Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7
Imitate With Reservations
Last week we stated that Hebrews 13:7 defines a particular kind of leader worthy of our imitation and following. They must be 1) someone who spoke the word of God to you, and 2) someone whose lifestyle matches their proclamation. We are not called in this verse to imitate whomever we please; there are specific people who adorn the position of a leader in the faith through speaking the truth of the gospel and living it out.
So when Hebrews states we are to imitate their faith, we must be very careful whose faith it is we are imitating. We must have reservations about who it is that we are imitating lest we be led astray as we follow someone's faith that doesn't line up with the reality of the gospel. Satan would love for God's children to be swept up in simply trying to obey this verse and not really focusing on whose faith is worthy of our imitation. There are many charismatic leaders, intelligent leaders, and persuasive leaders whose lives are far from fulfilling the requirements of a leader according to Hebrews. There are indeed many giants in the faith throughout history whose faith we would esteem as worthy of imitation, but whose lives would be folly to imitate in many areas (i.e. many great leaders have worked at the expense of being a good father and husband, these are not secondary calls). We must be careful who we deem worthy of following, we must imitate with reservations.
Imitate Without Reservation
However there is One with whom we should hold absolutely no reservations when it comes to following: Jesus, the Son of God. No other person in history is worthy of our most focused imitation than the person of Jesus Christ. As Christians we are followers and disciples we follow only Jesus. Every other leader simply leads us to the source of our faith, the supreme example of righteousness. We must seek daily to imitate the faith that Jesus displays in the Scriptures. This is fundamental to being a Christian.
The Epistle of John puts it plainly: By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5b-6). If our lifestyle is to genuinely reflect the reality of our saving faith in Christ, we will produce certain fruits in our lives, our lifestyle will look different than those in the world. Fundamental to this difference will be a life focused on imitating the faith of one individual, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. John emphasizes that in order for us to know that we are in him, or in other words simply that we are genuine believers, we ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus lived His life. At the center of Christianity is a deep devotion to following Jesus, to imitating His faith.
A Dangerous Imitation
The command to imitate Jesus is dangerous. I'm convinced that we in the church do a poor job of presenting the reality that is implied by following Jesus: that we too will experience the suffering that He experienced on our behalf. We tend to play suffering down in the church and instead talk about the blessings that Jesus has purchased for us. But at the heart of following Jesus, of imitating His faith, is a dangerous call. The First Epistle of Peter speaks to this reality: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). Peter is not the only person to emphasize that our following, our imitation doesn't simply lead to comfort. If we are disciples, our faith will lead us into times of suffering, just as Jesus suffered for His faith. The Christian faith is a dangerous one in that we will be sure to face suffering in this life for our imitation of the Son of God.
Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ
Thomas Kempis, the 15th century Augustinian monk, has written a classic in Christian literature on this very topic. To any who would seek in their life to endeavor to imitate Christ by their life, I would commend this book. But may we always remember that our salvation is not one that is earned by how well we live, by how closely we imitate the life and faith of Jesus, it is given as a free gift of grace, based only upon what God has done for us in Jesus alone. I leave you with this quote from Kempis:
"Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness," [John 8:12] says the Lord. These are Christ's own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we truly desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Thomas Kempis, Imitation of Christ, I.I.I