March 2007 - Vol. 6

Dr. Jake Yap, far right, conducts a tour of Oxford University

What Would Jake Do?

“ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20)

by Jake C. Yap

What would Jake do? Ha! I got you there. The slogan is, of course, “What would Jesus do?” But in a sense it could also be “What would Jake do?” or “What would (put your name here) do?” If I am truly a follower of Christ, if, as Saint Paul puts it, “ is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) then what Jesus would do in a given situation is what Jake would do.

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) catchphrase has become more meaningful to me since I came across an astonishingly easy-to-read yet unforgettable book entitled, In His Steps. The writer, Charles Sheldon, was an American Protestant minister who became increasingly alarmed at the state of the Christian churches in his time. Congregations were becoming exclusive cliques, more concerned with the status quo and with making deals with the world. Many Christians in Sheldon's time were no longer seriously living out the Gospel call to discipleship, and were being lulled to a false sense of “everything's all right.” (At another time, another Protestant, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would similarly rail against the crass discipleship which cheapens the grace of God.)

In His Steps
Charles Sheldon did an amazing thing. For a time he went about his city disguised as a jobless tramp. Because of his filthy appearance, he was rebuffed even by Christians. The result of this experience is the novel, In His Steps, which is part testimony and part meditation on what it means to be a follower of Christ today.

When a friend gave me a copy of the book, I honestly didn't think much of it. “Hmmm,” I thought, “another standard Christian inspirational-devotional book.” That was a classic case of don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover. I should have read the back cover more carefully: “The most sensationally successful religious novel of all time.”In His Steps is a dramatic, fictionalized story of what happens when ordinary people begin to take seriously Christ's call to discipleship. What would a wealthy heiress - or the owner of a newspaper, or a gifted singer, or any other ordinary Christian - do if they were to ask, given their own life situation, What would Jesus do? The result is an extremely readable and enjoyable novel that has humor and pathos, human interest and suspense. Sure it gets too sentimental and melodramatic sometimes; I'm not saying this is a perfect book, just that it's a darn good one!

What I also discovered as I read the book (in two days - I just could not put the book down!) was something very close to the flavor of the Gospel call-stories. Sheldon does not pretend that everyone would respond positively to the call of Christ. Not all the characters in his novel make the choice for God. Like in real life, some consider the cost too great. Like the rich young man of the gospels, some “went away sorrowful” because they had great possessions.

I was surprised at how much the book moved me. Very few other books have caused me to weep. Was I terribly inspired by the choices made by Sheldon's main characters in their following of Jesus? Was I being convicted of my own lukewarm, half-hearted response to Jesus' call for radical discipleship? I suspect the answer to both is yes. Although fictional, the novel reminded me that there are Christians who make such heroic decisions every day, at great cost to themselves. In fact, I see such Christians right in the Christian community I have actively participated in for the past 20 years, Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon, here in Manila! At the same time, I am all too conscious of my own failures and inconsistencies. Rather than asking the question, What would Jesus have me do in this situation? I often don't raise the question at all.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is it just a matter of regularly attending church on Sunday, praying, reading Scripture, tithing, giving alms to the poor, actively serving? Yes... and no. All of these are expressions of that one fundamental commitment to live fully for God as a disciple of Jesus Christ. To be a true disciple of Jesus Christ means living for Christ wherever I am, wherever I go, and with whomever I meet.

Earlier I quoted from Saint Paul's words in Galatians 2. Let me quote him now in full: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). If Jesus truly lives in me, if I am living his life and no longer mine, then the most important thing in the world for me would be to do everything and live my life exactly the way he would want me to.

[Jake C. Yap is a member of The Servants of the Word in Manila, Philippines. He teaches theology at the Loyola School of Theology in Manila.]

(c) copyright 2007  The Sword of the Spirit
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