By Roland W. Keith
Have you ever watched a small child imitating one of their parents? One raises his spoon, the other raises his spoon. One brushes her hair back, the other brushes her hair back. One puts his boot up on the rail, the other struggles to get his leg high enough to get his boot up there too. Children imitate their parents because parents are their role models. The child loves his parents, admires them, wants to please them, wants to be like them— in everything. Jesus once said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). As Christians, no matter what our age, there is a certain child-like quality we must have. Even as we grow in wisdom, we must maintain our innocence, as Paul wrote, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19). And, as a child of God, we should imitate our Father and His First Born.
In his first letter Peter told his readers, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21). Jesus, Himself said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). He is the first and greatest example of how we can please our heavenly Father. We are the disciples, He is the teacher, we are the servants, He is the Master (Matthew 10:25). When we heed His words, we act in the wisdom of His teachings, when we ignore His teachings or rebel against them, we act the fool, to our own detriment (Matthew 7:24, 26). To Paul our desire to emulate Jesus should be unbounded, even by death (Philippians 3:10).
Paul used himself as an example for those he taught writing, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Along with himself he also used his fellow evangelists, as examples of how to follow Christ, writing, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (I Thessalonians 1:6-8; II Thessalonians 3:7, 9). His point here should not be lost on us. It doesn’t take an apostle to take up the mantle of Christ to show others how to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. As we grow in Christ each of us should become a pattern for the next generation; if we don’t many of them will end up turning away from the truth.
Christ and His apostles are our examples in word and deed (I Timothy 1:16; Acts 5:41-42). In like manner, teachers are our examples, our church leaders are examples (Hebrews 13:7), and each one of us becomes a proper exemplar when we act in obedience to God’s word (Philippians 3:17). It is our responsibility, therefore it should be our goal to set the pattern for one another, for new converts, for the children in our congregations, for our friends, our coworkers, and for our communities. It is not enough to simply point to a Bible and say, “look in there.” We are the living bricks of God’s holy temple (I Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22). We are a holy nation of people chosen to proclaim the excellencies of God and His Messiah (I Peter 2:9). One of the most effective ways to declare God’s truth is by exhibiting it in our own lives.
As James noted it is by being “doers of the word, and not hearers only,” that we prove that God’s word has been effectively planted in us, thereby demonstrating to others the power it has in the lives of those who trust in it (James 1:21-22). To deceive ourselves in to thinking we are being obedient to God when we are not doers of His word is to be false in our religion, leading to dire consequences.
So far, we have been looking at the positive examples in the New Testament and how to act in accordance with them. But the Bible is full of bad examples that were recorded for our admonishment as well. The Israelites were overthrown in the desert for refusing to trust in God (I Corinthians 10:5-6). First century Jews refused the truth out of jealousy (Mark 15:8-15; Acts 17:1-6). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates the fates of those who engage in unbridled sin (Jude 1:7). Paul made clear to the Thessalonians what the fate of those who reject God and His word is when he wrote, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (II Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Which examples we follow is up to us. The early Christians were devoted to God’s teachings and to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:41-42). Are we? They sought peace and mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:17-19). They sounded the word forth into the world of their day (I Thessalonians 1:8). Are we spreading the word? So active were they that their faith was made known throughout the ancient world (Romans 1:8). No greater compliment can be paid to a congregation of God’s people than to say that they are effectively engaged in taking God’s word to the lost of the world. Not that the work will always be easy. Persecution, even in severe forms, is a reality for many of the faithful around the world today, just as it was for the early church.
James encouraged his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Centuries before, the psalmist had written, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Looking for the silver lining when faced with oppression due to our faith can be a hard thing to do. But we must find a way to do it. Not for our own sakes alone, but for those who look to us for strength and guidance. We are not alone in the struggle. We have one another, and we have the Lord to strengthen and light the way for us. Nonetheless, it is good for us to count the cost of being a Christian (Luke 14:26-33). It is good for us to prepare ourselves for rejection from the world, and the possibility of discrimination against us because of our faith. As Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:12-13).
In the western world today the forces aligning against God’s kingdom and its people are increasing. It is not a far-fetched warning to say that if you have not experienced persecution for your faith the day may soon come when you will. When it happens what will you do? James encouraged his readers to emulate the suffering and patience of the prophets of old, encouraging them to remain steadfast (James 5:10-11). John reminded his readers to imitate the good, and not evil (III John 1:11). One thing is for certain— there is strength in brotherhood. We do not have to fight the battle or endure the attacks of the wicked one alone. Though what we ultimately decide to do is a decision that each of us will make for himself, we do not have to be isolated when we make that decision.
One way we can follow the example of the early church is to forsake not the assembling of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). We can temper the resolve of our faith with consistently studying God’s word, with an active prayer life, and fellowshipping regularly with like-minded believers. And finally, we can follow our Lord. As Paul told the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:1-4).
In the end to imitate Christ is to consider what He endured for us, and to follow Him wherever it may lead us, trusting in God’s promises.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.