An Invitation to Imitation
Everyone, everywhere, is becoming more like someone or something. The question is, what or whom? This question may feel abstract, but it is not. In fact, this question is quite concrete and the answer should be as well. As uncomfortable as this may sound, if you struggle to determine whether you are becoming like Jesus, you probably aren’t.
Some things you can accidentally become: overweight, lazy, vain, or addicted to anything from alcohol to work. These are all things we have to intentionally resist becoming, because we can inadvertently become these things if we’re not careful. But becoming like Jesus is an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly commitment one makes. It is intentional. The art of imitation often is.
Perhaps this idea of imitating Jesus, or becoming like Jesus, seems foreign to you. Perhaps when you began following Jesus, no one mentioned anything about imitating Jesus. When you raised your hand or prayed the prayer or signed the card or walked to the front of the church, it was simply about making a commitment to like Jesus, but not necessarily to be like Jesus.
Perhaps there is confusion over the invitation Jesus has extended to us.
We’ve all heard salvation described as “accepting Christ,” right? But the truth is, that’s not the invitation we’ve been given. We don’t have that power, and we don’t play that role. I know some could say this is just semantics, but the words we use communicate the thoughts we think.
Here’s what I mean: “Accepting Jesus” communicates clearly that at some point in time, He was allowed to enter into your world. He was added to your schedule. He was put on your calendar. He was asked to pull up a seat to your table.
Jesus has never asked anyone to accept Him, nor will He ever do so. Jesus is not the last kid on the playground holding up a hand, hoping to be picked for the kickball team. He is not the kid at the dance standing along the edges, just wishing someone would invite him out onto the dance floor. He is not the puppy at the pound that pants and squeals and wags his tail as people peruse the aisles, hoping someone will finally pick him. You get the point. Jesus is not in need of being accepted. But you are. And so am I.
Thank God, literally, that the acceptance we need is available, and it begins and ends with an invitation. It’s an invitation to follow and to imitate. If the idea of imitation was lost in translation in your conversion experience, I am sorry. But following Jesus has always been about imitation. As you trace Jesus’s ministry through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you will never find Jesus actually saying, “Imitate Me.” Instead, you will find Him giving this invitation: “Follow Me.” It’s a phrase that loses a lot in translation, not so much linguistically as culturally. When someone invites you to follow him or her, it likely involves a hop, skip, and jump across the room or across the street or across the town. “Follow me” these days is an invitation that usually carries little weight and calls for little commitment. But in Jesus’s day, those words were an invitation that carried lots of weight and called for lots of commitment. “Follow me” is a statement a rabbi would often make to a prospective student. The invitation was given only after a thorough assessment of the student’s intentions and abilities. Tests were given, knowledge evaluated, motives questioned, and ability measured. Following a rabbi was not for the faint of heart, and so not everyone was given the invitation. Only after a long period of evaluation would a rabbi speak these words to a student: “Come, follow me.” When those words were spoken, the student’s life would never be the same. A decision to follow a rabbi was a decision to abandon the previous life and fully engage in the new life. There was no room in the new life to be concerned or consumed with responsibilities and pressures from the old life. The life of being a disciple was about being completely focused on the new task at hand: becoming like the rabbi. When a rabbi said, “Follow me,” the words were laden with expectations. In essence, the rabbi meant, “Go where I go. Do what I do. Be like me.” In other words, always and in all ways, “Imitate me.” And the true disciples did.
It is said that some disciples would even follow their rabbi into the restroom because they didn’t want to miss anything. Sounds extreme if you ask me, but that is simply a reflection of their commitment to imitation. Disciples would often follow so closely in the footsteps of their rabbi that a phrase came into use: “covered in the dust of the rabbi.” The expression was derived from the imagery of a rabbi showing up in town, followed so closely by his disciples that they were covered in the road dust kicked up by his sandals. Following their new rabbi was not a priority of their lives; it was their only priority.
Disciples wanted to learn from their rabbi, but more than anything else, they wanted to be like their rabbi. In the Scriptures, Jesus is referred to as a rabbi. His followers were called disciples. You get the picture. Imitating Jesus is not an aspect of following Jesus; it is the aspect of following Jesus. As Christians, we are not merely called to like Jesus; we are called to be like Jesus.
© 2014 Jamie Snyder. Like Jesus is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved