Thursday, October 28, 2010


I’ve been having an e-mail conversation with a friend on this topic, though I don’t think we’ve made much progress yet.  It’s a very deep and involved topic and has occupied the thinking of men and women far wiser than I.  A brief browse through this blog will show that it has occupied much of my thinking.

But what do we mean when we speak of “the imitation of Christ”?  I believe it means different things to different people.  Perhaps none gets the complete picture.

• To some, it refers to the contemplative life – meditation and prayer.  Certainly a study of the Gospels shows Jesus often going off alone to talk with His Father.
• To others it is an active life of sacrificial service to others.  Again, the Gospels present an active, robust Jesus working nearly nonstop in His service.
• Others emphasize the development of Christ-like character.  Sometimes we are steered from the Gospels to the epistles of Paul and others – Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” or Peter’s “additions to faith.”
• Still others see Jesus as an example of “how-tos” – how to teach, how to evangelize, how to have a discipleship program, how to handle conflict, etc.
• Unfortunately there are also sincere, well-meaning Christians who totally ignore these ideas.  They read the Gospels, but (it seems to me) only pay attention to them when they can be mined for interesting children’s stories or sermon illustrations.   (The Old Testament is often treated in the same way.)  I confess that for years I was a part of this last group.

I believe that all of the above except the last are legitimate examples of the imitation of Christ.  However, it seems that we pick and choose our areas of imitation, often because of personality, preference or the church tradition we are involved in.  Perhaps we are looking to find our traits in Jesus and not Jesus’ traits in ourselves.  As has been noted of theologically liberal scholars who search for “the historical Jesus” (whatever that means), we often find a Jesus who looks amazingly like us.

The Jesus we see in the Gospels, is of course, a Man who cannot be imitated in every way.  He was the perfect Man.  He was sinless.  He was fully God.  He lived in a different time, a different place and a different culture than we do.  And yet He was human – made of the same stuff as we are.

So then what characteristics do we see?  What kind of man is this that we are to imitate?  And as we look at His characteristics, His personal traits, His actions, which are we to imitate and which are we to disregard?

• He was a Man who knew who He was.
• He spent great amounts of time talking to His Father, God.
• He lived a life of total commitment to God and demanded that His followers have the same commitment toward Him.
• He loved all people and demanded the same from His followers.
• He paid special attention to the suffering, the poor and the downcast.
• He risked His reputation.
• He lived a morally perfect life, yet extended love and forgiveness to the immoral.
• He was a religious nonconformist and actually flouted religious traditions.
• He was willing to suffer for the sake of others.
• He did all to the glory of God.

So how do we work these into our lives?  Or can we?  Or should we?

Also see:

Bill Ball

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