by Jason Ashe
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”-1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Paul instructed his readers to follow him as he followed Christ and he also told them how to do it. These passages declare two things which tell us exactly how we are to imitate Paul:
Everything we do should be accomplished for the glory of God.
And we do that by laying down our rights in order to build the body of Christ.
This is the theme of the first letter to the Corinthians and they are also two of the primary characteristics that will be displayed if we are indeed imitating Paul as he imitated Jesus.
I think that when we see the commandment to be imitators, especially with Paul as an example, we may mistakenly assume that it’s something we can easily do by ourselves like copying someone’s hairstyle or emulating their poetic eloquence. This silly idea is most likely attributed to the fact that we can academically search through the Scriptures and make a list of the various honorable deeds that Paul performed during his earthly life and say, “I’m gonna do that too!” Maybe we’ve heard about Jesus telling His disciples that they would do even greater works than He did (John 14:12) and have become overly confident in our natural gifts and acquired talents. Perhaps our understanding has been clouded because we’ve seen that according to many English dictionaries, to imitate simply means: to mimic; to impersonate.
In any case, we inadvertently magnify our self-sufficiency, denounce the gift of God’s grace, and venture into error. For this reason, we must always remember that our ultimate example is the actual life of Jesus, just as Paul says.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to follow the principles that Jesus lived by and seek to imitate the faith that empowered Him to do so. Just trying to mimic His actions can still lead to our demise as it did for the Egyptians in the wilderness who foolishly attempted to follow the Children of Israel through the parting of the Red Sea (Hebrews 11:29).
We must go deeper.
One of the most famous pieces of Christian literature is a book entitled “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A. Kempis. It’s considered a Christian classic by many dear brothers and sisters, and I also enjoyed reading it as a new believer. However, in Christendom today, this biblical principle of imitating Christ has been isolated from the rest of the Scriptures by virtually ignoring the absolute necessity of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the fact that we are merely branches in constant need of the true vine (John 15:1-6). In fact, I believe it has led to the deception of many believers by encouraging an imitation of Jesus which is comparable to following someone leading a game of Simon Says. What I mean is that we only imitate Him when we feel like it, always through our human ability, usually without reverence, and we only duplicate what we’ve seen with our natural faculties of perception. Our imitation of Christ should never be birthed from self-effort such as this. Rather, it should be a supernatural work of God.
Whenever we read the commandment to be imitators in relation to Jesus or even Paul, our initial thoughts should be turned to the New Covenant promise of manifesting the life of Christ in our mortal bodies. This means that our thoughts, attitudes, conduct, and speech, all reflect the glory of God (as seen in the life of Jesus) who has caused the Spirit of Christ to dwell within us (Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 1:5, 2 Corinthians 2:15, 3:18). To manifest means: to put that which is hidden on public display; to make visible.
When children are young, they always long to imitate their older siblings. A little boy may spot his big brother with a drill and then desire a similar toy drill that he can play with on his own. A young girl may see her older sister gardening outside, so she’ll ask her parents for some plastic gardening tools as well. These are little children trying to imitate their older siblings through what they see.
As they grow up, they will say certain things or have instinctive mannerisms to which they’re practically oblivious to. One day, someone close to them will say, “That was just like your brother,” or, “You reminded me so much of your sister when you did that,” but the person in question likely wasn’t even aware of what they were doing until it was pointed out to them.
They were not striving to behave that way. Simply put, these are hidden qualities that were manifested not through conscious self-effort, but because of the family they were born into and raised up in. The same should be true of our Christian development.
To be born again is to be born into the family of God. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Ephesians 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” As such, the character of every disciple should reflect Jesus, our older brother, in an increasing measure, as we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:5). Jesus said of Himself, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me… Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself… And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 6:38, 5:19, 8:29). When we examine these confessions, we see a life purpose, a guiding principle, and the practical manifestation of both.
The Purpose: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
The Principle: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself.”
The Practical Manifestation: “… I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
These verses tell us that while Jesus had the purpose to glorify God and to do His will alone, His heart was gripped by the principle that He truly could do nothing on His own. And because He lived by that principle that He could do nothing of eternal worth on His own, the practical manifestation was that He only ever did what was pleasing to God. This included performing various miracles and making disciples in the latter part of His life. Although this mission to make disciples was not His purpose, His purpose to glorify His Father could not be isolated from the mission to make disciples. Likewise, the more we seek to glorify God in our private life, we will develop a greater propensity to share the goodness of God with those around us. Supposed personal sanctification that isn’t accompanied by a passion to reach those still in spiritual darkness is where many have deceived themselves.
We all know that Jesus glorified the Father every single day of His life. For instance, when did God first say, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? It was after His baptism—before He did any miracles or preached any sermons (Matthew 3:17). Do you think that God would be pleased with you if you never personally led anyone to the Kingdom in your lifetime? What if no one you prayed for was ever healed? Would He be angry with you because of it? Be honest, what do think? Your answer will reveal a lot about your idea of God and how you are called to build the church.
Even after His baptism, Jesus didn’t decide to go into the wilderness and fast, He was led there by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). Listening to the voice of God and doing the will of His father was always the most important thing for Him.
The Bible even says that Jesus did not come to earth until the proper time when God chose to send Him (Galatians 4:4), and that time was when crucifixion, one of the most gruesome forms of torture, was being heavily practiced in the Middle East.
I’m sure that Jesus would have come across many needy people as he grew up in Nazareth, but Jesus never acted simply because He saw a need. Of course, He was broken-hearted for people, but He only sprang into action when His Father told Him to. He wasn’t even willing to go to a traditional feast without the Spirits leading (John 7:6).
When His mother initially tried to convince Him to act at the wedding in Cana, He lovingly replied with, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come,” even though moments later, God told Him to do what was requested and turn the water into wine (John 2:3). That doesn’t even make sense to many of us, but Jesus did exactly what God wanted Him to do, no more and no less.
On one occasion, He went to the pool of Bethesda where a number of sick people were known to visit, and He only healed one man (John 5:3, 8). Today we would say, "Really Jesus? Just one dude?" But that was God’s will for Him at that time.
When Jesus heard that His good friend Lazarus was sick, He didn’t immediately take the disciples and rush to Judea to heal him. Lazarus literally died before they left. The Bible said that He waited two days after hearing the news before he went to him (John 11:6). Evidently, Jesus was at complete rest in the sovereign plan of His Father.
Hebrews 5:8 also says that Jesus had to learn obedience through suffering. In other words, He was enrolled in the life school of trail and tribulation in which He learned true submission by being acquainted with various temptations. This also means that submission is not always easy. In the context of this verse, it is likened unto suffering, but this in no way nullifies the glory that comes with it. Sowing to the Spirit will always lead to a harvest, but we should remember that we will never sow and reap in the same reason. A life of submission always grants a spiritual reward, but it is only obtained in the midst of suffering as we continually put our self-will to death when it attempts to show its ugly head. As such, a believer’s effectiveness isn’t determined by the measure of internal or circumstantial suffering they have faced, but by whether they have genuinely learned obedience and submission in the process by denying the desires of the flesh. Therefore, we must not grow weary of doing good no matter how much it hurts.
Millions of so-called Christians have suffered hardships at the hands of others and faced various temptations, only to have come out the other side with even more pride and self-righteousness. However, God’s will is that we all will learn what it means to be under authority sooner than later so that we may also learn what it means to exercise it.
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus told the Pharisees the reason why God was always with Him. It was because He only did the things that were pleasing to Him (John 8:29). It was this reality that caused the multitudes to be amazed at His authority whenever He spoke (Matthew 7:29). They knew that He was different, but He was different because He submitted (Philippians 2:6-8).
I was reminded recently that Jesus’ spiritual authority didn’t merely rest in the fact that He was the Son of God, that was only one of the qualifications for Him to receive it. A boy’s father may leave him an abundant inheritance before he dies. Although the boy’s position as this rich man’s biological son qualifies him to receive the inheritance, it is only accessible when the boy turns 18. Although Jesus’ perfect affinity with God as His only son equipped Him to be the recipient of divine authority, it was only His submission to the delegated authorities over Him that made it an observable reality in His life. The same is true of His disciples today.
Have you ever read this verse before? “Then Jesus explained: ‘My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34, The Living Bible). Jesus was speaking figuratively here and was comparing His desire to do the will of God, with His natural desire for food. Imagine if we all had that same love for God. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “… and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
This is true Christianity. Christianity in which out of love for God because we are loved by God, we continually forsake our sin in order to live less for ourselves and more for Him.
This means that we are more eager to do the will of God in our everyday life than we are eager to have our own way. It means that we would rather die than commit even one sin in secret. It means that we are wholehearted copycats of Jesus. It means that in the moment of temptation when the Holy Spirit says, “Runaway,” we obey immediately, and if when we don’t, we mourn over our pride and disobedience. It means that His plans, and His commandments, His promises, His gifts, and His desires, are far more important than anything we can dream of or wish for ourselves. Jesus died so that we can inherit and manifest this kind of life.
I'm discovering more and more that this is the only way that we can build churches that are not only New Covenant in teaching and doctrine, but also in life and power.
So the question we must ask ourselves isn't “Have I accepted Christ,” but, “Am I continually partaking of His nature? Am I manifesting His life?” Not just, “Am I born again?” but, “Am I honestly growing into spiritual adulthood?” It's one thing to become better human beings simply because we are learning from our mistakes and increasing in worldy wisdom, but partaking more and more of God's divine nature is another matter entirely.
I speak not as one who has already risen to great spiritual heights, but as a redeemed sinner who seeks to press on to possess the perfect rest in God’s love which Jesus has purchased for me, who is continually growing in the realization that no good things dwell in my flesh. I can’t even count the number of times I ask God for forgiveness in the run of a day, but as an imitator of Paul, “I press on to lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).
Brother or sister, remember that God is always on your side when it comes to the battle against your flesh. He is glorified when you increasingly bear fruit and prove to be Jesus' disciples (John 15:8).
The normal Christian life is not marked by frenzied activity done in an attempt to bring people into the Kingdom. No, it essentially pertains to life from above that out of love, desires to do everything for the glory of God. This life was the driving force of the first body of Christ, and it should be ours as well.
Having this purpose to glorify God is what qualified Jesus for the mission to teach, heal, and make disciples while He prepared to die for sinful humanity. He only lived out this purpose by first recognizing His own weakness. Then He lived by the principle that He truly could do nothing in and of Himself. The practical manifestation was that He never did His own will… ever! This is the Jesus whom we serve.