Imitating Christ (II)

In 1896, a man in Topeka Kansas named Charles Sheldon wrote a story titled In His Steps. It the fictional story of a preacher who challenged his congregation to pledge themselves for an entire year not to do anything without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” and then act accordingly, regardless of the consequences. The book is the story of those members who accepted the challenge and of the profound change it made in their lives. The book has sold more than 30,000,000 copies, has been translated into many languages, and ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time.

Though Sheldon’s story was written in the context of its implications for social and moral reform, the idea of imitating the life of Christ is a simple yet profound idea whose application and impact can be far-reaching. What does it mean to imitate Christ?  What will happen to us when we follow in his steps?

Consider the words of the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-24: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

The word used for example comes from Greek elementary education. It means a writing copy and describes the way Greek children learned to write. The writing master prepared the student's tablet by writing a line at the top to be reproduced by the student and by drawing parallel lines to keep the student's work straight. The master's line at the top was the pattern or example the boy must copy in his own hand in learning to write. Mature skill in handwriting required practice. Many of us remember doing something similar when we were learning to write. We had writing tablets with large lines, and those large, thick pencils. At the top of the page were the letters of the alphabet that we were to practice, and below were the lines where we attempted to reproduce those letters in our own hand.

Peter's words show that Jesus' suffering is not only redemptive. It is also an example that even slaves could imitate in suffering unjust treatment. Jesus left us the perfect example. He is the perfect writing copy, the outline we strive to reproduce in our own life. His life is our model.

We sometimes sing, “We will follow the steps of Jesus, wherever they go.” What will happen to us when we follow in his steps?

First, imitating Christ will result in personal growth. We imitate his manner of life. This is seen in the specific example Peter gives. We do not suffer on the cross and we cannot die for the sins of others. But following his manner of suffering unjustly for doing right, we catch his spirit and return love for hate. In his relation to God, Jesus put him first and served him faithfully. In his relation to men, he fulfilled every moral precept of the law perfectly. He was loving, compassionate, and merciful. He was gentle, patient, and kind. He was humble, forgiving, and submissive to his Father's will. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us…” (Eph. 5:1-2).

As we walk in His steps, we will be changed. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:2). Striving to follow in the steps of Jesus will have a powerful effect on our lives. It will change who we are. We will be out of step with the world, because rather being shaped by the world’s standards and values, we become more like Jesus.

Finally, walking in His steps will bring us into closer fellowship with Him. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And the apostle John wrote that “If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

This idea of imitating Christ, of walking in His steps, is indeed a powerful idea. It will change who we are if we are willing to commit ourselves to truly being his disciples.

Dan Petty