October 24, 2013 — by Rev. Mateen Elass


What does a "Jesus-Shaped Identity" Mean?

Preeminent among our ECO core values is the call to a “Jesus-shaped identity,” prompting us to keep Jesus at the center of who we are and His ministry at the center of what we do. But this begs the question, “Which Jesus?”

Since Albert Schweizer, scholars have noted that those who seek the “historical Jesus” have been plagued by the problem of “peering down the deep well of history” in search for the face of Jesus only to see a pale reflection of themselves at the bottom. That is, we’re always in danger of creating our own idol, reshaping Jesus into what is most important to us. This is true not only of scholars questing for the “historical Jesus,” but for all who consider Jesus a positive role model.

There’s the country-western Jesus, the revolutionary Jesus, the Zen Jesus, the apocalyptic Jesus, the Republican Jesus, the charismatic Jesus, the Democratic Jesus, the new age Jesus – you get the picture.

We of course want to follow the biblical Jesus – but what does this mean, and how do we keep from falling into the idol-making trap?  Well, the tried and true method of the Church down through the ages has been to cling to the Word of God under the leading of the Holy Spirit. The more deeply we immerse our minds in the Scriptures and cultivate our hearts in the life of the Spirit, the more likely we are to develop a “Jesus-shaped identity.”

At the risk of completely over-simplifying this complex subject, let me suggest that there are two defining questions which can help us better grasp this goal:
1) How is Jesus utterly unique from us? and
2) How are we meant to become like Jesus?
The first reminds us of Jesus’ inimitable role as Savior on our behalf, accomplishing for us what we could never do for ourselves or the larger world – think of the seven central “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John, for instance. These truths shape us by reminding us of our fallen nature and desperate need for the life that we cannot manufacture on our own. The second question reminds us that once we have begun life in Christ, we are now on a journey to become like Him so we can participate in his mission and joy. “I have come to seek and save the lost; you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world; my will is to do the will of my Father; you are my disciples if you do what I command you; no servant is greater than his master….”

By keeping before our mind’s eye how Jesus remains always unique from us, we steer clear of the temptation to see Him only as our model of life, as if we don’t need to be rescued from our own sins and evils, as if Jesus is only a more polished version of what we “really” are ourselves. We embrace Him as our Savior and only Savior of the world with all that implies about our natural condition. Yet He is not only Savior. As we embrace His unique person and role, we are ushered into a new life through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, by which we are called to emulate our Master – to take up our crosses, to trust in our Father, to love the unlovely, to intercede for the lost, to heal the sick, to proclaim the Kingdom.

While plumbing the depths of the nature of the true Jesus will no doubt be an eternal quest, we can find safety in our efforts to develop a Jesus-shaped identity by nurturing our faith and obedience in the biblical Jesus who will always remain our Savior and our Lord. This will feed our souls, give us a message to proclaim, and a cruciform life to lead. That should be enough to keep us occupied for the time being.


Rev. Mateen Elass

Mateen was the second of four children born to a Syrian Muslim who had married an American while studying at the University of Wisconsin. Some years after Mateen’s birth, the family moved to Saudi Arabia where his father worked as an oil company executive. During his early teens Mateen began a search for God, largely through reading. For six years he focused on eastern mysticism and meditation including a stay at an ashram in India. His heart is for those who walk where he once walked, those who search but have not yet found the love of Jesus. For that reason he particularly appreciates the church’s welcome to visitors, its willingness to walk beside them as they move toward God, and its growing enthusiasm to move outside the confines of the church campus to share Christ’s love with all who wish to hear. A frequent speaker about Islam, Mateen sees his experience on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide as providing a unique opportunity to create bridges of understanding. His great hope is that God will use him to reveal the love of Jesus to both sides. “God will provide guidance to those who seek him, and will equip his people to do his will.”

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