Sunday, April 5, 2009

Watch Your Step

Rev. Dr. M. Rhodes once said, “Mr. Sheldon's venture is unique. It has at least challenged the thought of the reading world and as the aim of the author of the enterprise is sincere and in behalf of the world's highest good, good is bound to come of it.” The Mr. Sheldon that he is referring to is Charles Sheldon, author of the widely-known book In His Steps. This novel first published in 1896, published again in 1980 by Whitaker House, has sold more than 30 million copies world-wide and continues to be read all over the world. The theme in the book is to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” in all of life’s complex situations. It is a story that stirs souls by showing the lives of men and women who decide to take up a challenge given them by their Pastor to follow what they think Jesus would command them to do in their day-to-day dilemmas. A person should make conscious choices that follow in Jesus’ steps, but the book shows that Jesus is more of an example than a redeemer. If we forget that Jesus came to save the lost and only focus on our actions or deeds, we miss God’s purpose for sending Jesus Christ into the world. The purpose that is to lie down his own life so that we, sinners, not worthy of the glorious grace of God, could live.

After being confronted by a tramp, the pastor questions what it means to be a Christian. In His Steps shows several individual stories of people in the congregation of the First Church of Raymond that agree to commit their lives to Christian discipleship that demands more than a mental assent, that demands action. You follow a newspaper editor, a college president, a railroad executive, a pastor, a singer, a writer, and a wealthy philanthropist who face opposition when they make radical choices in order to follow Jesus’ steps. As Sheldon wrote, “The greatest question in all human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ if, as we ask it, we also try to answer it from a growth in knowledge of Jesus Himself” (Sheldon 173).

The characters in the story encountered circumstances of poverty and deprivation. They underwent trials that come from giving of themselves. The singer turns down a good paying job so she can sing for drunkards. The newspaper editor gave up subscribers and lost money so he could print a paper that did not print advertisements or stories that did not glorify God. The wealthy philanthropist gave up money so she could help those less fortunate. The railroad executive gave up his job and status so he could do the morally right thing. They each gave of their money or their time to follow Jesus’ steps. Nothing that they did was at all bad nor did they have bad motives. However, everything they did was an action: something done or performed; an act or deed. “What if others say of us, when we do certain things” (Sheldon 27.) They lived out Jesus to the world, but the Jesus that they were showing was a Jesus that preformed deeds to save people, rather than a Jesus that bled and died for the sins of the world. “ […] those who volunteer to do this will pledge themselves for an entire year […] so to act” (Sheldon 24, emphasis added). “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:2-3).

Sheldon, however, hit the nail on the head when he had the tramp enter the church and ask the pastor went being a Christian meant. “But I was wondering as I sat there under the gallery, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow me’? […] What do you Christians mean by ‘following the steps of Jesus’? (Sheldon 15). Charles Sheldon sparked thoughts in many more lives than just the characters in his book. He started a fad where everyone’s motto became “What Would Jesus Do?” When do we move past just wearing the bracelets and really start not only living like Christ, but being changed from the inside. In His Steps explores different ways that people had to give up something that was important to them. Sheldon’s book realistically shows that not everyone finds it appealing that following Jesus means suffering for Jesus. Following Jesus is a great idea, but when it comes to actually doing it, not everyone finds it easy. That is why the characters in Sheldon’s book should be applauded, because they knew the cost and took their crosses and followed Jesus’ steps anyway.

Sheldon effectively wrote a book that touched millions. Sheldon said, “No one is more grateful than I am, as it confirms the faith I have always held that no subject is more interesting and vital to the human race than religion.” “On February 24, 1946, two days before his eighty-ninth birthday, Charles Sheldon, after suffering a stroke, died peacefully in bed. As I closed the book on his life, I realized Charles Sheldon left us all an enduring legacy with his powerful question, one which I ask myself each time I face a crossroad: What would Jesus do?” (Neighbors, par. 21). For that, Charles Sheldon’s book truly achieved his purpose successfully.

In His Steps was written over a century ago, but can still be applied to our life and culture, despite a few differences. It still asks a question that each person should ask himself or herself in any and every situation. A spiritually dead person cannot live a spiritually Christian life. Christ, the redeemer, is the giver so we are the receivers. Christ did the ultimate act and we are the acted upon. We can do as many good, righteous or holy deeds as we feel are right, but in the end, we will not be able to save anyone. Christ does the saving. We are always the redeemed; Christ will always be the Redeemer of our souls. Sheldon’s book was a magnificent work of fiction, but we cannot forget that actions will not save us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Philippians 2:8-9). We must remember is that deeds and actions are great. Much like Charles Sheldon asked us over a hundred years ago, “What would Jesus do?” we must also ask ourselves what our motives are for our actions.

Works Cited
Neighbors, Chuck. "The Story of "In His Steps"." 1996. 11 Mar 2008.
Sheldon, Charles M. In His Steps. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1980.
The Bible. New International Version. 1984. International Bible Society.

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