In Leviticus 11:44-45 God twice tells the Israelites, “be holy, because I am holy.” God doesn’t tell them to be holy because he likes holy. He doesn’t tell them that they need to be holy because he expects complete obedience from them. He doesn’t even tell them to be holy because they’ll be punished if they’re not. God tells them to be holy because that’s part of his being, his identity. God expects the character of his people to mirror his own character.
The apostle Peter reiterates this message to God’s people in the New Testament in 1 Peter 1:15-16. First he tells his readers to be holy because God is, then he quotes from Leviticus. The same principle that God established at Sinai thousands of years earlier now plays out in the church. God expects the character of his people to mirror his own character.
This principle applies not only to holiness, but to all aspects of God’s character. God is a compassionate God, therefore he expects us to live compassionately. God is a forgiving God, therefore he expects us to readily forgive. You get the drift.
I know that the statement in Genesis 1:27 that God created humans in his image has been misapplied in lots of ways, but I believe it means they were instilled with God’s character. As a consequence of the introduction of sin into the world we often find our character corrupted. Even Christians regularly fall short of God’s expectations for his followers. But, as part of God’s restoration process he molds his people back into his image. Consider these verses:
Now the Lord is the Spirit,and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Our citizenship is in heaven.And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. Romans 15:5
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5
Jesus also made disciples by having them observe and learn from his lifestyle, as well as his teaching. In John 13:15 after washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Referring to the attitude of humility and service.
Christians undoubtedly have a commission to make other disciples of Christ, not ourselves. Yet, in the process, as God continues to mold us into his image, we should be able to use our lives as examples to others. God expects his character to be imitated and passed around. The apostle Paul presents himself as an example repeatedly in the New Testament:
- 1 Corinthians 4:16 “I urge you, imitate me.“
- 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.“
- 2 Thessalonians 3:9 “[we] offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.“
- Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.“
- He also warned Christians to always be “of Christ”, not human teachers. See 1 Cor. 1:11-17.
In my experience many Christians adopt the approach that humility prevents us using our own lives as examples for others to imitate. On the other hand, the most common attitude toward evangelism that I encounter is that “people will see I have something different in my life and be attracted to it”. I don’t want to be an example, but I do want to be an example. Confused?
We also require our elders and deacons to demonstrate godly character before qualifying for those positions. Having been acknowledge by the church as possessing those godly qualities would it be wrong for those men to say “imitate me as I imitate Christ?”
I believe the process of discipling involves setting ourselves up as examples. Not to our own greatness, but to how God works in our lives. It’s okay to share lessons we’ve learned. It’s okay to want people to love God, his church, the lost, the Scriptures, the poor in our community, the way that I do. Because that’s the spiritual legacy God expects me to leave.
As I mature in Christ I grow more confident that I am leading people closer to Him. As I’m increasingly transformed into his image, I believe my character increasingly matches his character. I hope some people imitate me, not because I’m proud or perfect, but because I’m doing my job as an ambassador of Christ. Loving God. Loving people. Reconciling people to God.