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2 - 4 - 6 - 8 - Who Do We Imitate?

by Paul Kelly, November 6, 2008


Yes, we all know the rhyme. But the question remains, “In today’s world, how do we train our young people to imitate Jesus?”

The goal of the Gospel is to make disciples of all nations…and that is our same goal at Heritage Christian School.

For a little background, the word disciple has its origin from the Latin discipulus meaning ‘learner,’ and from discere meaning ‘learn’. Taken as a noun , a disciple is a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosophy. So, if we look from a historically Christian perspective, it is a personal follower of Jesus during his life, especially one of the twelve Apostles. 2000 years later it means being a follower of Christ now. But, we can also look at discipleship as the verb ‘to disciple’, which means guiding someone in becoming a follower of Jesus.

Arguably, to be like Jesus is the greatest complement a Christian can receive. Part of this process in becoming a follower of Jesus is actually becoming like Him— being like Him— doing what He would do— saying what He would say. In this process we find ourselves, as it says in Hebrews 12, “ fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

The apostle Paul provides great discipleship instruction in Ephesians 5 when he says, “ 1 Be imitators of God… 2 and live a life of love. ” In light of this verse, one could say that the process of discipleship is the process of imitating Jesus. And if this is so, I ask if the results of this imitation show themselves in two ways: Outer & Inner.

Jesus highlighted this Outer & Inner for us in Matthew 5 with His take on the Law. He lambasted those listening with His counter-culture thoughts on murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, and love for enemies. In each case Jesus took the Outer behavior and challenged the Inner attitude. Jesus’ take on the Law was that it is not the mere actions of people that matter, but the attitudes that live in their hearts that produce those actions.

This idea is at the centre of what we are trying to do as imitators of Jesus— that both our behaviors (Outer) and our attitudes (Inner) might reflect the Lord Jesus. The Outer things are the external things in our lives: our behaviors, our actions, and things that answer the question, “What?” The Inner things are the heart things: our attitudes, our goals, our intentions, and things that answer the question, “Why?”

Now as we look at these two things, we must admit that the Outer is much more easily produced. As a teacher and Vice-Principal I am the first to admit that I can quickly bring into being ‘acceptable’ behavior in my students. Conformity, community standards, and measurable expectations quickly divide the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behavior. Behavior alone is a shallow measurement of a person.

But, if as a Teacher and Vice-Principal I am only interested in behavior, then I am in the wrong vocation and I’m teaching at the wrong school. If Outer behavior is the easy thing to quantify because it can be so quickly changed, then the Inner attitude of the heart is the much tougher thing to quantify because it takes so long for true change to take place. Yet, true character is found in the heart. And on the deepest level it is our heart and attitudes that drive our behavior. So, good behavior with poor attitude is phony, like a spray-painted, rusty truck that looks fine to start with, but soon that rust will start showing through. The spray paint only covers what is really present underneath—rust. A great leader in my life has said many times, “The heart has no dip-stick.” This means that there is no way to measure what is really going on in the heart. So, is it possible to tell how someone is doing in his or her Spiritual Life? What evidence is there that people are actually growing in Godly character and attitude?

Well, the Epistle of James states, “ Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead ,” and Matthew tells us, “ For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” As we continue growing in our knowledge of and devotion to Jesus, our character, our attitude, and our behavior will also continue growing into the likeness of Jesus. Our goal is to be like Him – to imitate Him in attitude and in action.

So finally, in our material-based fast-paced world, how do we slow down and focus on the inner heart changes that help transform us as disciples into the image of God? Well, firstly, we must commit to the goal of Christ-likeness. “ Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,” is a must if we are to begin being about the Father’s business. He alone is Master of my heart, for He alone has the words of eternal life. Secondly, we must understand that people are in a continual journey regarding their commitment to Christ-likeness. Goals, like faith in the waves of life, can find themselves very fervent, and very distant at different points in our lives. In the same way, people find their hearts focused and blurred on the goal of Christ-likeness. Thirdly, we must take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. God hates sin, and has nothing to do with it. We all, likewise, need to grow in our distain for sin, considering the grace and mercy Jesus has shown us on the cross. May our thoughts and actions be the results of a Christ-focused conscience. Fourthly, as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers we must support those around us in each person’s journey of walking as one worthy of the calling of Christ. Let us all be models of brotherly love, and all be people who are quick to listen and slow to speak. Let us all model a community of faith that builds each one up in love and encouragement, rather than in tearing down with judgment and exclusion. Finally, we must be patient both with ourselves and with those around us as we navigate our personal journey between the convictions of our hearts and the morals of our world. The world is dark, but Christ is the Light. We must be patient and, through understanding, obedience, and support, commit to the long-term process of Christ-likeness, “ For He is the vine, and we are the branches. If we remain in Him, and Him in us, we will bear much fruit; apart from Him we can do nothing.”

Paul Kelly