"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Parenting Teens

Do You Really Want Your Child to be Like Jesus?

Dr. H. Norman Wright

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.

-MATTHEW 16:24

To train your child to become more like Jesus is a noble step. It is probably what we think we ought to be doing. Christians are those who are following Christ and proclaiming that He is the Lord of their lives. He called us to follow Him.

But do we really want our children to become like Him? Think about it when you read about the life of Christ.

Who felt comfortable around Jesus? His lifestyle really wasn't the respectable type of that time. The Pharisees saw Him as a worldly person and a rule breaker. A rich young ruler walked away from his encounter with Jesus feeling puzzled. Nicodemus was an open minded man, but he thought it better to meet with Jesus at night than let others see the two of them together. The respected elite of society weren't drawn to Him. The so-called misfits, however, seemed to be comfortable around Him.

A social outcast, a military officer of the hated army, a tax collector, a person who was filled with demons and a prostitute made up those who responded to Jesus. That's a curious group of people.

If Jesus were here today, who would His followers be? We may not want to consider them. They would probably dress differently from those with whom we worship in church. They could be the gay, the HIV positive or the homeless disturbed who live under bridges and in alleys. They would be outspoken and either to the left or the right of society. Is this the group we really want our children to be around or to attract?

Do you know what you are asking your son or daughter to become? You are saying, "Don't fit in! Be different to the extent that others question you, wonder about you, shake their heads about you, aren't sure whether you'll make it in their group, their clique or their organization." You are asking your child to be a nonconformist to the status quo.

You may be uncomfortable reading this right now. Jesus was a man who looked at what was going on in the world-the society, everyday life around Him-and said, "This isn't good." He looked at the way people were living and essentially said, "That's the easy way to live. But it's not good." He confronted the destructiveness of people's lifestyles, which wasn't very popular with the establishment. He encouraged people to live a life that would be different and contrary to the establishment. He also claimed that only a few would be willing to live that kind of life. Jesus called people to live a risky, different kind of life-one that promised peace, but a peace different from that which the world around us gives.

Do you know what Jesus preached? nonconformity He was different. Do you want your child to be seen the same way He was? Others saw Him as an eccentric, which is contrary to our desire for popularity and comfort. He was also seen as a heretic by the religious leaders of that time.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, the message of the temptations had one theme: Fit in, Jesus. Conform. Today, the world's message is the same: Go along with everything and you'll get along.

Paul echoed the message of Jesus by declaring the words, "Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2, NKJV) This is the message to be taught by parents who want their children to be like Jesus: nonconformity.

So do you want your child to be like Jesus? I'm sure you want your child to behave in a Christlike manner. We all do. But Jesus wants more than that. He wants us to have His mind in all of its fullness. We may be satisfied with behavioral change, but God wants a mind change. The mind has always been more important to God than our behavior. The emphasis in the Old Testament is the heart. At times, the Bible uses the word "heart" where you and I would use the word "mind." Jesus did the same: "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, `Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?" (Matt. 9:4, NASB).

We Are to Imitate Christ

One of the themes in the New Testament is to imitate Christ or to be like Him. We are to be like God. Paul said, "Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24, italics added). What is the purpose of the new self? It's Godlikeness. Paul told the Colossians, "[You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Col. 3:10, italics added).
Now, you and I and each of your children are to be like Jesus. He was God made human. Isn't it interesting and amazing that He became like us so we might become like Him. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29, NASB).
Jesus taught in many ways, directly and indirectly, by what He
did and what He said. He gave Himself as our example. Remember the time He washed the disciples' feet? When He was done, He said, "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you" (John 13:15, NASB).


Then we come to the verse that is our focal point: "Let this mind be in you" (Phil. 2:5, NKJV). His mind is to be in us. The wording actually means "to think or be minded in a certain way." Like every other aspect of the Christian life, the mind of Christ in a person is a growth process. I wonder how it would affect parents when they look at a newborn baby and realize that God wants that little infant to have the mind of His Son! Would that give a direction for parenting? The Word of God tells each of us to participate in the process of becoming like Him.

What is God's plan for your child's mind? What is His desire for your mind? Did you know that the New Testament describes six times directly or by implication what our minds are to be? Let's consider each and the implications for your children.

Characteristics of a Godly Mind

God says our minds are to be alive. Now, it appears obvious that you don't want a dead mind. Consider, though, what is said: "For the mind set in the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6, NASB). If we have the mind of Christ, we will have a new attitude toward sin and in the choices we make. Many of these choices are going to be counterculture responses. This means it is possible to choose a different lifestyle because of being alive. I wonder how many parents have ever shared with their child, "You are a child with the power to say no to bad things, to say words that will help others, to control your anger and to be different. Why? Because your mind has strength because it is alive. And it's alive because Jesus is in your life." It is something to think about.

Second, the Christian mind is one that is peaceful. "The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6, NASB). Notice the word "set." You and I set our minds. God gives us the peace.

Third, we find another adjective to describe the mind of the Christian: to be single minded. "But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3, NASB).

If you want another model of Jesus' life to follow, we can find one in James 3:13,17. It is based on wisdom that comes from God rather than what our culture has to offer. "Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy" (NASB). This is a partial picture of the virtues of Jesus' life. Wouldn't you like to see these character qualities developing in your child's life?

Distractions! They are all around us. They entice us. Why not? They are attractive. The competition for your child's mind is fierce. It
is a constant struggle and these distractions lead us astray, as Paul
says. Even when we pray, read the Word and sit in churches our minds
go off on vacation. They take detours and struggle to stay focused. We
are called to be single minded. We're not to be distracted.

The fourth characteristic of a godly mind is found in Philippians 2:3. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves" (KJV). A state of mind leads to humility. The Phillips version says, "Live together in harmony, live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you. Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of one another than you do of yourselves."

Another characteristic of a godly mind is having a pure mind. "To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:1S, NASB).


One of the struggles your children will face is the problem of lust for things that shouldn't be a part of their lives. They will have constant temptations to drift into activities that are not part of a Christian life. A child or an adult can't just wait until the temptation hits to decide what to do. Children whose parents teach them in advance how to say no to drugs, sex, alcohol, gang activity, etc., and how to counter persistent conformity pressures have a greater opportunity to survive. I know; I've been there.

In high school, our church group worked on The Navigator's Bible memorization program. One of the passages I memorized was 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (NASB). I don't know how many times that passage came to mind (and not by accident either!) when faced with the choice of doing something right or wrong. I must admit that I didn't always appreciate having it come to mind, but it was a life saver. Handling the temptations of life is not an act that occurs at the moment of temptation; it is decided and planned beforehand.

The sixth characteristic of a godly mind is one that is sensitive and responsive. On the night of the resurrection, Jesus opened the disciples' minds to understand the Scriptures. The disciples were responsive to learning what Jesus had to say.

Being responsive to God creates spiritual sensitivity which is the only way to make progress. The model for this is Jesus being sensitive to God. He said, "I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28, NASB). Jesus saw what His Father was doing, heard Him and did nothing independent of Him.(1)
T. W. Hunt describes our response this way:

As the Father is to the Son, so Christ is to us. He imitated the Father; we imitate Christ. He saw the activity of the Father; we pay close attention to the known earthly activity of Jesus (and for that matter, also His present activity). He heard from the Father; we must hear from Him. The Father taught Him; He teaches us. He could do nothing independently of the Father; we cannot function independently of Him. He was very close to the Father; we must remain close to Him.(2)

Learning to Think Like Jesus

How do we learn to think and use our minds the same way Jesus did? Three commands are given in the Scriptures for us to follow. Let's consider it as though it were a three-stage process.

The place to start is with the will. We find this in "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2, NASB). Setting your mind is a definite step. It takes initiative on your part. When this is done, your will can override your instincts or feelings. When Jesus was in the garden, His soul was troubled. The Amplified Version states, "He began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then He said to them, `My soul is very sad and deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow" (Matt. 26:37,38, Amp.).

Then we read, "Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt" (Mark 14:36, NASB). He set His will to what God desired. Helping a child to say no, to not give in to impulses and to delay gratification are examples of strengthening the will.

Years ago, I read a suggestion in a family magazine of a way to help become more discerning about what the family watches on television. The suggestion was to write Colossians 3:2 on a small placard and place it on top of the television. Having this verse there could have an effect on the choice of program selection. How would you respond if you read "Set your mind on the things above" as you watched your favorite sitcom?

The second principle comes from Romans 12:2, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (NASB). T. W. Hunt said the following:

In the command to be transformed by the renewing of our mind we have another principle-the River Principle. Our growth is like the flow of a river, Jesus said, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, `From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water"' (john 7:38). Our problem is that most of us do not work on the River Principle, we work on the Pond Principle. Ponds stagnate, but rivers flow. Ponds become puddles, but rivers become oceans. We are to grow, and our growth is to be God-sized. Even Jesus grew: "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and
stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).(3)

The word "renewal" literally means to make new, or freshness or vigor. Is your child learning something new each day? Or is there a waiting from Sunday to Sunday for renewal to occur? Several years ago, a group of teenage superheroes captured the interest of the six-year-olds in the United States. They were called The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The television shows were a low-budget production from Japan and dubbed into English. What appealed to the children was the Rangers' ability to "morph." These teens were typical everyday adolescents, but when necessary they used a power beyond their own ability to become martial-arts heroes who fought against evil. At a time of crisis their cry was, "It's morphing time!" and they were transformed into teens who had tremendous abilities. The phrase "it's morphing time" has caught on. Most of us would like the ability to transform.

The little word "morph" comes from a Greek word in the New Testament. Morphoo means, "The inward and real formation of the essential nature of a person": It's a term to describe the formation and growth of an embryo in a mother's body.

Do you remember where Paul used this word? It was in Galatians: "until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19, NASB, italics added).

We are all in a process of spiritual gestation.

Paul also told us to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29, NASB). The word used here means to have the same form as another. We all are to be like Jesus as an image is to the original.

The word "transformed" in Romans 12 comes from an English word "metamorphosis." Our change is to be noticeable.4

John Ortberg in his book The Life You've Always Wanted offers the best definition of morphing:

When morphing happens, I don't just do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. They appeal to me. They make sense. I don't just go around trying to do right things; I become the right sort of persons

God's Word teaches us how to morph. That is why it is so important to memorize and understand the Scriptures. The purpose of knowing Scripture is to become equipped for good works. Now our model looks like this:


(Orininal graphic has an arrow pointing down from "will" to "renewal".)

The final principle reflects the way people dressed in the first century. Back then people wore long flowing robes. When someone had to run or move quickly, these robes got in the way. So they turned the robe into more of a pantaloon by "girding up" the robe. In 1 Peter 1:13 it tell us to gird up our minds. "Gird" literally means strengthen or put out of our minds anything that would hin er our ristian walk. It means that we need to keep our minds on the alert, ready for action. So the three stages look like this:

Renewal                                                              Ready for action

(Original graphic has two arrows: one pointing from "will" to "renewal" and another pointing from "renewal" to "ready for action")

As your child learns to have the thoughts of Christ, what would your child's outlook be like if these qualities were developing?

  • If your child's mind is alive, you will notice:

    Your child's conscience responding more quickly to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
    Your child becoming more conscious of God throughout the day and not just at devotions or when praying at meals.

  • If your child's mind is experiencing peace you will notice:

    Your child learning to rely on the truth of Scripture and the joy and peace of Christ helping to overcome the mental struggles of everyday life.
    Your child beginning to understand how to learn from the experiences and difficulties of life.

  • If your child is learning to be single minded you will begin to notice:

    Your child learning to pray and asking God when a decision needs to be made.
    Your child's knowledge of the Lord increasing in both content and application.

  • If your child is learning to be lowly you will begin to notice:

    Your child developing a sense of humility instead of constantly drawing attention to him or herself or striving to be number one.
    Your child becoming more willing to live the Christian life and do for others. 

  • If your child is learning the concept of purity you will begin to notice:

    Your child learning to resist the standards of others in terms of attitude, language, standards, stating the truth and becoming selective in selecting activities and viewing.

  • If your child is learning to be sensitive and responsive you will begin to notice:

    Your child having a greater desire to study about God, read and learn His Word and center his or her life on the Church. (6)

If you want your child to be more like Jesus, you are asking him or her to live His lifestyle. This is essentially what Philippians 2:5 is saying: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (NASB). Several more admonitions need to be mentioned. Scripture tells all of us to "Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" (Heb. 3:1, NASB). "Consider" means using the mind. It is saying, "Think about Him."

Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus came to show us what God really had in mind when He created humankind? Think about it-God created us. We sinned. We messed up the way we were supposed to be. We spoiled it. So God decided to give us a real flesh-and-blood model of a perfect man. Jesus became like us (see Heb. 2:14,17) so in turn we could become like Him. Hebrews tells us to "fix our eyes on Him" (12:2). We do this so we can see how Jesus lived and thus how our children (and us) are supposed to live our everyday lives.

So what was Jesus like? He was pure. He didn't talk about it, but He was. He also had many adoring women who thronged about Him. Did Jesus notice women? Of course. Did you ever think that in His humanity He may have wanted to be married? Why not? He was a complete human, a man.
He remained pure, however. Peter described Jesus as a "lamb unblemished and spotless" (1 Pet. 1:19, NASB). John said, "in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5, NASB).

Lust wasn't part of His life, as it is in ours. However, Jesus wasn't a prude either. Have you ever talked with a prostitute or had one visit in your home or have a meal with one? Jesus did, but it didn't drag Him down. Have you ever shared a meal with a well-known crook? Jesus did with a tax collector, but He wasn't corrupted. He remained pure. It was a simple purity. He didn't go around flaunting it.

Your child will struggle with this. The world has another standard called "get what you can, even if you have to deceive to do so." Purity doesn't limit itself just to sex, but extends to thoughts, motives and intentions. Purity is a valued commodity, but the standards for purity vary. Just as an example look at some of the standards for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It monitors and protects the purity of what we eat. Consider these two examples:

Apple butter: If the mold count is 12 percent or more or if it averages four rodent hairs per 100 grams or more or if it averages five or more whole insects per 100 grams, the FDA will pull it from the shelves. Otherwise you will end up using it on your toast or muffins.

Coffee beans: Coffee beans will get withdrawn from the market if an average of 10 percent or more are insect-infested or if there is one live insect in each of two or more immediate containers.(7)

Is this really purity? You and I and our children are called to a "pure purity." Not somewhat.

Teaching Good Qualities to Our Children

Jesus was a person of peace as well as being peaceable. Did He encourage competition? No. In our culture, however, we place a high value on being competitive to get ahead. We use the word "competition" and place an overemphasis on being number one. We teach children how to win, but not how to lose. Winning is everything-even if we create bad feelings, step on someone else or cheat to get there. What about striving for excellence and enjoying the process of getting there?

What about teaching your child to encourage others?

Does your child know how to accept and enjoy coming in second? Some children learn to be agitators or to pit one person against another. Jesus didn't.

Is your child gentle? This is a quality most of us would like to have in our lives. The opposite is harsh or a "heavy hand" A delicate tenderness is expressed in how we talk or the way we treat another. Have you ever run your hand lightly over the back of a puppy or a kitten, just barely stroking it? That is a gentle touch. Harshness cuts, hurts, limits, is abrupt, usually angry and insensitive.

In what way would you like to have your child become more gentle?

Are your children reasonable or approachable? This quality helps them listen to you, hear you and be receptive to what is said. Such people don't mind having someone ask them to do something or to consider some things differently. It doesn't mean they are pushovers or can be walked on. They exercise discernment. They are available, but not wimpy. They have a willingness to serve others. I also think they would not be concerned about always winning.

Another quality we would like to develop in our children is that of being merciful. They are able to forgive, to give others another chance. A merciful person is not a harsh taskmaster. His or her heart responds to others. Certain people said to Jesus, "Have merry on me." It is a person asking to be given a break when it is not deserved, and then receiving it. Merry also means being able to forgive. Does your child have a forgiving spirit or is he or she a reservoir of resentment?

Exercising the Fruits of the Spirit

What does it mean for a person to have "good fruits" or to be fruitful? When a tree is fruitful, it produces what it is supposed to produce. In this case, it could be either sharing the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians S or it could be leading others to the Lord. Does your child give increasing evidence of a desire to have others come to Christ as growth in the fruit of the Spirit? Evaluate each of your children, based on this chart, to find out where each one was last year, and is presently, in exercising the fruits of the Spirit.

Place an X in the appropriate categories:

LOVE                                                            LAST YEAR    NOW

    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____


    Very Low                                                    __________    _____
    Needs Work                                                __________    _____
    Good Some of the Time                              __________    _____    
    Quite Consistent                                          __________    _____

Another quality of Jesus' lifestyle is steadfastness. It means "without wavering." It is a sense of balanced determination or pursuing something. It is also not allowing yourself to get off track or be detoured. It includes the discernment not to be stubborn or inflexible.
The last quality is being honest or sincere. The word "sincere" comes from a Latin word that means "without wax." In ancient times, fine expensive porcelain often developed tiny cracks when it was fired in the kiln. Dishonest merchants smeared pearly white wax over the cracks until the cracks disappeared. Then they claimed the porcelain was unblemished, but when the porcelain was held up to the sun, the light revealed the cracks filled in with wax. So honest merchants marked their porcelain using the word "Sincere"-without wax. That is what is meant by genuine sincerity: no hidden cracks, no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, no attempts to con or deceive others .(8)

Why We Should Follow Jesus

What has been presented here are some goals for you to think about as you watch your child or children grow and develop.
If anyone ever asked why your children should follow Jesus, you could answer this way:

Because everything He said and did was in our best interest.
      Christ said to follow Him because following anyone or
anything else gets us lost.
    Christ said to know who we look like because drawing our self-image from any other source but God poisons our souls and spirits.
    Christ said to love our neighbor as ourselves because we grow the most when committed to fostering another's growth, not just our own.
    Christ said to clean the inside of the cup because that is the only way to develop true character and avoid a shallow existence.
    Christ said to stop fitting in with our culture because our culture is sick, and adapting to it will make us sick too.
    Christ said to get real because wearing masks makes our lives empty and our relationships unfulfilling.
    Christ said to stop blaming others because taking responsibility for our own problems is essential for true maturity and health.
    Christ said to forgive others because unforgiveness is arrogant and hurts others as well as ourselves.
    Christ said to live like an heir because to live like an orphan leads to settling far far too little in life.
    Christ said to solve paradoxes because it is often that which seems contrary to common sense that is the healthiest route of all.
    Christ said to stop worrying because worry only drains us of the energy we need to work on the things that we can do something about.
    Christ said to persevere because the fruit of our labor won't ever show up if we grow tired of doing what it takes to bear it.
    Everything Christ tells us is in our best interest, and it is critically important to understand that. His counsel wasn't designed to burden us, but to set us free. When He gave His counsel to us, it was aimed at meeting our deepest needs and it will if we follow it. (9)
    Jesus said, "Come, follow me" (Matt. 4:19).

1. T.W. Hunt, The Mind of Christ (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), pp. 7-12, adapted)
2. Ibid., p. 12.
3. Ibid., p. 14.
4. John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishers, 1997), pp. 23, adapted.
5. Ibid.
6. Hunt, The Mind of Christ, pp. 8-15, adapted.
7. Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted, pp. 168,169, adapted.
8. Hunt, The Mind of Christ, pp. 42-48, adapted.
9. Dr. Chris Thurman, If Christ Were Your Counselor (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 134.

Source and Permissions

This article was originally chapter three of Raising Kids to Love Jesus, by H. Norman Wright and Gary J. Oliver, pp. 41-59, Gospel Light/Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003, 1999, used by permission.