Seven:
Imitators of God

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Treat Others…

Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be imitators of God” (NIV). What exactly does it mean to be an imitator?

  • To follow the example of somebody

  • To be or look like something or somebody

There are, of course, two ways to imitate someone—one positively and one negatively. Some may imitate the actions or look of someone in an attempt to make fun of them or to put them in a bad light or even just to annoy them. However, other forms of imitation can be a type of compliment. When you admire others so much that you want to model your actions or appearance after theirs, that's a compliment and form of praise of their outstanding qualities. [1]

After all, if we are being true imitators of God—adopting His behavior and following His example—then it would be impossible for us to put Him in a bad light.

While Jesus was on earth He told His followers to “make disciples of all the nations.”

Some synonyms of the word disciple are:

  • follower

  • believer

  • devotee

  • student

So being a disciple of Jesus means being a follower of Him, believing in Him, being devoted to Him, and being a student of His teachings. And as Paul teaches us in Ephesians, being an “imitator” of Him.

Qualities of an Imitator

Some synonyms of the word imitate are to:

  • copy

  • reproduce

  • emulate

  • replicate

  • try to be like

It can be puzzling to know where to begin when it comes to becoming more like Jesus and imitating Him. Galatians 2:22-23 gives us a good list of attributes that we can strive toward.

Galatians 2:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

In other Bible translations you’ll find that the word patience is used instead of longsuffering; faith is used instead of faithfulness; meekness is used instead of gentleness. Let’s cover each of the attributes taken from the preceding verse:

1) Love

In the Bible, Jesus often talked about love, and taught that the greatest kind of love is when one is willing to give one’s life for one’s friends[2]. The topic of love was also brought out in the other books of the New Testament, and is the cornerstone of our Christian life and service to Jesus and others.

John 13:35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another Ephesians 5:2 Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us

God is the embodiment of love. [3] If we are to be imitators of God, one of the best ways we can do this is to strive to grow in love and show His love to those we interact with.

Listen: “Love One Another as I Have Loved You”

“Love One Another as I Have Loved You”
Ephesians 4:32 Be ye kind one to another … forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Remember when your mom or dad would say, "Now be nice to your brother." And you might not say it but you were at least thinking, "Why? He isn't being nice to me. It isn't fair that I have to be kind to him when he's being mean to me."

As a believer in Christ, at times your Heavenly Father says the same thing to you, "Be nice to your brother." Our human tendency is to shout, "No! I don't want to! Even though he's a Christian, he isn't treating me nicely. It isn't fair that I have to be kind to him when he is being mean to me." Still your Heavenly Father says, "Be kind to one another." In fact, He goes so far as to say, "Love one another as I have loved you." And when you ask, "Why?" He replies, "So others will see that you follow Me."

In The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaffer states that the love of Christ in the lives of believers is what sets them apart from the world. He concludes that the world has a right to judge the authenticity of Christ's claims to be the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, by what they see in the lives of His followers. Was He the One who could change lives? Are the lives of His followers different than those of the world? Do they truly love one another in difficult times?

Beloved Father, make me ever mindful that the world is watching my life. Guide my thoughts and guard my lips when feelings of hurt and fear overtake me. Let me show love to my brothers and sisters so that others will say, "Truly Christ can change a life. Surely He is the Son of God."

From a devotional by Ann Shorb

2) Joy

There is a song that goes, “Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.” Although it is a simple child’s song, the truth of those words apply to any person, regardless of age, race, or culture.

People who think primarily about themselves end up being some of the most miserable people in the world. But those who look outward and care first of all about making Jesus and others happy—lastly themselves—end up being some of the happiest and most satisfied people in the world.

So many people in the world are searching for happiness. By having Jesus’ love in your life and sharing it with others, you’ll be able to both pass on happiness to others and find the joy that Jesus spoke of in John 15 when He said:

John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Here’s a clip that shows just how far spreading joy to others can go and how time spent trying to make others happy is never time spent in vain:

Watch it: Validation

3) Peace

In the New Testament, peace often refers to inner tranquillity, a combination of hope, trust, and quiet in the mind and soul. Peace really comes from faith and from trusting the Lord that everything is going to be okay.

Peter Amsterdam, "Beyond Duty, Part 3," March 2009

If you have this peace, you won’t become frustrated or rattled every time you run up against a problem or when things don’t turn out exactly the way you were hoping they would. If you ask God for help when you’re in the middle of a messed-up situation, He will give you peace and also help those in the situation with you to be at peace.

Our emotions can be contagious; if we freak out about something, those close to us can be affected by our reaction. But if we can remember Jesus in the midst of our confusion or disappointment, it helps us to remain calm, and it also shows those who know us that no matter how tough or bad a situation may be at the time, God is always there for us, and He can always help us through it.

4) Longsuffering (Patience)

Patience is being able to endure waiting or delay without getting upset. It’s also, along with longsuffering, being able to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties.
We often need to be patient, either with people or with circumstances, and we need to do so in a spirit of love, not getting upset at the people or at the circumstances. We need to be able to carry on in peace in trying times. We need to manifest faith that things are going to be okay.

We have to have patience to endure, to trust, to have faith; not to get upset, not to get bothered, not to get impatient. We need longsuffering, willingness to endure, even when things are tough, or even when something is bothering you.

Peter Amsterdam, "Beyond Duty, Part 3," March 2009

If we ever feel as if our patience is wearing thin, and we’re frustrated with someone or something, a good verse to remember is:

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance (patience), so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.

5) Kindness

Some synonyms of the word kindness are:

  • compassion

  • sympathy

  • gentleness

  • thoughtfulness

  • consideration

  • kind-heartedness

A big part of showing kindness is having compassion, being considerate and thoughtful, and taking the time to understand where someone else is coming from.

Listen: Walk a Mile in His Shoes

Walk a Mile in His Shoes
“Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” If there was anyone who knew all about that, it was probably Mother Teresa. After having lived among the poorest of the poor in India for nearly 30 years (and she would continue to do so for nearly 20 more), she was awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She began her acceptance speech with the words, “Life is life.” She went on to explain that all human beings are special and of great worth, no matter who they are, and that only when we have learned to respect that fact can we begin to help them improve their lives.

Most people would be happy to walk a mile in a pair of plush designer shoes or top-of-the-line athletic shoes, but how many would want to step into a poor laborer’s shoes? When I was living in Uganda, East Africa, I found a discarded pair of shoes that became to me a symbol of Africa and its sweet-spirited but struggling people. It was apparent from the cement splatters that their last owner had been a construction worker. Like many others I observed there, he no doubt worked long days in sweltering heat with no protection against the sun and had only a couple of sticks of raw sugar cane for lunch. He had worn those shoes until the holes in the soles had gotten so big that the shoes no longer served their purpose. When there was no point in wearing them one more day, he left them for me to find. It wasn’t his intention, of course, but those shoes put my own petty problems into perspective.

There wasn’t any question in my mind when, some time later, a young man knocked at my door, asking for help. He had won a scholarship to a boarding school, but there was one requirement he couldn’t fulfill—he didn’t have any shoes. He asked if I had an extra pair I could give him. The ones I was wearing at the time fit him quite nicely, and that was that.

No, one simple act of kindness didn’t make me a saint on the level of Mother Teresa, but I do believe that in that moment I experienced a touch of what motivated her all those years: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Curtis Peter van Gorder, Activated Vol 10, Issue 11, November 2009

Can you remember how it made you feel the last time someone showed kindness to you? Have you ever been to an event where you didn’t know anyone? Wasn’t it a relief when someone showed interest in you and made you feel welcome and like they were happy you were there?

If you can make it a point in your life to be aware of others around you who need kindness shown to them, and if you can make it your mission to show them this kindness, your sincerity will bring encouragement into people’s lives. And what’s more, by stepping out with kindness, you will be walking in Jesus’ footsteps—being an imitator of God by doing what He would do.

It may sound clichéd, but this is a powerful question to often ask ourselves: What would Jesus do if He were in my position? How would He show kindness to those around me?

6) Goodness

[One] Bible dictionary says that goodness consists of righteousness, holiness, justice, kindness, grace, mercy, and love. Other definitions include having an upright and virtuous character, and having a kind and gentle disposition. Again, these certainly apply to Jesus, and through having His Spirit abiding in us, they should apply to us as well.

Peter Amsterdam, "Beyond Duty, Part 3," March 2009

It can be tricky at times to know how to take on these qualities without coming across as self-righteous or as if we think we’re better than others, which obviously wouldn’t make anyone want to get to know Jesus. In fact, that kind of attitude would probably discourage others from wanting to be your friend. The goodness we should have can’t come from our own goodness. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The secret lies in spending time with Jesus. The more we spend time with Jesus, the more of His goodness we’ll have in our lives, which will show through in our interactions with others. They’ll see that our love for Jesus is authentic, and that it’s His love that makes us want to have an upright and virtuous character.

Imagine what it would be like to see everybody in the world through Jesus’ eyes. Imagine how different we would look at people. We wouldn’t be so quick to judge or to criticize. We would have a lot more grace and mercy and love for them. Here’s a song by Brandon Heath, a contemporary Christian musician, that expresses his prayer to be able to look at people around him through the eyes of God.

Watch it: Give Me Your Eyes

There are many ways that we can show Jesus’ goodness to people by running to their rescue. If your friend gossips to you about someone and you know that what she is telling you isn’t true, by sticking up for that person, you could be rescuing them from harmful gossip. Or by choosing to not join in with a crowd that is teasing someone, you could be rescuing him from feeling ostracized. Or by inviting someone who is alone to hang out with you, you could be rescuing her from loneliness and depression.



Listen: Lenny and Fred

Lenny didn’t have many friends. Most kids avoided him. He seemed to be very quiet and dressed differently from the other kids. One day, Fred noticed Lenny was always alone. Fred had decided to take seriously the idea of building friendships for the Kingdom of God and possibly leading those friends to Jesus and into a close walk with Him. He sat down at Lenny’s lunch table, where Lenny was munching on a sub sandwich.

“Hey,” Fred said as he sat down nearby. Lenny responded by turning away.

“Want some chips? I have two bags,” Fred said, pushing a small bag of chips toward Lenny.

Looking at the chips with curiosity, Lenny turned to stare into Fred’s eyes. “What do you want?” he muttered.

“Just thought you might like some chips is all,” he said. “I’m Fred.”

“Flintstone?” Lenny said.

Fred cracked up. “Yeah, I get that a lot. No, actually it’s Martin. Nothing spectacular.”

They ate in silence. Fred finished his lunch and said, “Well, see you tomorrow.” And he started to leave.

Lenny grabbed Fred’s arm. “What do you want?”

“A friend,” Fred said.

“Why me?”

“Why not?”

Lenny stared up at Fred with skeptical but sad eyes. “Everybody wants something.”

Fred shrugged. “I like to make friends.” Before Lenny could answer, Fred turned and walked to the trash cans.

Later that afternoon, he said hello to Lenny in the hall and then spotted him again on the way to the bus.

That day marked the small beginning of a great friendship. Lenny became a Christian six months later, joined Fred’s youth group, and built other friendships along the way. Lenny later told Fred that the day Fred approached him in the lunchroom had been a low point in his life. He was new at the school and didn’t fit in with the rest of the students. He was thinking about dropping out, maybe even running away from home. Lenny’s whole life changed, all because one guy thought leading as a friend was important. And guess what! Fred’s life changed, too. He gained a lifelong friend and found the way God wanted him to lead.

John C. Maxwell with Mark Littleton, Leading as a Friend (Tommy Nelson, 2001)

How can you be Jesus’ hands and feet to someone who needs help? Ask Him to give you His eyes and you’ll be much more aware of those around you who need a touch of His encouragement and goodness.

7) Faithfulness (Faith)

One of the meanings of faithfulness is unwavering belief; another is being consistently trustworthy; another is being conscientious, having a sense of responsibility and a devotion to duty. It’s being dependable and loyal and stable.

The Bible dictionary says faith is a belief in God, or a confident attitude toward Him, involving commitment to His will for one’s life. Also, that true faith is confidence in God and in Jesus.

Peter Amsterdam, “Beyond Duty, Part 3,” March 2009

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a good explanation of what faith is:

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

That’s having a confident attitude. To be certain is to have no doubt about something. We know that it’s true, and we don’t waver in our mind or in our feelings, swaying back and forth from believing to not believing.

It’s not always easy to have this complete trust in what God tells us through His Word, but that’s where faith can come in and help us to take steps of obedience toward what we don’t understand, trusting that He knows what He’s talking about.

Listen: One Day at a Time!

One Day at a Time!
A father asked his son to carry a letter from their camp to the village. He pointed out a trail over which the lad had never gone before.

“All right, Dad, but I don’t see how that path will ever reach the town,” said the boy.

“Well, son, I’ll tell you how. Do you see that big tree down the path?” asked the father.

“Oh, yes, I see that far.”

“Well, when you get there by the tree, you’ll see the trail a little farther ahead—and farther down you’ll see another big tree—and when you reach that one you’ll be closer, and so on until you get within sight of the houses of the village.”

In the same way, I believe God wants to reveal the way for each one of us on our trails toward Him, one tree at a time. Sometimes we’re convinced we need to see the end of our path, so that we can be reassured that there’s something good down there, or that we’re going in the right direction, or that we’ll be able to see if it gets dark.

We know firsthand how it feels to walk in the darkness here in the Land and not know where the end will be—and often how we’ll have the strength and sustenance to get there. It’s not easy to move forward and trust that God will light the path ahead and point us in the way we should go. But the fact is that it is a crucial step toward our growth and maturity in the Lord and we all need to get to there.

Let’s give our hesitation and fear to the Lord. He will not fail us. He will be faithful to light our path and lead us in the way everlasting—one day at a time.

8) Gentleness (Meekness)

This one has some good definitions. It says that gentleness is having a mild and kind nature or manner. It’s also having a gracious and honorable manner. It’s kindness, consideration, and a spirit of fairness and compassion. Boy, that sure sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?—Someone with a kind, gracious, honorable manner, who shows consideration and a spirit of fairness and compassion. That’s really something to strive for, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to have that said about you?

It’s certainly what’s felt about Jesus, and if we’re close to Him and if we’re filled with His Spirit, if we really go for being filled with Him and possessed by Him, then this fruit of gentleness will be there in our lives, and people will feel it and will appreciate it.

I like the definition of meekness that was in the Bible dictionary I was looking in. It says meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward men, springing from a recognition that God is in control.” It is strength and courage under control, coupled with kindness.

This kind of meekness is having faith and peace, because you know God’s in control. You can be mild and quiet of nature, because you’re full of faith.

Peter Amsterdam, “Beyond Duty, Part 3,” March 2009

There’s a story told of a man who was meditating by a brook in the countryside when suddenly he noticed a scorpion caught in the swirling current struggling desperately trying to climb onto a rock. The man felt for the creature and earnestly tried to help it, but every time he reached down, the scorpion would strike. Meanwhile, a passerby happened upon this struggle.

“Sir,” he said, “don’t you realize that it is the nature of a scorpion to attack and sting?”

“Of course,” replied the man, “but it is my nature to save and rescue. Why should I change my nature just because the scorpion doesn’t change his?”

This man didn’t let the attacking, stinging scorpion change his kind and gentle nature. So should we never allow our environment to influence our behavior, no matter where we are.

That’s a good anecdote to help us remember not to walk away from someone who needs help, even if that same person has let us down or offended us in the past.

9) Self-control (Temperance)

Self-control is the ability to control your behavior, especially in terms of reactions and impulses. Temperance is self-restraint in the face of temptation or desire.

Peter Amsterdam, “Beyond Duty, Part 3,” March 2009

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Some synonyms of self-control are:

  • self-discipline

  • willpower

  • strength of mind

  • strength of will

Here’s what John MacArthur, the author of The Pillars of Christian Character, had to say about self-discipline, which is comparable to self-control:

For many years, I have had the privilege of knowing the renowned classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. By the time he was thirty, he had become a master of his instrument. But such mastery did not come easily or cheaply. While other children played, he spent several hours a day practicing the guitar. The result of that self-disciplined commitment is proficiency on his instrument that few can match.

Self-discipline is important in any endeavor of life. It's best defined as the ability to regulate one's conduct by principle and sound judgment, rather than by impulse, desire, or social custom. Biblically, self-discipline may be summarized in one word: obedience. To exercise self-discipline is to avoid evil by staying within the bounds of God's law. People who have the ability to concentrate, focus on their goals, and consistently stay within their priorities tend to succeed.

John MacArthur, "Learning Self-Discipline,"
The Pillars of Christian Character (Crossway Books, 1998).

 If the spirit of Jesus is living in us, we can take on the qualities expressed above, and those characteristics would carry over into our actions.

Watch it: Integrity and Christian Ethics

Not a Phony Imitation

A good exercise for Christians is to ask themselves, “If a non-Christian person spent a whole day with me, would the way I lived that day inspire him or her to want to have Jesus in their lives too?”

If every Christian was truly imitating Christ, there would probably be a lot more people wanting to know about Jesus.

Watch it: Why Gandhi Didn't Embrace Christianity

Every day we can choose to be the kind of Christian who leads others to Christ and who inspires others to want to learn more about Jesus.

  • If your Christianity won't work where you are, it won't work anywhere.

  • Your theology is what you are when the talking stops and the action starts.

  • It's good to be a Christian and know it, but it's better to be a Christian and show it.

  • The spirit of Christianity is not to impose some kind of creed, but to share a Life.

  • A Christian is one who makes it easier for other people to believe in God.

"Christianity," #4, 17, 44, 75, Good Thots #1, p. 486-489

We shouldn’t become discouraged if we aren’t always perfectly imitating God. We will fall short and make mistakes. Plus, God doesn’t expect perfection. He simply expects a sincere desire to want to be more like Him. He also asks for our humility. It will often be humbling to be God’s face, and you may feel that it goes against your nature. But if you are earnest and ask for His help often, He will make it easier for you to take on His characteristics.

A popular song that made a big impression on me as a teenager seemed to be a prayer. I say “seemed” because the song didn’t mention God or prayer. It also didn’t sound like any religious music I’d ever heard. The lyrics were deceptively simple—big truths about character and success in life expressed humbly and winsomely. I wanted to be like that, I remember thinking. It was the best sermon I’d ever heard.

Let Me Be a Little Kinder
Let me be a little kinder,
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me;
Let me praise a little more.
Let me be a little meeker
With the brother that is weaker,
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me.
— Glen Campbell

If that was what religion was all about, I also remember thinking, it wasn’t so bad. It would be a few more years before I read from the Bible for the first time, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was what true Christianity was all about—loving God and others. I was also pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to muster that love from within myself. It is a gift from God, freely available to anyone who asks for it. All it takes is a simple, sincere prayer. Like that song.

Keith Phillips, Activated Vol 10, Issue 11, November 2009

Listen: Are You a Good Christ?

Are You a Good Christ?
I think it’s time we stop asking ourselves the question: “Am I a good Christian?” We live in a time when the term “Christian” has been so diluted that millions of immoral but nice people genuinely consider themselves “good Christians.” We have reduced the idea of a good Christian to someone who believes in Jesus, loves his or her family, and attends church regularly. Others will label you a good Christian even though your life has no semblance of likeness to the way Christ spent His days on earth. Perhaps we should start asking the question: “Am I a good Christ?” In other words, do I look anything like Jesus? This question never even entered my mind until a friend of mine made a passing comment to me one day.

Dan is a longtime friend of mine who described a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, with a pastor named Von. Dan didn’t speak of the awful living conditions of those who made their homes amidst the rubbish. He spoke of the compassion, sacrifice, and love that he witnessed in Von’s words and actions as he held these malnourished and unwashed children.

Then he made the statement that sent me reeling: “The day I spent with Von was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

Dan explained that the whole experience was so eerie because he kept thinking to himself: “If Jesus were still walking on earth in the flesh, this is what it would feel like to walk alongside of Him!”

After that discussion, I kept wondering if anyone had ever said that about me, “The day I spent with Francis was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.” The answer was an obvious “no.” Would any honest person say that about you? What bothered me was not that I hadn’t “arrived,” but that I wasn’t even heading in the right direction. I wasn’t striving to become the kind of person who could be mistaken for Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it ironic that a man can be known as a successful pastor and Christian even if his life doesn’t resemble Christ’s? “He that saith he abideth in [Jesus] ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). When John made that statement, he wasn’t speaking about how to be a church leader or even how to be a “good” Christian. He merely stated that anyone who calls himself a Christian should live like Jesus did.

So how did Jesus live? You could make a list of character traits to compare yourself to, but it would be far more beneficial to simply read through one of the Gospels. After you get a bird’s-eye view of the life of Christ, do the same with your own. It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of “success.” Biblically, however, success is when our lives parallel Christ’s.

May we make it our goal to someday have someone say of us: “The time I spent with ______ was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”

As Christians, we often complain about how antagonistic people are toward Jesus. Personally, I’m not sure that they’re really rejecting Him. Maybe they just haven’t seen Him.

Francis Chan, Catalyst, May 2009

Prayer: Jesus, I want to thank You for the way You love me. I know I don’t deserve it, yet every day You are with me. Please help me to become more like You, so that when people are around me, they will get a chance to see You in me.

I don’t want to be the kind of Christian who makes it difficult for someone to come to know You. I want to be the kind of Christian who makes people want to believe in You. I know that there is no way I can do this on my own, so I am asking for Your help. I would love to become Your mirror to others so that when people look at me, they get a real good look at just how loving, caring, merciful, forgiving, patient, honest, and real You are.

Make me Your mirror to the world, I pray. Amen.

To me, Jesus is the Life I want to live, the Light I want to reflect, the Way to the Father, the Love I want to express, the Joy I want to share, the Peace I want to sow around me. Jesus is everything to me.

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Footnotes

[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] John 15:13

[3] 1 John 4: