Most Christians (and even some non-believers) who lived through the early to mid 1990’s remember the WWJD bracelet craze. These bracelets were little strips of colorful nylon with the letters WWJD sewn into them. They were first introduced by a traveling evangelist from Holland, MI named Dan Seaborn. The basic premise was that they were to serve as a reminder to ask oneself “What would Jesus do?” whenever faced with a decision. They spread like wildfire among evangelical circles and before long, the vast majority of believers had WWJD bracelets around their wrists.
I was in elementary school in 1990’s and had one of the WWJD bracelets. Even as a young kid, I have to believe that I wore the bracelet for the same exact reasons everyone else did. Yes, I wanted a reminder of to live in a more Christ-like way, but I also wanted to feel a part of something/avoid feeling left out. The latter, I believe, explains a lot of the popularity. They say that hindsight is 20/20 and I believe that we can now see the effect that the WWJD movement had on the American church with crystal vision. Looking back on it and knowing what I know now, I can’t say that this movement and others like it were totally good. In fact, I think there was tremendous negative impact that they had as well.
Now I will provide this disclaimer upfront, I do believe WWJD made a difference in the lives of some people and may have even brought people to Christ. The last thing I want you to think is that WWJD should never have happened. A) It had tremendous upside and B) It did happen and there is no erasing it. With that being said, let’s get down to brass tacks.
I believe that WWJD (by which I mean the process of asking one’s self, What would Jesus Do?) fed our innate desire to exhibit control. It essentially implies that each person has the ability to live the way Jesus did. While each and every one of us has free will and is responsible for the decisions and actions we make, the problem lies in thinking that we can/should save ourselves. Why do you ask? Because Jesus came as the son of God with the purpose of fulfilling the Law (Matthew 5). We are unable to meet the perfect standard of the Law, which condemns us to death, so God, being the loving God He is, sent His son Jesus, as the surrogate for this death sentence. This frees us. That’s not to say the Law doesn’t still hold a purpose; in fact Paul writes in Romans 7, that it still defines sin for us and reminds us of our need for a savior.
So with that being said, we can’t save ourselves. Jesus did something that no one else could do: be perfect. That’s precisely why He was the only one fit to take on the sins of the world while being nailed to the cross. The answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?,” is that he would be perfect and save the whole world. Christ’s perfection saves us from sin, the consequences of our mistakes, our brokenness, etc. We can’t do that on our own but the whole premise of WWJD is that we can! It implies that we have the ability to totally avoid bad decision making and the consequences, pain, and brokenness that spring forth from it by asking ourselves a simple question! There is absolutely NOTHING biblical about our ability to avert the totality of pain. Instead, this is our locus of control kicking in. Over the last 2 decades, the American Church’s thirst for the ability to control of our lives has been building and building thanks, in part, to things like WWJD! The Church is quickly losing relevancy with emerging generations, I believe, because the impossibility of the task of rescuing ourselves places anyone who tries in bondage. Who would want that?
Now the question begs to be asked, does WWJD hold any water? As followers of Christ, I do think we can strive to follow His teachings and God’s commandments. If WWJD reminds you to do that, great. The only thing I would say is that if you’re following the WWJD mantra because you consciously or subconsciously believe that you can earn favor in the eyes of God, you’re doing it wrong. That’s contrary to the message of the gospel. We can’t do anything to earn God’s favor as it’s already been given to us through Christ’s blood. Understanding the magnitude of what we’ve been given in salvation, a rescue from death, should be what drives us to holy living and good decision making, not a once-trendy slogan on a bracelet. With that being said, let’s get back to the gospel. Let’s start understand that we’ve already been given everything we could possibly need and more than we could ever ask for in Christ. Let’s live in the freedom and obedience that only a true understanding of grace can provide and let’s do the good works that grace inspires.