Do you sometimes play the comparison game? You know how it goes – you look at other people at a similar age or life stage to yourself and compare your achievements to theirs.
Maybe you went to school with someone who had a fine collection of Olympic medals by the time they turned 21, while you were slogging away at your university education and working two part-time jobs to make ends meet. Perhaps you quit work to care for young children and have watched with a tinge of envy while your former colleagues make great career advances.
The comparison game is almost never a helpful pastime because it too easily leads to either pride (“Wow, I’m so much better than them”) or despair (“Look at all they’ve done – I’m so hopeless in comparison”). But there’s one comparison that I think is helpful to make, and that’s with the greatest man who ever lived: Jesus.
This year, I’m approximately the same age as Jesus was when he was executed. While a significant chunk of his life was lived in relative obscurity, we know a lot about his last few years. His achievements in that short time are astounding – teaching crowds of followers, healing sick people, multiplying a small serving of bread and fish to feed thousands, walking on water, calming storms, making dead people alive again, taking a motley bunch of ordinary men and training them to lead a worldwide movement. He modelled honesty and integrity in his lifestyle, boldness in confronting injustice and heresy, compassion on the downtrodden and the unimportant. He was busy, popular and treated with great honour, yet humble, willing to give his time to children and beggars.
Jesus was not merely human. He was God incarnate.
By comparison, who am I? A totally inadequate nobody.
Now, why would I compare myself to Jesus, when I have not the smallest chance of measuring up? Because Jesus told his disciples that he was their example, that they should love each other as he loved them and serve each other as he served them (John 13:15, 34). In becoming a follower of Jesus, I am to take off the old self and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24).
As an adopted member of God’s family, I really want to do my best. I’m keen to make my life count. I’m acutely aware of my inadequacy, but nevertheless, my heart’s desire is to live for Jesus in every aspect and at every moment. I can never match Jesus’ achievements, but by the Holy Spirit, I can be increasingly transformed in line with his character. And to that end, now is a good time for a direction check. Am I plotting a course in life that is honouring to Jesus? Are my values aligned with his? Are my priorities set in line with what he considers important? How about you?
But there’s another side to this. Much as I want to be more like Jesus, my success in life doesn’t rest on my efforts to this end. I don’t need to stress about being good enough or about meeting some impossibly high standards (because no matter how hard I try, I won’t achieve perfect Christlikeness in this life).
How can I say this? Because of Jesus’ greatest achievement. As he hung dying on the cross, he declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). This wasn’t a defeatist comment, to say that he was giving up. Nor was it an exclamation of relief that his ordeal was over. It was a decisive statement that he had completed the work he came to do. He had endured the judgement that our sins require. He had paid the price in full. There’s nothing left for us to do—no added taxes or service charges to pay. For those who believe in him, our salvation is already achieved.
And because our salvation is achieved, we have tremendous freedom—freedom to live for Christ every moment. So, go ahead and compare yourself to Jesus. None of us can match his achievements, but with the Spirit’s help, we can all take steps towards growing in Christlike character.