By Effie-Alean Gross
When we think of an imitation, we might visualize a fake copy of something that is capable of fooling an unsuspecting person. Some artists are so good at reproducing another’s work that the forged version passes for the original.
Dutch artist Han van Meegeren sold fake Vermeers to various collectors, including the government of the Netherlands and to Hermann Goering, a high ranking Nazi officer with an exquisite eye for plundering. In Johannes Vermeer’s 17th century style, six of Meegeren’s fakes sold on the Dutch market for $60 million. He was a good imitator, but he had unscrupulous motives, leading to his arrest in 1945. Originally he forged paintings in order to be recognized by other artists and critics. Surprisingly, he also painted Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus.
Observe and Do
In the spiritual realm, a Christian is either a good or bad imitator of Christ, and a lot depends on motivation. The main objective is to be like him because then men and women will see with physical eyes what their faith is yet unable to visualize.
Though today’s scientists may debate theories of social learning, Jesus advocated for his followers to be imitators of him. Observe and do as I do, he taught. So it seems that the only requirement for Christians is a willing attitude. After all, Jesus wouldn’t ask followers to do something impossible. Jesus is the perfect model. Why shouldn’t his actions be duplicated?
Mirrored behavior is an exercise often performed by acting students. During class, a pairing off of two unlikely individuals is decided. One is the leader and the other is the follower. The leader moves his body and facial expressions in all sorts of contorted ways while the follower replicates his every move. This exercise in drama demonstrates two things: a willingness on the part of the follower to abandon self, and an eye for every detail of the leader’s movements. In like manner, Christians can pair off with Jesus and follow him. The apostle Paul went so far as to advocate, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Know When Not to Copy
On the other hand, the behavior of ungodly people is to be noticed by believers—but not copied. The ways of the world are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. For instance, the ungodly break God’s moral code every day: lying, stealing, cheating on their spouses, viewing pornography, being lazy. The ungodly devour. They set an example of what not to imitate.
Don’t copy anyone’s apathy, self-centeredness, bullying, or greed. Most of all, don’t waste any time or effort copying a fake. Jesus found that many claim to be his followers, but in the end, he will say, “I never knew you. Away from me” (Matthew 7:23).
Claims must be backed by evidence, as in any criminal investigation. The defendant can claim to have been at a football game at the time of the incident, but without a ticket or parking pass, without an eye witness, without a security camera with his image on it—without any evidence—he has little defense. Claims don’t prove anything; evidence is the proof of a person’s claim in Christ. By works people are justified and not by faith only (James 2:24).
Recognize the Real Thing
For historical biopics like Lincoln or JFK, actors spend weeks studying the people they are going to impersonate. They listen for speech patterns and watch gestures, clothing styles, mannerisms, and appearance. Then, in front of a mirror, they practice the exact same behavior in order to appear just like the real thing. How believable they become helps determine the success of the films.
Beware of pretenders. Individuals lacking spiritual discernment choose to live a lie. They tell audiences of their good deeds and even make an open show of them. Their large donations to charities are all seemingly worthy of Heaven. In solitude they may question the very existence of God or take his name in vain. These individuals may fool themselves but not God.
Someone is always watching when least expected. One day a college student in English class stepped up to the podium during break. The young man looked around his shoulder, and in a whisper, he asked the professor, “Are you a Christian?” Whenever someone imitates Jesus by shining light in the otherwise dark world, an observant individual will notice and pay the highest compliment known: “You look like Jesus.”
Reproduce the Character of Christ
Get the idea? Whether or not a person accepts Jesus as Savior from sin is left up to the individual—but Christians can be authentic enough to show others what Jesus looks like in a tangible way. Believers can follow Jesus by imitating him. Here’s a short list of Jesus’ godly behaviors: prayerful, knowledgeable of Scripture, compassionate, forgiving, prioritized a close relationship with his Father, sacrificial, wise, and understanding. If ever anyone conquers these, many more attributes are available to imitate!
After all, the world itself cannot contain the books that could be written about Jesus (John 21:25). His character was revealed daily by his actions. Some of the characteristics of Christ are found in Philippians 2:1-8. He exhibited a spirit of:
• Humility—As man, he became a lowly servant.
• Love—He put others in first place, ahead of himself. His love gives eternal life.
• Obedience—He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
• Joy—His joy is fulfilled when believers imitate his love and unity.
Whatever the circumstances of life, opportunities abound to imitate Jesus. Christ is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners (Hebrews 7:26). To possess his character, sometimes the Lord allows situations where a choice is necessary. Like Helen H. Lemmel, the blind hymn writer of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Christians can study Christ’s behavior and choose to become a good imitation. An exact copy of Jesus is a fragrant offering from children of light, living in an ungodly world (Ephesians 5:2, 8).
In Heaven, regardless of the quality of imitation, God will allow no fraudulent fakes. No
Effie-Alean Gross is a freelance writer in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
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