I suspect it is the practice of almost every toddler to step into mom or dad’s shoes. My granddaughter, Peyton, is intrigued by my shoes and looks adorable trying to wear them. Grandpa wears these things, so it must be important for me to wear them too, just like grandpa.
We imitate those we deem worthy of following, those who have some skill or quality we hope to attain or incorporate. An aspiring golfer will study the swing and follow-through of a professional they admire. A young musician will work to reproduce the tone and technique of a professional they wish to emulate.
The apostle Paul said:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV
The apostle John agrees with Paul’s exhortation:
Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he [Jesus] walked. – 1 John 2:6, ESV
Scripture makes repeated calls for the people of God to engage in the imitation of his holiness. “Be holy, for I am holy” (e.g. Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:26). The apostle Peter tells Christ followers that we are “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9 ).
Garrick Brown says in his blog, A Life of Miracles, “If we want to be holy, we must look to Jesus. He defines holiness. His life is holy. How is it possible to proclaim holiness and not look like Jesus?”
The question is valid and it raises further questions, and calls out new ideas. We must know what holiness looks like in Jesus, to Jesus, and from Jesus’ perspective. If it is true that we cannot proclaim holiness without looking like Jesus, we must know what Jesus himself looks like. And by that, I do not mean the highbrow, theological Jesus that cannot be discussed without employing high-octane, multi-syllabic terminology that we can barely pronounce, much less define.
If Jesus is God in the flesh (and I believe he is), then how can I interpret that incarnation other than to hear God say, “This is me in the flesh. Watch how I live, and then live that same way.” I confess, however, that there is a part of me that is more comfortable wrestling with a theological concept, debating it and studying it, than I am with God in the flesh saying, “Watch me, and live this same way.”
To understand and imitate God, we must understand him in his physical form through Jesus. Pastor Gayle Erwin put it eloquently:
- If I am to know God, I will know him through Jesus.
- If I am to gain knowledge, it is deposited in Jesus.
- If I am to have wisdom, I will find it in Jesus.
- If God dwells in me, it is because Jesus dwells in me.
- If I wish to study God, I must study Jesus.
- If the Holy Spirit is active in my life, I will hear him speak of Jesus.
Jesus himself said:
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. – Luke 6:40, ESV
If you have read my work or heard me speak with any regularity, you know that I am adamant that 100% of the life of an authentic Christ follower occurs in the inner man or inner woman. Being a follower after Christ is not a matter of what I do, but one of who I am. So when Jesus says we will be like our teacher, he is not calling us to do the things he does, but to become the person he is. And the person he is is a servant.
For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. – Luke 22:27
1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Note that John does not say we will act differently because we will mimic what Jesus does. This is about becoming who Jesus is rather than doing what Jesus does. And, as we noted above, Jesus is a servant.
The apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the church at Philippi, telling us that we are to look out for the interests of others, and to consider others as more important than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3-4) Jesus combined Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18, teaching us to love God and love our neighbor, calling these the greatest and second-greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). Outside of loving God, if I cannot do anything else, I need to learn how to love my neighbor as myself.
Love well my friends.