What does it look like to imitate Jesus? Some think that it looks impossible, since Jesus is the perfect Son of God, how could someone possibly imitate him? This line of reasoning can cause you to seek to claim the grace of Jesus without making any effort to actually obey his commands. Jesus himself warns against this line of thinking at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV) The difference between a life that can withstand the storms and one that is washed away by them is simply a willingness to practice the commands of Jesus!
Jesus was humble and compassionate in heart, fervent in prayer, loving and forgiving both friends and enemies, full of grace and truth, and overflowing with patience and joy. To know that these things are true about Jesus does not really improve our lives at all – we must allow Jesus to create these same commitments in our hearts. The path to spiritual maturity is achieved by creating space in our hearts and lives for Jesus to do his transformative work. When we imitate Jesus, we begin to make spiritual progress.
We certainly know that all of our efforts to imitate Jesus will come up short of actually living a sinless and fully mature life, but that cannot hinder us from making the effort. Paul once said, “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) He was not claiming to be perfect, for he lists his limitations in other places, but he was striving to live like Jesus and he was successful enough at it that he called others to follow him on that path!
The imitation of Jesus is not a short term project, rather it is the consuming life goal of all disciples of Christ. Eugene Peterson calls this “A long obedience in the same direction!” The writer of Hebrews tells us to “remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” It is that willingness to “consider the outcome” that makes the imitation of Jesus, not only a burning passion for disciples, but the only sensible way to live the life you are given. If you choose to imitate anyone but Jesus as you walk through life, in the end you will regret that decision.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.” The same is true for imitating Jesus. Much like a child mimicking a parent, imitation is difficult at first, but you will grow into it – Jesus promised to be present to help us!
- Kenny Payne