Paul calls us to imitate him imitating Jesus.
Worthwhile things are often imitated to make them more accessible to more people. For example, for something to be called “champagne”, it has to come from the Champagne region of France. But winemakers all around the world create sparkling wine to make it so more people can enjoy the taste and feel of champagne, and some of it is quite good. However, not all imitations are close to the quality of the thing they are imitating. For example, my grandmother used to make an imitation apple pie that actually contained no apples; instead, she used Ritz crackers instead of apples (I’m not making this up–I think she called it “mock apple pie”).
So, given that we are all called to be imitation Jesuses, what kind of imitations are we?
In our prouder moments, I suppose we would prefer to think of ourselves as being closer to the sparkling wine end of the spectrum than the Ritz cracker “apple” pie side of it. But in reality, we are probably more often like fake apple pies.
But hey, you may object, how in the world are we supposed to imitate Jesus? He had the unfair advantage of being God.
While that may be true, I also don’t think that Paul or Jesus meant for that to be an excuse for us not to try. God sent us his son not only to save us from our sins, but also to show us the way we are to behave–the way we are to interact with God and with each other.
So what does it mean to be an imitation Jesus? It means we are to strive to have the same sort of relationship with the Father that he had (and still has)–talk with him regularly, worship him, and immerse ourselves in his holy Scriptures (his love letter to us), to the point where we could quote them to Satan even on our worst days. It also means we are to relate to one another the way Jesus related to almost everyone he met (the exception being the religious people, who had traded in God’s extravagant love for a cheap imitation–a checklist of rules).
But I can’t possibly do that! you may object again.
You’re right, you can’t. And neither can I. At least, not on our own.
We can only do this with help from God. But guess what? Since God is calling us to imitate Jesus, I’ll bet he delights in answering our prayers when we are asking for the ability to behave like Jesus in any given situation!
But does that mean we will always do it? Of course not. I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to get myself out of the way. I know how I want to act. I’m usually confident I know how Jesus would want me to act. But then, for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t act that way.
It can be so frustrating and disappointing.
Fortunately, Paul (the same guy who told us to imitate him imitating Christ) also struggled with this, as he writes in his letter to the Romans:
So what are we “mock apple pie” imitation Jesuses supposed to do? How can this ever work?
Every time we fail, we are to sheepishly return to God. We are to admit to him that we really wanted to be like Jesus this time, but we failed again. We are to ask for and accept his forgiveness. And then we are to ask for him to help us next time, including help getting ourselves out of the way.
Little by little, he will chip and chisel away at the parts of us that get in the way. Gradually, he will replace the Ritz crackers with actual apples.
And along the way, we are to thank him for the oceans of grace in which we swim, for the rivers of mercy he sends washing over us.