According to Paul, when Adam sinned, we all sinned in him and when he died spiritually, so did we. By nature, after the fall, we are incapable of doing anything toward salvation. We are utterly helpless. To blur the line between Jesus and his people then creates the impression that if we only pull a little harder on our bootstraps, we can imitate Jesus unto acceptance with God and glory. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no question among orthodox Christians, i.e., those who believe and obey God’s Word, who believe the catholic creeds, who have a substantial connection to the ancient church, whether Christians ought to seek to imitate Christ. The questions we need to ask are: How do we imitate Christ and to what end do we imitate him?
There are analogies between our faith and Christ’s, but we should be very cautious about talking about Jesus’ faith and ours as if they are the same thing.
They are not the same thing because Jesus was not a sinner who needed to be saved from the wrath of God and we are not the Savior. Yes, Jesus may be said to have exercised faith. He trusted his heavenly Father, but the trust he exercised was not that trust that we, by grace alone (salvation and faith are a gift), exercise.
Jesus’ trust in his heavenly Father cannot be said to have been a gift. He was not born in need of regeneration (i.e., he was not born dead in sins and trespasses). He was not in need of being raised spiritually from death to life. As we’ve seen here and here on the Heidelberg Catechism, God the Son was born innocent, righteous, and holy not for himself but for us (pro nobis). All his righteousness (HC 60) is credited to believers so that it is as if they themselves had done all that he did. In Christ, sola gratia, sola fide, it is as if we had never sinned or had any sin. Jesus trusted that his Father would keep the covenant (pactum salutis) they made before all worlds (John 17), and that his Father would vindicate him (i.e., that he would recognize his Son’s inherent and perfect righteousness).
When we talk about our faith, we’re talking about the faith of fallen, sinful, mere humans.
We are not inherently, intrinsically righteous before God. We are righteous only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed. That is why Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness,” is applied repeatedly in the New Testament to believers, to Christians, and not to the Christ. Yes, when we believe, we are certainly trusting that our Father will keep his promises to us, but those promises are made to us in Christ and we are praying in Jesus’ name. When Jesus prayed, he didn’t need a Mediator. Jesus is the Christ and we are his Christians. These are two distinct classes.
There are two dangers in talking about the imitation of Christ: 1) moralism; and 2) moralism. Let me explain. It has been claimed that “Christian” (Χριστιανός) means “little Christ.” That’s not quite correct. It means “a follower of Christ.” The word occurs only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16) and it never means “little Christ.” That some think this way, however, illustrates the first danger—that of confusing the Christ and the Christian.