Walking as Jesus Walked
Speaking of Jesus, 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” What exactly does that mean? How did Jesus walk? Some believe this verse means that Christians are to keep the Law of Moses because that’s what Jesus did. But is that the case? Let’s investigate.
How Jesus Walked
What do we know about how Jesus walked, how He lived out His life and faith? For one thing, we know he was a carpenter or tradesman who worked with his hands. He was also an itinerant teacher and preacher who walked from town to town, often slept outdoors, and didn’t own any land.
Jesus was also Jewish, so he was under the Law of Moses, and He kept all its commands perfectly. He lived in the first century, so He walked without sneakers, electricity, air conditioning, smartphones, Google, and the rest of our modern conveniences. Jesus also taught people about God and ministered to them. He healed people, cast out demons, and walked on water. He stood up to the corrupt religious leadership but never stood up to the government. He sat with sinners but never sinned with them.
And our Lord spent a lot of time alone, praying to His Father. He lived in perfect love toward those around Him. And most importantly, Jesus walked in sinless obedience to his Father, obedient even to death on the cross.
The question is this. For Christians today who want to walk like Jesus walked, which of these things are we called to emulate? All of them? Some of them? Let’s look at what Scripture says.
1 John 2:6 in Context
To understand what John meant when he wrote that we “should walk just as [Jesus] walked,” let’s read those words in context. The statement is part of a short passage in 1 John 2:3-6. Here John is teaching how we can tell if we truly know Christ. He begins in verse 3 by stating his main point: “This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands.” John then develops this idea:
The one who says, “I have come to know him,” and yet doesn’t keep his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly in him the love of God is made complete.1 John 2:4-5
The passage then closes with the apostle restating his main point. “This is how we know we are in him: The one who says he remains in him should walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:5-6).
We notice John is using different, synonymous phrases to express the same concepts. For example, he uses the terms “know him” and “in him” and “remain in Him” to refer to the idea of being in right relationship with Jesus. And how do we know if we’re in right relation relationship with Jesus? The apostle again uses synonymous phrases to teach that we know we are right with Jesus if we “keep his commands,” “keep his word,” or “walk as he walked.”
In other words, we know we’re right with Jesus if we are obeying what He taught us. John is equating the concept of keeping Jesus’ commands with walking the way he walked. We are to model the living out of our faith after the way Jesus lived out His faith. We’re to keep His commandments and obey all that He taught us. This passage is actually picking up on a concept John initially introduced just a few verses earlier. In 1 John 1, the apostle wrote:
This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.1 John 1:5-7
And when John says we are to “walk as Jesus walked” a few verses later, he is carrying this idea forward. We are to walk in the light as Jesus himself walks in the light.
One of John’s favorite metaphors is light—he mentions it over twenty times in his letters. To walk in the light means to live in the truth of God. And here in 1 John 2, the apostle teaches that walking in the light also includes obeying God’s Word. Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps 119:105). To walk in the light, John teaches, is to “keep his commandments.”
Torah-observant Christians (like the Hebrew Roots Movement) want to interpret John’s instruction to “walk as Jesus walked” as referring to keeping the Law of Moses since that’s one of the ways Jesus lived out His faith. But that idea is not found in the text of 1 John, and it’s not even the topic the apostle is discussing. To “walk as Jesus walked” is to live our lives in the truth of God, expressing our love for Him by obeying by keeping His commands. What did Jesus command of us?
It’s significant that John didn’t write, “we have come to know him if we keep the commandments.” He didn’t use the definite article—“the” commandments—which would have referred to the Torah commandments. Instead, John used the pronoun “His”— “we have come to know Jesus if we keep His commandments.” And what did Jesus command of us?
In the Gospels, we find Jesus repeating and endorsing many Torah commandments: do not murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness. He instructs us to honor our mother and father, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. Curiously, what we do not find Jesus teaching are the “ceremonial” commandments. Jesus does not teach we are to be circumcised, keep the Sabbath, keep the feasts, or eat kosher. In fact, contrary to the kosher food laws, Jesus pronounces all food clean.
“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)Mark 7:18-19
It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t command us to keep the whole Law of Moses, yet He kept it Himself. How does that add up? Well, it turns out there are two reasons this makes good sense.
First, Jesus was Jewish. Unlike every Gentile in history, Jesus was actually under the Law of Moses. And, second, at His resurrection, the entire world changed. That one event split history in two and brought an end to the Sinai covenant (Heb 8:13). The book of Galatians teaches that the Law was given as a guardian until Jesus came, but now that He has come, we’re no longer under the Law. (Gal 3:24-25). And Ephesians 2 says that Jesus abolished “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” so that He might reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God (Eph 2:14-16).
The Law of Moses was in effect for the Jewish people right up until the day Jesus was crucified. On that day, the New Covenant began. Jesus told us at the Last Supper that the New Covenant was in His blood (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). And upon His resurrection, He became our new High Priest, and “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well” (Heb 7:12). So Jesus lived His life under the Law of Moses (Gal 4:4-5). And upon His death, as the apostle Paul put it, He “redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal 3:13).
Walking as Jesus walked doesn’t mean we have to hike from town to town on foot, teaching people about God. It doesn’t mean we have to eschew electricity, indoor plumbing, and other modern luxuries. And it also doesn’t mean we have to keep the Law of Moses. (Especially if we’re not Jewish.) To walk as Jesus walked is to walk in the light; to live our lives in the truth of God, and to walk in love and obedience to His commands.