What Would Jesus Do?

“What would Jesus do?” This question is often asked by earnest Christians when they are endeavoring to decide whether or not they should pursue some particular course of action. If the Bible does not give any specific precept regarding some practical issue in question, many believers then use the above question to determine their course of action. On the basis of their understanding of and their impressions regarding Jesus’ ethical standards, they are certain in their minds what Jesus would or would not do; then, of course, they do what their Lord would do.

On the surface this method of solving certain ethical questions seems admirable, for what could be better than doing what Jesus would do? Although we reject the liberal emphasis on Jesus’ example to the exclusion of his atoning sacrifice, we nevertheless recognize that the Redeemer has left us an example that we should follow his steps. Surely, then, it would seem that answering this question would decisively settle certain moral questions. If Jesus would not do something, how could we justify doing it? If Jesus would do something, how could we excuse our failure to do the same thing? In spite of the apparent attractiveness of this method of making certain ethical decisions, this approach is not only very difficult to put into practice, but actually improper for the believer to use as a rule of life.

Difficulty in Answering this Question

When we give careful thought to this question, it becomes apparent that we encounter great difficulty in answering it. How can we be sure in every case what Jesus would do? If we have definite example or explicit statement in Scripture, it is easy. But what about the many situations for which there is no such example or statement? What about modern circumstances in which Jesus was not placed and about which he did not directly speak?

It is at this point that many Christians make their decisions by answering this question on the basis of their impressions of Jesus. They do what they think Jesus would do, and in many cases they do what they want to think Jesus would do. They actually let their prejudices and their own assumed opinions determine what Jesus would do. In effect they picture a Jesus who would do what they would do. and thus the point of the original question is reversed. So for some Christians it is all a very simple matter; they just picture a Jesus who would agree with them and then they do what he would do. Such people are sincere and would never overtly think of making Jesus follow their example, but this is what often happens.

Moreover. it is clear that there would be a great variety of impressions as to what Jesus would do. I have met a clergyman (a believer as far as I could determine) who felt that Jesus was the type who would today frequent the local tavern to “have one with the boys.” On the other hand I’ve known a dear old saintly woman who considers movies sinful; she cannot picture Jesus at his second coming taking some of his own out of the theater. for she cannot imagine Jesus attending the movie. This wide divergence of opinion as to what Jesus would do stems largely from the fact that these opinions are based upon conjecture. Even when Scripture explicitly speaks to some matters there is disagreement among Christians, and it is certain there will be less agreement as to what Jesus would do in situations about which Scripture does not directly speak. It is quite evident that this approach to settling certain ethical questions is extremely difficult to put into practice, and if used within the church there will be very little uniformity. It will resemble the period of the judges: everyone does what seems right in his eyes.

An Improper Question

The basic reason. however. why saints of Cod should not use this approach is not the difficulty of consistently applying it. but rather that it is in principle improper. This is so for the simple reason that such an attitude toward moral questions is out of accord with the believer’s profession of faith with respect to Scripture. If we properly bear the name “Protestant” then we honestly profess that we believe the Bible to be the very Word of God written. and that we accept it as the only infallible rule of faith and practice for our lives. The importance of these characteristics of Scripture is not adequately appreciated by many Protestants and even by some believers of Reformed persuasion who seek something other than or in addition to Scripture by which to make their decisions.

a id=”set-post-thumbnail” class=”thickbox” href=”″ aria-describedby=”set-post-thumbnail-desc”>

Scripture Is All Sufficient

Our view of Scripture is quite basic with respect to our faith. not merely with respect to what we should believe about God but also about what duty God requires of us. When we profess that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and life we do not mean that it is one of several or many rules and that it is the only one that is infallible; rather we mean that it is the only rule believers should use and that it is indeed an infallible rule. We should direct our steps by nothing else than that which is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. The Scriptures are perfectly adequate and complete as our rule of life. Use of anything extra-scriptural as a rule of life denies the sufficiency of Scripture.

The Bible speaks quite explicitly about many things and sets forth general principles about other things. Where there are no explicit commands we are expected to apply the principles of Scripture with reason and good judgment as enlightened by the Spirit. We are not to go off on tangents of conjecture and human opinions. When dealing with those things which are intrinsically neither good nor evil. we must avoid laying down new obligations and laws upon believers and thus add to the Word of God. There would be much less disagreement among Christians than there is regarding our practices if only we would honestly strive to consistently apply the precepts and principles of Scripture to life. There are, for example, some believers who admit that the Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty is well grounded in sound exegesis of Scripture hut who refuse to apply it to life or teach it because “it is dangerous.” To have such an attitude is to slap God in the face and to pretend to be wiser than he. We desperately need to appreciate the full significance of our doctrine of Scripture in order that we may all the more grow in grace and please him in our daily walk.

Our view of Scripture is not a coldly academic affair; it is, rather, vitally related to Christian living. It is Scripture which is profitable not only for teaching but for correction, reproof and instruction unto righteousness. To use anything else as the rule of life, even such a pious-sounding phrase as “doing what Jesus would do.” is to deny the completeness and sufficiency of Scripture. It is to make one’s self wiser than the Triune God. It is, in the name of piety, to do despite to the Word of our God who has redeemed us and thus to dishonor his name. The question we should ask ourselves is not “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What would Jesus have me to do as set forth by precept or principle in his Word?”

C. Ralph Verno, graduate of Westminster Seminary, and member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is associate professor of mathematics at West Chester State College.