follow as we learn to walk in His ways.
So what does it look like to be like Jesus? We've put together seven things you can focus on to become more like the Lord.
1. Study His life
If we want to grow to be more like Jesus, we need to understand Him. We should know what set Him apart from other leaders. We need to grasp what motivated Him. We need to witness the ways He responded to people around Him. We ought to immerse ourselves in His parables. This requires that we become students of the New Testament. But we also need to immerse ourselves in the Old Testament to recognize God's unfolding plan and prophecies of Jesus' coming.
In a discussion about how to endure suffering, Peter tells us, "But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:20–22, emphasis added).
The Lord's whole life was an example we ought to follow, but to do so, we have to soak it up. This is one reason that reading Scripture is so critical. It illuminates the path so we can follow in His footsteps.
2. Love God
Jesus summed up the entire Old Testament law in two commandments: love God and love others. But He doesn't just say that we need to love God; He tells us to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We need to love God with all that we are.
We can see an excellent example of this in the temptations of Jesus. Over and over, the devil tempts Jesus to serve Himself or to worship another, and Jesus repeatedly brings the conversation back to serving God. The love that Jesus demonstrates for God isn't just an emotional affection; instead, it's a commitment to honor and obey God at every opportunity.
At one point, Jesus reminds the angry Pharisees that "the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (John 5:19b). We should recognize that this isn't a declaration of duty; it's one of love. Jesus' love of the Father is such that it causes Him to pursue God's will in all things.
In the same way, when we talk about loving Jesus, it includes deep fondness, but it goes further. It works its way out into our everyday attitudes and behaviors.
3. Love others
When you pay close attention to Jesus' behavior, it's hard to miss how much He loved people. But that's not because He's constantly telling everyone He loves them. You recognize it in His behavior. The way He talked to people. The way He aligned Himself with folks who weren't accepted in first-century society.
In reading the Gospels, we often focus on the main points and miss some of the details. For instance, pay attention to how often Jesus is interrupted. People are consistently stopping Jesus and asking Him questions or requesting favors, and Jesus is genuinely accommodating.
Check out this one example:
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better, she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'"
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering" (Mark 5:21–34).
Pay close attention to what's happening here. Jesus has just hit the shore, and a crowd immediately throngs around Him. Jairus emerges out of that crowd and pleads for Jesus to heal his sick daughter, and Jesus just goes with him.
As He's responding to this interruption, He's immediately interrupted by a woman who is also struggling. Her faith that simply touching Jesus would heal her pays off. But Jesus stops everything to address her. His response to her is so tender and kind even though He's being pulled in multiple directions at once.
When we tune into the way Jesus cared for others, we discover a blueprint for what it looks like to truly love others.
4. Invest in maturity
Sometimes it seems that we live in a Peter Pan culture. There's a tendency to devalue our elders as irrelevant while exalting youthfulness. We'll do anything to hold onto our fresh-faced appearance and stave off natural aging as much as possible. And with this cultural disposition, we end up holding onto immature activities, behaviors, and attitudes, too. This means that adolescence gets stretched out longer and longer.
Luke tells us that wasn't the case with Jesus. The writer wraps up the birth/childhood section of his Gospel by informing us that "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). This child who sat in the Temple, astounding everyone with His thoughtful questions, continued to grow in wisdom.
We can't be like Jesus if we're actively working against our own maturity. Growing in wisdom isn't the same thing as being informed. Intelligence isn't wisdom. The kind of maturity Jesus demonstrated was full of insight and reasonable judgment. Of course, He was intelligent and knowledgeable, but the way He communicated with and responded to others showed true, God-given understanding.
There's no trick to growing in wisdom. Part of it is following Paul's advice to put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). The freedom we have in Christ shouldn't be entirely spent on frivolity. Instead, it should empower us to focus on what is ultimately beneficial and constructive to God's kingdom—and us.
We also need to pray for wisdom. Jame’s Epistle says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (James 1:5). This requires two steps: recognizing our lack of wisdom and asking God to make up the deficit.
5. Choose humility
When Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he encourages them to emulate Jesus. What characteristic does he focus on? Jesus' authority? His power? No. Paul focuses on Jesus' humility. He tells the church (and us), "make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Philippians 2:2–4).
What follows is a beautiful soliloquy about one of the Lord's defining characteristics. The God of the universe set aside His divinity to put on flesh and redeem humanity through a tragically brutal death. This is the kind of humility that Paul encourages us to emulate, one that puts others' needs before our own advantages.
Matthew's Gospel features a section where Jesus takes the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to task. At one point, He turns to His disciples and warns them against doing things for attention and the approval of others. He then instructs them that "the greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Matthew 23:11-12).
6. Be prayerful
When reading through the Gospels, pay close attention to Jesus' prayer life. You might be surprised at how often Jesus prays, and in what kinds of situations. Not only are there numerous examples of Jesus seeking solitude to pray (for instance, Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 9:18).
But it's not just that a private prayer life sustained Jesus. He often prayed publicly. He prayed all night long before choosing the 12 disciples (Luke 6:12–13), demonstrating the importance of prayer before making critical decisions. He prayed before performing miracles (Matthew 14:19, Mark 6:46, Mark 7:31–37, John 11:41).
He also regularly taught about prayer's significance, and the response to seeing the way Jesus prayed caused the disciples to ask for Him to teach them to pray:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation'" (Luke 11:1–4).
If we want to be more like Jesus, we'll make prayer a priority.
7. Practice obedience
Obedience to God's will was Jesus' foundational quality. He so often communicated His need to do God's will:
- "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34).
- "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" (John 5:30).
- "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38).
- "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world" (John 8:26).
- "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father" (John 10:18).
Paul tells us that Jesus humbled Himself and His obedience led Him to the cross. And because of that obedience, "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).
The more we desire to fulfill God's will, the more we will look like Jesus.
Learn more about Jesus
To better understand Jesus, one must become a student of the Bible. If you don't have access to a Bible, there are plenty of free online resources. You can download the YouVersion app, and use one of the Jesus Film Project® reading plans:
You can also download the Jesus Film Project app and watch more than 200 full-length movies, miniseries, or short films including the "JESUS" film based on Luke's Gospel or "Life of Jesus" based on the Gospel of John!