The Imitation Game, by Nick Lannon
MARCH 10, 2016
Sometimes I dream / That he is me / You've got to see that's how I dream to be I dream I move / I dream I groove Like Mike / If I could Be Like Mike
When I was a kid, the person everyone wanted to be like was Michael Jordan. The pervasive nature of that song is the proof. But it’s not just my generation; we are all imitators. We want to be like Mike…or Billy Graham, or Rosa Parks, or John Irving, or Steve Jobs. Whoever.
Who is it that you imitate? Who’s the Michael Jordan in your life? Is it your parents? Or how about the opposite of your parents? Your invention, in other words, of how you wish your parents had been? It’s an imitation either way…an example that you are trying to live up to. Are you trying to imitate someone at work? Someone who always says the right thing, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time? Are you imitating the father of the family down the block? The one whose kids always seem so happy and willing to do what he asks? The one who seems to have such an open, honest, and caring relationship with his wife? Or are you going the other way? Are you imitating the opposite of your sister, who is so put-together? Who already owns a home and a minivan and has an MBA? Is that why you’re learning the sitar and living in a tent in Sedona, Arizona?
Or are you too good a Christian for that? Is it Jesus you’re imitating?
Many of us imagine that it’s only in perfectly imitating Christ that we might hear God say those coveted words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
But that’s not the Gospel, is it? If righteousness could come by obedience to the law, then Christ died to no purpose, right? (Gal 2:21) In other words, Christ shouted “It is finished!” to bring an end to all of our striving. To assure us that no more work is required…that we can take our What Would Jesus Do bracelets off forever. We hear that “Well done, good and faithful servant” not because of the quality of our Jesus imitation, but on account of what Jesus has done for us. Right?
So what is Paul talking about when he exhorts us to imitate him? He says, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17). Huh? Is Paul telling us take off our What Would Jesus Do bracelets only to put on a What Would Paul Do bracelet? Is he just giving us someone new to imitate? Well, yes…but not in the way you might think.
If we look closer at what Paul is saying, we’ll see that he is in fact not giving us the additional burden of imitating him, he is lifting the imitation burden off of our backs. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us…our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”
Notice, Paul never mentions anything good about himself! In fact, he is constantly referring to himself in a state of need. So, how is it that Paul wants us to imitate him? Is he selling “LiveStrong” or “WWJD” bracelets? Not on your life. He’s selling “Give Up” bracelets. He might as well be saying, “Stop trying to imitate everyone you look up to, and especially stop trying to imitate Jesus. You can’t do it. It’s out of your reach. It’s just making your life hurt. Instead, imitate me, and give up. Wait for a savior. He will take the humiliation you feel, having failed to live up to expectations, and turn it into his glory.” The quests to live up to our idols, be they artist, preacher, visionary, or God himself, are never satisfied. They must be extinguished, put out, given up. So let’s give up on imitating. Or let’s imitate Paul, and give it up. Let’s wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. He will save us.