What an amazing time we live in. We have all the technology one could possibly need. One thing that is interesting is all the videos, whether on YouTube or for purchase, that help an individual imitate someone. Often a young kid picks a superstar athlete in his sport and he decides to pattern his swing, hit, or shot after that person. The culture accentuates and accelerates that through our technology.
As pastors we are not exempt. We may not be as vocal or honest, but many have a personality in mind when they think of successful ministry; maybe preaching patterns, or voice inflections, or mannerisms.
All this to say, as a culture we are constantly looking at someone to imitate!
In Ephesians 5 Paul has some interesting words about imitation. He provides us with the clear picture of biblical imitation. Leading up to chapter 5 Paul details theological aspects of our salvation. He then begins to discourse on the life lived in Christ. In the end of chapter 4 he mentions the forgiveness we have in Christ, then in chapter 5 he begins with, “Therefore.”
First, Paul says, “Be” imitators. His charge comes with a directive, that as forgiven individuals we have a command to imitate. As I mentioned above, this comes naturally. Wanting to imitate someone is a part of who we are. Unfortunately many individuals that profess to be forgiven “chose” to live an inconsistent life. There isn’t a choice in the matter. In fact, we all gave up that right when we crucify ourselves to sin through the death of Christ.
Second, Paul gives us the person to imitate, and of course it is God. Who else could there be? (The Sunday school answer, right?) However, the fact of the matter is, there isn’t a greater person to imitate. It could become easy to get bogged down in the simplicity and yet complexity of imitating God. Where do we start, and how do we know if we are moving forward in our imitation?
Third, Paul helps us out by giving us the example of the specific person of Christ, and not just Christ as a whole, but the sacrificial offering of the life of Christ. Now it is starting to come to a place that a believer could begin to understand. From this point we can take the example of the sacrificial life of Christ and draw application to help us see how we are to imitate God. Jesus gave up the glories of Heaven. He was selfless. He became a servant. He obeyed the Father. He didn’t retaliate. He willingly laid down His life. We could create an inexhaustible list of the examples of the sacrificial nature of the life of Christ, but this is enough to get us started. If we take this to heart, I think we will begin to better understand Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2. We are now a living example of the sacrifice of Christ. We die to self and live to Christ. The purest idea of this is when we become imitators of God through the person of Jesus Christ.
This type of imitation doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come overnight – just like that childhood hero you wanted to copy. It isn’t about following a list of rules, but about a passionate commitment to pursue Jesus Christ. Imitating God takes purpose, and it is a lifelong pledge. Now we are beginning to talk about the genuineness of a new life in Christ. We get away from the easy believism and into a life wrought in the agonizing effort of imitating God. In two short verses Paul sums up the full existence of a forgiven sinner.
What if we lived for this type of imitation? What if we trained up a generation of young people who sought to imitate God through the example of Christ? What if we say all this wrapped up in the “real” disciple making process?