No doubt you’ve seen the initials ‘WWJD’ and know that they stand for ‘What would Jesus do?,’ but do you remember who first popularized the question? It comes from a small book written more than a century ago by Congregational minister Charles Sheldon. “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?,” first published in 1896, has sold more than 30,000,000 copies, and ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time.
The story takes place in the railroad town of Raymond, somewhere in the eastern United States, and its main character is Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of the First Church of Raymond. The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man who is out of work appears at the front door of Rev. Maxwell while the preacher is laboring over Sunday’s upcoming sermon. Maxwell offers nothing more than ear service to the man’s helpless plea before dismissing him and closing the door behind him. The same man appears in church at the end of Sunday’s sermon and calmly, but in straight forward fashion, confronts the congregation about their lack of compassion for the unemployed in Raymond. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, the man collapses, and dies a few days later. Deeply moved by the events of the previous week, Rev. Maxwell stands the following Sunday and challenges his congregation to not do anything without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” From that moment forward, the novel consists of certain episodes focusing on individuals whose lives are changed by the challenge.
WWJD? gets at the crux of the Christ life. St. Peter writes, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” He is our Savior; he is also our Model. Not only did Christ’s sojourn on earth end in ultimate sacrifice and victory, in the process he provides the ultimate example of how to live. I wonder what would change, better yet–I wonder how I would change if I implemented such a strategy? When you get right down to it, the Christian life is nothing more and nothing less than our moment-by-moment effort to answer the Jesus question.