There are multiple questions that must be discussed in answering the question, “Can we be the moral equivalent of Jesus?” These include who is Jesus, what indeed is He like, what is the natural state of man, and what can one expect after conversion and union with Christ, but first one must understand what it means to be “the moral equivalent” of someone. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary can be used to define both moral and equivalent arriving at, “having the same value or meaning in regards to what is right and wrong with human behavior.” (Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary, July 16,2016)
Who is Jesus? John, in the gospel bearing his name, begins the introduction of Jesus like this, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jhn 1:1–2.) This bespeaks his existence, not only before his incarnation, but before all time, His co-existence with the Father, His agency in making the world. (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1916.) Jesus, as the pre-incarnate Son, was with the Father from the beginning, He took part in creation, and is identified as the ontological equivalent of the Father. Jesus Himself states that He and the Father are one (John 10:30) and uses the statement “before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58) to reveal to His Audience His divine nature. God the Father, and therefore Jesus, is perfect in His divine being.
It is not only in His divinity that Christ was and is the epitome of moral perfection, but also in His humanity. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that, “in Him was no sin” and Jesus tells His hearers that He did not come to abolish the Law and prophets, but to fulfill them. (Mt. 5:17). In perfectly fulfilling the Law of God, Jesus was morally and ceremonially perfect in all His ways.
Humanity, created in the image and likeness of God, fell from their first estate, and plunged all their posterity under the curse of sin. Paul informs the Roman Christians that by one-man sin entered the world (Romans 5:12) and that one trespass lead to condemnation for all men. (Romans 5:18) David wrote in Psalm 51 that he was born in sin and conceived in iniquity, God said that the heart of man was continually wicked (Genesis 6:5), and Paul said in Ephesians 2:3 that all are by nature children of wrath. In light of this one should surmise that apart from Christ there is no hope for humanity to reach moral perfection.
However, what about the believer? Is there hope for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ? Yes, there is. For those justified by faith (Romans 5:1), saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and united to Jesus and the Father (John 14:20) there is hope to be the moral equivalent of Christ, but not in this life.
This is best explained by looking at sanctification as both positional and practical realities. Positionally those who trust in Christ are now the children of God (1 John 3:2), are now in Christ, and they have been baptized into His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6). 1 Corinthians 1:2 states that the believers are now sanctified (perfect tense) in Christ and positionally holy before God.
Practically, however, there are the remnants of sin that indwells the believer. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7. This should be viewed as his post conversion experience as he switches to the present tense in the latter part of the chapter, says he delights in the law of God, and recognizes that thanks should be made to Jesus. He also acknowledges that when he wants to do good that sin is present with him revealing a law that exists between the flesh and the spirit. John also reminds us that there is a mediator between God and man and that if we sin He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, in this life, the believer can expect to see sin rear its ugly head.
There is hope in Christ, however. Though we are children of God now, one day, when He (Jesus) appears, we shall see Him as He is for we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2). Paul also gives the believer hope, “but we shall all be changed—52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52-53).
So yes, we can and will one day be the moral equivalent of Jesus, just not in this present world.