Chapter 2

The Christianity of Jesus and Paul

There is, of course, no clearer demonstration of real Christianity than Christ Himself. Today, there are many varieties of Christianity, but the most attractive form of Christianity of all is the original—the Christianity of Jesus Christ. This was the authentic Christian life in its purest, most consistent form. Many people have a problem understanding, applying, and identifying with the Christianity of Jesus because they feel He, being the Son of God, had an edge over the rest of us. “Not fair, comparing me to Jesus!” they protest. “Sure, Jesus was undoubtedly human—but He was also God. From His divine side, He drew supernatural power to resist evil and achieve great things in a way I could never do.”

Yes, Jesus was fully God—but we must never forget that He was also fully human, with all the limitations that go with our humanity. We can live our lives as He lived His. We can base our lives on the model He has set before us. This is practical, livable truth, and the Scriptures are very clear on this point. Here are a few passages which commend Jesus to us as an example we can and should follow:

Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb. 2:18). We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15). To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21).

How is this possible? How can we hope to pattern our lives after the life of a perfect Person who was God in the flesh? Isn’t that like trying to high-jump the Empire State Building or broadjump the Pacific Ocean? Isn’t that asking the impossible? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is impossible for us to live perfect, sinless lives; but no, it is not impossible for us to set a goal of Christlikeness. Every time we fail in our pursuit of that goal, we simply go back to God for forgiveness and restoration, and He puts us back on the road to our goal once again. The key principle is found in Philippians 2:5-8,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross (nrsv).

Note that key phrase: Jesus “emptied Himself.” He set aside the prerogatives and powers of Godhood in order to identify fully with us. He lived the same kind of life we live, facing temptation, suffering pain and sorrow, enduring frustration, just as we do. He approached life the same way you and I must approach life: living in dependence on God the Father, seeking guidance and strength through continual prayer, trusting God and listening to His leading, and being humbly obedient—“not My will, but Yours.” That is why we are to “let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus” (nrsv). That is authentic Christianity, the Christianity of Christ; Christianity in its truest, purest, most distilled form. That is the Christianity which you and I are to follow, the only Christianity worthy of the name.

The apostle Paul lived his life by the same principle, patterning his life after the example of Christ. He wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). That is why the apostle’s ministry was so attractive to the people around him. That is why his preaching was so effective in changing hearts and minds. He was an imitator of Christ. As we examine a selection from Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth—one of the most biographical of all Paul’s letters— we will gain insight into his own experiences as an imitator of Christ and of His ministry. There, Paul reveals to us in the clearest terms the secret of his own great ministry.

The first 1½ chapters of 2 Corinthians indicate that Paul was being challenged by certain Christians at Corinth. They had been affected by some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who suggested that Paul was not a genuine apostle at all because (1) he was not one of the original Twelve, and (2) some of his teachings went beyond the law of Moses. Claiming he was not a real apostle, they insisted his brand of Christianity was not real Christianity. One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to brand the truth as a big lie, and that’s exactly what was happening at Corinth.