Becoming Imitators

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31,32

The verses above contain some of the most profound words of Jesus. He spoke to people who believed in Him, but He wanted them to be His disciples and invited them to “Abide in My Word.” There is a difference between a believer and a disciple. Abide means to dwell, and to dwell in the Word is to have it dwell in you.

We get started on this journey of walking with the Lord by abiding in the Word. This is how we become true disciples – followers of Jesus. The word disciple has a bit of a religious meaning for us today, but it really means student.

Jesus wants us to become His students by dwelling in the Word so that the Word can dwell in us. We learn from Him when we see Him doing the will of the Father in different situations, and we listen to His words as they are recorded for us in the Bible. We see His attitude and His values in His in the way that He responded to people and challenging situations. Jesus even said to Philip that if we saw Him, we saw the Father! (John 14:9)

It is good to be a believer, at least as a first step, but there is much more to experience as a disciple. Disciples imitate their teachers because they want to be like them: they value their knowledge, the way they do things, and they way they impact their lives. Students of the Master love Him and want to learn from Him to become like Him, and that is exactly what Jesus wants. Believers are observers but students are imitators.

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40

The problem that we have with the statement above is that we don’t see Jesus during His stay on earth as human; we see Him as God. And we all know instinctively that we cannot be like God, so we look at Him from a distance. We appreciate what He did and admire His teachings, yet He is God and we are human beings living in a body of sinful flesh. That is, of course, not the whole truth, even though we find comfort in it. Paul has something to say about this:

…but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:7,8

Jesus was born into this earth like one of us, and lived here like we do. He had to become one of us to be able to save us. He became like us so that we can become like Him; when we finally see Him face to face, we will be like Him! (1 John 3:2)

After the apostle Paul met the Lord on the road to Damascus, he did exactly what the Lord expects of everyone of us: he began to imitate Him and left us with a legacy in his writings that still inspire us today. He took the gospel to the known world and saw the same miracles that Jesus did, happen through his own hands. Not only that, he adopted His grace, His attitude and His worldview like a true student who emulates his beloved master. Unlike Jesus, though, he was a man born in the same sinful flesh as we were, coping with the very same challenges and thorns (2 Corinthians 12:7) that buffeted him while he served served the Lord to the best of his abilities.

As Paul went out to bring the gospel to faraway lands, dealing with people of various cultures, he had the same advice for believers that Jesus gave to us: be imitators.

For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. 1 Corinthians 4:15,16

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:16

Paul made up his mind to follow the Lord his life’s goal, no matter the cost.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ… Philippians 3:7,8

Jesus invites us to follow Him by taking up our cross and die to ourselves so that we can fully live for Him. You cannot live two lives – you only live only for Him or for yourself. This is where the price tag of true discipleship is discovered. There is a cost to following Jesus!

Paul discovered that following Christ does not mean an easy life; the only way he could finish his race was to keep his eyes on the “goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) Paul’s life was certainly not a great example of comfort and safety, but his eyes were fixed on the goal that he set before him.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

One of Paul’s greatest heartaches must have been his companions that left him; he was a lonely man at the end of his life. All the wonderful revelations and the many miracles that came through his ministry were not enough to install loyalty in the hearts of his fellow labourers. Demas was one of them.

Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world… 1 Timothy 4:9,10

Imitating the Lord cost Paul – the accomplished pharisee – a high price, but he took up his cross and carried it right up to the end. Demas took the devil’s bait and fell in love with the world and what it had to offer. Scripture never mentioned him again. The spirit that took hold of Demas is hard at work again in our day, luring disciples away by offering them the things of the world.

Knowing that or time down here is short, it would be wise to make sure your time, energy and resources tip the scale in favour of service to the Lord. This world is passing away; it is rushing toward its own destruction, and we are witnesses thereof. Now is the time to strengthen your faith for the hard times that are ahead of us before Jesus will come to reign down here.We are almost there!