Summary: God made us to follow, obey, and imitate the life and teachings of Jesus.
WWJD—The Real Deal
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: It is only four letters, but most of us know what the abbreviation stands for. Several years ago, it was all the rage. Wristbands, bracelets, necklaces, key chains—jewelry of all sorts sported the WWJD logo. I am sure there was even a fair share of WWJD tattoos. But I would wager that some of you have some WWJD memorabilia on you this morning. Anyone here have anything WWJD on them? Please, nobody needs to show your WWJD tattoo!
We probably all know what the letters stand for—WWJD—what would Jesus do? But do you know when that slogan first became so popular? In fact, the current WWJD popularity started almost exactly one hundred years after the first. Let me tell you the rest of the story.
When Charles Sheldon became the preacher of Central Congregational Church of Topeka, Kansas in the 1890’s, the church board told him he had to preach two sermons a week. Sheldon preferred that they cancel the Sunday evening service. It was supposed to be primarily a youth service, but hardly anyone came. The board didn’t change their mind so Sheldon adopted Plan B.
Instead of preaching a typical sermon, Sheldon decided to tell a story. Each Sunday evening he would tell an episode in an on-going fictional drama. He would end each episode with a cliffhanger designed to draw the young people back to find out what happened next. Eventually a growing throng of young adults crowded the Central Church sanctuary to listen to Sheldon’s tale.
By the time he brought the story to a close, the preacher had spun thirty-one episodes. In 1896, the story was picked up and ran as a weekly series in a popular religious newspaper of the time. When In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do came out in book form, it swept the world like wildfire. It has sold over thirty million copies making it the most widely published religious fiction book of all time. (See Topeka Capital-Journal, [CJ-online] March 12, 2000 for a background series on Sheldon.)
The story tells what happened after a church service was interrupted by what we would call today a homeless man. The dirty, raggedly dressed man challenged the neatly dressed congregation. This is how he ends his statement. “I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night “All for Jesus,”… I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. 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?”
The book recounts the stories of the people who decided to take that question seriously. A newspaper editor, an actress, a musicians, businessmen, parents, students, laborers—all wrestle with the challenge of putting their faith in Christ into practice by asking themselves what Jesus would do before they made any decision. Some succeeded. Some didn’t. All were changed.
WWJD-that’s an important question! It also brings us to our third purpose in life. We are at the beginning of the fourth week of our 40 Days of Purpose. We are using the wording in Rick Warren’s best selling book The Purpose Driven Life to explore the question “What on earth am I here for?” Warren’s book provides the roadmap for our journey into the Bible. As Warren puts it, God created each of us for five purposes. 1) We are planned for God’s pleasure. The biblical word for that is worship. 2) We are formed for God’s family. That’s fellowship. 3) We are also created for Christ-likeness. That’s what the Bible calls discipleship, our theme for today. 4) We are shaped for God’s service. That’s ministry to others. 5) And we are made for God’s mission. That’s the task of pointing others to God’s message of grace found in Jesus Christ.
The title for Sheldon’s book and the idea behind the WWJD slogan come from 1 Peter 2:21, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Elsewhere the New Testament makes the same appeal, “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 (Rom. 8:29). 1 John says, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Paul says, “our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Living a Christ-like life is also the heart of our text from Ephesians 4.