The person who is diligent in imitating Christ will have faith in the Lord and repentance over sin that is evident. He will be committed to becoming more and more like Christ and will be unsatisfied with every shortcoming. Every serious Christian should find someone like that and seek to follow his or her example. Have you done that? Further, have you ever followed Paul’s example and invited someone to imitate you as you imitate Christ? If not, why not do so today? This is the Apostolic pattern of discipleship. To employ it is to invite blessing both on yourself and on those who follow Christ with you.
The goal of every Christian is to become like Christ. This is what God has in mind in one of the most beloved promises of the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The “good” in view is explained in the next verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).
All of our efforts at discipleship must keep this goal in mind. We want to help people grow in Christlikeness. That cannot be accomplished merely by teaching the principles of Christianity theoretically. Rather, to help believers grow as disciples, we must be willing not only to tell them how but also to show them how.
The Apostle Paul emphasized this “show and tell” approach to discipleship in his own ministry. That is why he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He viewed as inherent in his own growth as a disciple the responsibility to help others grow. So he invited other Christians to follow him as he followed Christ.
Paul reveals two commitments in this admonition. First and foremost is his commitment to be an imitator of Christ. Granted, Jesus is much more than an example for us, and no one will ever be made right with God simply by trying to imitate Him. Any devotion to Christ that does not arise out of sincere faith in Him as Lord is misguided sentimentality. That reality, however, should not keep us from fully appreciating the power that His example can be for us. As Octavius Winslow rightly notes:
There is no single practical truth in the Word of God on which the Spirit is more emphatic than the example which Christ has set for his followers to imitate. The church needed a perfect pattern, a flawless model. It wanted a living embodiment of those precepts of the gospel so strictly enjoined upon every believer, and God has graciously set before us our true model.