“To Be Like Jesus”

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2.5)

     INTRO.: A song which encourage us to have the mind of Christ in us is "To Be Like Jesus" (#525 in Hymns for Worship Revised).  The text is identified as an American Folk Hymn and the tune as an American Folk Melody. This simply means that the editors of a hymnbook have no idea where the song came from and have been unable to locate the source. My guess is that this was one of those folk-like "praise choruses" that sprang up among youth groups during the 1960s and 1970s. The tune does bear somewhat of a melodic, rhythmic, and structural resemblance to the 1956 popular song "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie. Internet research turned up very little about the song. I did find one reference in a sermon by faith healer William Marrion Branham called "The Kinsman Redeemer" that was delivered on Sunday, Oct. 2, 1960, at the Branham Tabernacle in Jeffersonville, IN, in which he quoted a song that had the following words, adding his own comments:
"To be like Jesus, (You want to be like your Redeemer?) like Jesus,
On earth I long to be like Him;
All through life’s journey from earth to Glory,
I only ask to be like Him."

     The earliest hymnbook in my collection to which I have been able to trace the song is a single stanza with both words and music identified as "Traditional" in an arrangement by Frank Anderson copyrighted 1979 by Singspiration in the 1979 Praise! Our Songs and Hymns edited by Norman Johnson. Since then, it has appeared with a single stanza in the 1987 Worship His Majesty edited by Fred Bock for Gaither Music Co.; and with two stanzas in the 1995 Rejoice Hymnal edited by Vernon M. Whaley for Tempo Music Publications, and the 1997 Celebration Hymnal edited by Tom Fettke for Word Music and Integrity Music. All of these sources also identify it as "Traditional."

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, a version of this song appears in the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum. It has a stanza 1, apparently by Henry Slaughter, with stanza 2 by Gloria Gaither, music arranged by Slaughter, and the chorus and tune beginning, "To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus…," all copyright 1971 by Harvest Time Publishers. The question is, was Slaughter the original author and composer of the entire song, or did he take an already existing chorus and add a couple of stanzas to it? Another arrangement of the song by David Sexton, with four stanzas that include "To be like Jesus," "To love like Jesus," "To pray like Jesus," and "To serve like Jesus," is found in the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. edited by Alton H. Howard. The two-stanza version mentioned previously is used in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, as well as Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition). This writer has made a slight alteration to stanza 1 and added stanzas 3 and 4.

     The song suggests several reasons why it is important to be like Jesus.

I. Stanza 1 says that we should be like Jesus because He wants to lead us in our journey
"To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus! All I ask to be like Him!
All through life’s story from earth to glory, All I ask to be like Him!"
 A. We should ask to be like Jesus because we can ask of the Lord those things that we need: Matt. 7.7-8
 B. As we do His will, He has promised to be with us all through life’s story: Matt. 28.20
 C. Thus, if we follow Him He will lead us from earth to glory: Rom. 8.18

II. Stanza 2 says that we should be like Jesus because He is meek and pure
"To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus! How I long to be like Him!
So meek and lowly, so pure and holy, How I long to be like Him!"
 A. Being like Jesus should be one of the things that our souls long for: Ps. 63.1
 B. Jesus is meek and lowly: Matt. 11.28-30
 C. Thus, we should strive to be pure and holy just as He is holy: 1 Pet. 1.15-16

III. Stanza 3 says that we should be like Jesus because He provides forgiveness of our sins
"To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus! My desire to be like Him!
From sin’s sad burden He offers pardon, My desire to be like Him!"
 A. There is a sense that being like Jesus should be the one thing that we most desire in life: Ps. 27.4
 B. All of us bear a burden because we have sinned and come short of God’s glory: Rom. 3.23
 C. Yet, this one who came to be our example and show us how God wants us to live makes possible pardon or forgiveness of sin through His blood: Eph. 1.7

IV. Stanza 4 says that we should be like Jesus because He gives us the hope of being with Him
"To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus! Some sweet day to be like Him!
To me He’s given the hope of heaven, Some sweet day to be like Him!"
 A. Even though we may strive to be like Jesus here in this life, some sweet day we shall be like Him perfectly: Phil. 3.20-21
 B. Thus, it is He who offers us the hope of glory: Col. 1.27
 C. We shall finally receive this hope in heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-5

     CONCL.: This is another one of those "praise songs," sometimes referred to "camp songs" because of the tendency of young people to sing them at camp because they are simple and easily memorized, which have become popular and are finding their way into hymnbooks used for worship services. Because musical tastes change, I cannot say that I have any scriptural objection to the genre per se, but my problem is that so many of them are extremely repetitive with very little substance to them by which we can actually teach and admonish one another while singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. However, as with this one in which I have tried to put a little more "meat" on its bones, it is certainly not wrong to express our aim "To Be Like Jesus."


2 thoughts on ““To Be Like Jesus”

  1. It has been said that the song, and I assume this means both words, at least of the original single stanza, and music, was written by Lee Roy Ooton, who was born on June 18, 1896, in Frankton, IN, the son of Wallace and Hattie Antrum Ooton. When he was age fifteen, his mother dedicated her front parlor to him to be used for his devotions and Bible study. Ooton left the comforts of home and his job in the family grocery store for the work of the ministry at the age of seventeen. In June of 1922, he was married, to Edith Neal, and two children were born to this union, Thomas and Polly Ooton. In a preaching ministry which covered more than half a century, extending through all the states of the Union, the greater part of Canada, and sections of Mexico, he labored with a number of churches, including Midway Tabernacle in St. Paul, MN, from 1924 to 1927.
    Oonton’s gift of song was considered equal to his preaching. In addition to his singing, he was a composer and author of many beautiful songs. One of the best known is “To Be Like Him,” which he produced during a severe test of faith while in Ft. Smith, AR, in the year 1923. He was also the author of many books. Ooton was elected to serve as Secretary of the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance in November, 1925. He resigned from that position in October, 1928. In 1930, he was elected Secretary of the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. He became the first Treasurer of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and was instrumental in the merger that produced the United Pentecostal Church in 1945. Also, he was General Secretary of the Apostolic Ministerial Alliance for fifty years. On December 31, 1975, he passed away at his home in Tipton, IN, at the age of 79.


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