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preaching article Is Jesus an Impossible Mentor?

Is Jesus an Impossible Mentor?

based on 9 ratings
Oct 17, 2012

I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Sitting in my office was a young man who had been cheated out of $200 by someone else in the church. Both men attended our church, and one guy really did owe the other $200. But the guilty party wasn’t in the office, the other guy was—and he was full of anger and frustration because of his loss. That’s when I made my hasty suggestion:

“You could forgive him his debt,” I suggested. “Jesus told us to do just that.”

Big mistake.

“Well I’m not Jesus!” he nearly shouted back at me.

End of discussion, end of ministry time, end of opportunity to take the yoke Jesus offers. It was my mistake. Not for suggesting a perfectly Biblical remedy to his anger and frustration, but for expressing the solution in such a way that he would consider it impossible.

It’s impossible to be like Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus was perfect. He led a sinless life. He was God-come-to-earth and his life sets the bar impossibly high for any of us.

I believe that the central problem in nurturing followers of Jesus in North America is our view of Jesus as the Impossible Mentor.

It’s a paradox: nearly everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus as a worthy role model, but almost no one seriously believes it is possible to live up to his example. Our esteem for Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father and our desire to be “just like Jesus” does battle with the deep-seated notion that it is impossible to be like him. Who would choose a mentor who is impossible to imitate?


Some passages in the Scripture inspire and fill us with confidence. Some light the fires of hope in our hearts. Other passages seem too idealistic, too fantastic to find their way into even our dreams, much less our daily lives: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8: 29). Is this possible? Does God really look at each one of us and see a destiny in which we look like Jesus?

Whatever our theological foundations regarding this passage, we should all recognize that it is about God’s intention for each of one us to become “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Simply put, God desires to have more children like Jesus. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, but we become his sons and daughters by adoption. The destiny of those adopted into the family of God is that we, too, should bear the family likeness. That is: we will look just like Jesus.

In a conversation with a dozen young Christians this week, I asked them if they felt it were possible to live a life without sin for even one day. No takers. So I rephrased the question and asked if it is possible to go for an hour without sinning. Only one of them thought it was possible to stay within the will of God for a single hour.

These questions are not academic. They go to the heart of our life “in Christ.” If our intuition tells us that following His example is impossible, for one day or even an hour, how can we have the confidence to pursue his vision for us? The bottom line is that God has a greater vision for what is possible in our lives than we do. Perhaps the reason the Apostle Paul instructs us later in Romans to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” is so we can see the possibilities of a life lived in harmony with Jesus. A practical, day-to-day, moment-by-moment harmony capable of generating the rest and peace he promises.

Let me encourage you to ponder the foundations of your commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions for meditation and prayer:

  • Is it possible to learn from him?
  • If Jesus is my mentor, have I committed myself to failure with no possibility of success?
  • What kind of Master would invite me to be his apprentice if he thought there were no possibility to follow in his footsteps?

The answers spoken from our heart will determine whether discipleship is possible.

This article is an excerpt from Ray's new book: The Impossible Mentor: Finding Courage to Follow Jesus.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Talk about it...

Chet Gladkowski avatar
Chet Gladkowski
0 days ago
Good article Ray! That's why the call by Jesus to "follow me" is in the present tense, ongoing action (Matt 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21.) Paul said the same thing (1 Cor 4:16, 11:1.) Impossible yes, but it's a journey.
Chris Surber avatar
Chris Surber
0 days ago
Great article and great question. He certainly is an IMPOSSIBLE mentor, that is, apart from radical devotion to His way, the power of the Holy Spirit, and a recognition of the supernatural nature of the Christian life.
Pastor Sandy . avatar
Pastor Sandy .
0 days ago
Good article, and serves to remind us not to be depressed about our constant failures to "measure up!" We must, however, continue to try. Someone wrote "Striving for Perfection," and that's our job! Blessings -
Charles M. King avatar
Charles M. King
0 days ago
Jesus came to Earth, first to bring salvation to a wayward and lost generation. Next, He taught us and demonstrated to us what was possible as He expressed an expectation that we would follow His example. To come to Earth, teach and perform as He did for the purpose of merely showing what He could do would render Him the greatest braggart of all times. It would be ludicrous of God to come as Jesus for any other purpose than to show mankind its potential. We may not reach Jesus' level of accomplishment, but as we travel the journey love , joy, peace will be with us as we reach plateau after plateau of achievement and self discovery. I have found that numerous religious circles consider it blasphemy to even suggest that we can emulate Jesus. The challenge before each Christian is found in the book of Philipians 2:5: "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus; though He was equal to God He made Himself of no reputation but humbled Himself...". Let us take the challenge and reach plateau after plateau of achievement and self discovery. Charles M. King http://charlesking-masterfulliving.com/
0 days ago
Jesus is not a mentor, He is the Saviour of mankind and all of creation. He gives us the Grace that enables us to follow Him right now. It is impossible to emulate Him without His Grace. Also His Grace will change us to incorruptibility when He comes again. No wonder Israel Houghton sang "Where would I be if not for Your Grace?"
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Anonymous (#5), a mentor can also be considered a teacher, known as a rabbi in Jesus' day, a title for which Jesus was well known. The idea of Jesus as a mentor is consistent with the fact that we are his disciples, and in fact highlights the fact that as his disciples, we are to learn from him how to live as he did. The idea of Jesus as a mentor also does not detract from the fact that he is also the savior of mankind and of all creation. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Amer Hallasa avatar
Amer Hallasa
0 days ago
yes oh yes after being with the lord for 39 years i say i could live without sin for one day or more by his grace and power .
0 days ago
The point that I am trying to draw out is that Jesus gives us the Grace to follow Him, something no mere mentor can do. In other words, He is not an impossible mentor, he is the Saviour that makes the impossible posible..
Roelof Kwant avatar
Roelof Kwant
0 days ago
You were correct in asking the person to forgive, Jesus asks us to do that. the answer "I am not Jesus" is not what was asked, it was asked to do what He says we must do. the answer indicates a hardened heart.
0 days ago
With Jesus we race with grace
0 days ago
With Jesus we race with grace
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Anonymous (#8), thank you for your clarification, with which I agree. Certainly he is MORE than a mentor (which is not the same as NOT a mentor). Forgive me if I seemed picky, I guess the old English teacher in me is a stickler for using words precisely! And I agree with you wholeheartedly that he is the savior that makes the impossible possible. Thank you for your thoughts!
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
We will not be completely conformed into His image until we get to heaven. Although we will NEVER be sinless (1 John 1:8-9) we don't need to be a slave to sin. I am not all that I should be, but thank God I am not what I once was. I am in the proccess of being conformed.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
1 Peter 2:21"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in His steps." Let me suggest a book for all to read (if you have not already read it) titled "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon. Great book that will challenge you to be more like Christ. As I said in my previous post, we will never be totally conformed into His image until we are in heaven, but that doesn't mean we can't strive to do better (in the power of Christ) than we are now.
Nathaniel Nuesse avatar
Nathaniel Nuesse
0 days ago
It isn't the world that makes it impossible. It will be when you understand how much Christians have holes in Jesus. The first time you offend them by your actions is a heavy blow when you've taken much prayer and study and you both know it's Christ. Hard to do that day in and day out.

So, what did you think?

Thank you.