Many Christians I know will judge behavior with the question, “What would Jesus do?” In my church, I have heard a different question more often: “Would you do that if Jesus were with you?”
On the one hand, I think this is a useful thing to ask and reflect upon. How often do we try to get away with things simply because no other person is around to see us do them? As Christians, we should behave morally even if we were granted the opportunity to avoid the consequences. Our motivation should not be “I must do good in order to get into heaven” but “I want to do good to please and to glorify God.” Given the Ring of Gyges, we should use it for good.
On the other hand, I think this question can often be used as a catchall to avoid thinking critically. It becomes an unreflective, universal judgment of how one should behave. I think this is misguided at best, because there are many behaviors that are morally acceptable but that most people wouldn’t do if Jesus were around. For example:
If Jesus were watching, would you use the restroom? (Maybe this question is a bit different for guys used to urinals.)
If Jesus were with you, would you have intercourse with your spouse?
If Jesus were around, would you surf the internet?
If Jesus were around, would you watch The Little Mermaid? (Her upper body is practically nude.)
If Jesus were around, would you watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? (They are practicing witchcraft.)
Let me tell you this: if Jesus were with me, I’d hope not. If Jesus were around, I’d want to be sitting at his feet, learning and listening to all that he had to say. I would probably answer no to each of the questions above, but all of these things strike me as perfectly fine behaviors in his absence.
More importantly, I think this question is one that Christians can apply too often to each other on disputable matters. It can be used as a way to pass judgment on each other.
“Oh, you would watch that movie? Would you do that if Jesus were around?”
“Oh, you would wear that outfit? Would you do that if Jesus were around?”
Sometimes, I am honestly unsure of what Jesus would do. Would Jesus watch a movie that had a couple of swear words in it? Would he prefer that it be censored at the expense of artistic accuracy? Would Jesus watch a show that was full of obscenity? What if he were watching it for the intent of fully understanding the background of a particular person? To comprehend where they come from? I don’t know.
I do know this, however:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
If I love God, then it doesn’t matter what movies I watch or what clothes I wear. The point is not to be legalistic about how long my skirts must be or about the precise number of swear words I’m allowed to hear. If I love God, then I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. The question now is: how do I move myself to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? I wish that I had a better answer, for that’s the only question that truly counts.