Imitation comes naturally to us. You might say it’s in our DNA. Anyone who has spent time with children can confirm this. The other day as I was delivering mail on my route, I saw a man mowing his front lawn, followed closely by his young daughter who was “helping” with her plastic mower. A potentially dangerous situation aside, I witnessed a girl imitating her daddy.
Throughout our lives we search for others to emulate. We witness people financially set and we aim to copy their fiscal habits. Trim or built individuals cross our paths and we wonder how they developed their physique. On Sundays we interact with folks who seem more sanctified and we find ourselves envious of their apparent godliness.
We imitate those who surpass us in some aspect of their lives. How much more should we desire to imitate God, the most superior being? Paul, in fact, encouraged the Christians in Ephesus to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1, New American Standard Bible). How can we, as created beings, imitate the creator God?
How We Imitate
Read the Bible. Simply put, we must know the one whom we imitate. The primary way to know God, obvious as it may be, is to read the Bible. When we immerse ourselves in the Word we cannot help but discover details about God, his character, and his various works. After all, the Bible, when stripped down, is the story of God.
The Psalms are a place I enjoy visiting when I long to learn more about God. When I read, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer” (18:2), for instance, I realize the power and reliability of his strength. I want to copy that attribute in my own life.
As we read up on God, delving through descriptions of him, we find a godly cycle continuing. The more we learn about God, the more vibrant our worship is of him, the greater our tendency is to imitate him, and then the more we long to learn about him. As we continue diving into the Bible the cycle repeats, and we learn increasingly more about the God we imitate.
Learn from Jesus. The greatest illustration of God’s character is found in Jesus. After all, he is the physical manifestation of God. When Philip asked Jesus, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8, NIV), Jesus responded, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). He went on to clarify: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (v. 11). Elsewhere in John he declared, “I and the Father are one” (10:30).
Jesus is God, and he reflects the Father’s many attributes. The idea of reading the Bible to see God applies especially to Jesus, because he concretely demonstrates the Father’s characteristics. In fact, one of Christ’s primary missions is to mold us into imitations of the Father, which is accomplished through our imitation of the Son.
Seek purity. To imitate God efficiently we must first see God properly, which means we are to be in a certain right condition. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). C. S. Lewis provided a helpful analogy in Mere Christianity, saying if our self isn’t kept clean then our view of God will be cloudy, like trying to view the cosmos through a dirty telescope.
We don’t have to be perfect before we can see God and learn ways to imitate him, but the point is we must make the effort. If we fail to see God accurately, perhaps it’s because we have let ourselves go morally.
Be in Relationship. We continue imitating our parents as we age, whether we realize it or not. Imitation is a natural part of being in a relationship. The morally savvy person determines what is edifying and imitates those attributes. But this can only occur within a vibrant relationship. If a father is absent, how can a child imitate? The same can be true conversely within our relationship with God where we are often the missing children.
Part of being in a relationship is knowing our role. Regarding God, we are to be obedient children. John wrote, “We have come to know Him if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB). A few verses later he affirmed the point that we are to imitate Jesus: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (v. 6, NIV).
What We Imitate
This part is a bit tricky because it is overly simplistic to say that we must read about God and duplicate what we read. The reason for this is there are parts of God that are nonimitative, like his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Isaiah 55 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (vv. 8, 9).
There are plenty of other attributes we can imitate, though. The only way we can really see someone’s character is through observed actions. As we read about God in Scripture and witness his works in and around us, we discover his many attributes that we can imitate. Three such desired attributes include, but are not limited to, grace, justice, and love.
Grace. First Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” God gives grace because he is gracious and we in turn steward that grace by offering it to others.
Justice. We know that “the Lord is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18), so we imitate that justice by obeying Isaiah 1:17, which says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We replicate justice by standing up for the powerless.
Love. Of the many biblical passages about love, one of the most succinct that deals with our imitation of God’s love is found in John 13:34. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Just the other day my pastor said, “No one loved like Jesus loved.” Who better to imitate this trait of love?
Why We Imitate
Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB). Ultimately, we imitate God so that our lives will be sanctified, and we can offer others something to imitate. We are not to remain in a Christian bubble. Faith is a corporate endeavor.
The more we successfully imitate God, the greater our hearts will be changed for the better where people will notice. Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (NIV). Our sanctified heart will result in a sanctified life that blesses others.
Remember, we’re all natural imitators, from nearly the moment we exit the womb. Let us imitate the one most worthy of imitation so we can be edifying to others and worthy of their imitation.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. His Christian writings can be found at eyesonthekingdom.com.