It is important for us to remember that our highest calling in life is to love, know, and imitate the Lord our God. Concerning this latter issue of imitation, it is understood that Christ is the believer’s ultimate standard of that imitation – therefore following Him is central to true discipleship (John 21:22).
That’s simple enough, right?
What may seem like a simple principle is actually fraught with much difficulty – but only because of human sin. The human heart, in all its weakness, is often inclined to establish at least two false departures from this aforementioned principle, and I offer these for your consideration:
1. People often deviate from the imitation of Christ by becoming the followers of men. This is often done by giving preeminence to some favored spiritual leader above the Lord Himself.
2. As well, a person can deviate from the imitation of Christ by believing that his own standard of “truth” should be followed – over any other. When men believe this, they demote Christ’s supremacy while exalting their own “wisdom” over God.
All in all, the above corruptions amount to nothing but man-centered thinking. The reasons for these corruptions will vary, but none of them are ever justified. Whether by means of overt rebellion, religious arrogance, ignorance, or spiritual indifference – those who steer away from the imitation of Christ enter into very dangerous territory. What I present here is more than theoretical doctrine – this is something that we must all take to heart, because these errors of thought and action are much easier to commit than we might be inclined to think. For example, when we consider the first defection of thought above (exalting others above Christ), it is oftentimes the case that Christians will do this without even believing that they have done so. I find, especially in this era of “pop” Christianity, that many will attach themselves to some modern preaching-hero who is quite popular and has a strong public image. Too many Christians today are ready to imitate such heroes without much critical thought, and when their “infallible” leaders engage in questionable behavior, then a battery of excuses are offered to cover their poor judgment. It is true that we are to imitate godly leaders who imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), but we must also remember that such a calling is never designed to supplant our ultimate and direct imitation of Christ Himself – Otherwise, how else can we take seriously Paul’s adverbial qualification, “…as I also am of Christ.”? Examples of such “pop Christianity” aren’t hard to find, as in this case, with portions of this dialogue as an unfortunate follow-up. Or even closer to home, we have this man who will need equally creative defenders for what he is doing in the name of Christ. What is far more important than our buddies and heroes in this fallen world is Christ Himself and the grave message of the Gospel. When men seek to condescend to the lost is such a way that cheapens the Gospel’s message, then we must remember that we have a much higher standard to follow! – in whatever we do, let us do all to the glory of God alone.
As to the latter error above (exalting ourselves over Christ), we find the corruption of theological arrogance or even perfectionism arising from this form of thought. Calvin was surrounded by the latter error in his day, and therefore he said the following with reference to 1 John 3:16:
“It is, indeed, certain, that we are far from being equal to Christ: but the Apostle recommends to us the imitation of him; for though we do not overtake him, it is yet meet, that we should follow his steps, though at a distance.” John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: 1 John, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), 1 Jn 3:16.
“Though at a distance…” – consider that thought for a moment: Even if one were to take the most godly saint who ever lived on this earth, past or present, you can know this about him/her – such a saint is no match for the matchless purity, perfection, and righteousness of the One who is called by name, The Lord our Righteousness [yhwh tzidkenu, Jer. 23:5-6] – The Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing this truth is essential, for in this understanding, we can know our limitations well. Such knowledge is an antidote to:
Theological Arrogance: The wisdom of men is no match of God’s wisdom, for even the “foolishness” of God is greater than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:25). Therefore, if you were to take the wisest man that this world can offer – compare him to the Omniscient Lord Himself, then what you find is that your “wise” theologian is a mindless fool.
Pride: Even if we were to shed our blood for the cause of Christ, such a sacrifice could never atone for our own sins, nor could they atone for the sins of any other.
Presumption: We can know much about men, but we could never know the thoughts and intentions of the human heart (whether our own, or that of others) as only Christ can (Matt. 9:1-8).
Hypercalvinistic Arrogance: Only Christ could omnisciently declare to His audience – “…you will die in your sin”, however, as the messengers of Christ, our privilege is to spread the seed of the Gospel remembering that we do not have the ability to know who are the elect of God, and who are not (2 Tim. 2:10).
When you think about it, the concept of imitating Christ is quite basic; however, the manner in which we defect from this standard is multifaceted, and it is often the case that such defections are harder for us to see because of the deceptions of our own heart (Jer. 17:9-10). Therefore, I would suggest that the narrow path of imitation must also include a watchful eye that can see the outer boundaries that must be avoided. In other words, walking the narrow pathway of wisdom (Eph. 5:15) demands that we avoid any extreme that would draw us away to the left or to the right (Joshua 1:7-8). Therefore, the one who walks with discernment does so by keeping his focus on Christ, while seeking to keep his distance from his own sinful inclination to be led astray:
Ephesians 5:15-16: 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.