The primary way we learn is through example. This has nothing to do with IQ or with logic, but everything to do with our ability to imitate other people.
As I have gotten older I recognize more and more of my dad in me. Sometimes it comes out in the way I phrase a sentence, other times in the tone and infliction of my voice, and other times in the way I respond to my children. There are many times when I stop and think, “That is just like Dad.”
This is not a bad thing, rather it is a testament to the influence he has had on my life.
Similarly my children are picking up some of my mannerisms and sayings. When my son comes to me with a scrape, bump, or bug bite sometimes I will respond with, “You are fine.” The other day he was playing doctor with his sister and after giving her a shot he rubbed it and said, “You’re fine.” My wife looked at me and said, “I wonder where he learned that.”
When I am frustrated and something doesn’t happen as smoothly as I think it should, I will often “growl”. Last week when my mom was here helping us with the new baby, my daughter dropped something on the floor and she growled. My mom said to her, “You sound just like your dad.”
Much of the way we learn how to live life comes through observation and imitation. I know we would like to think that we logically developed the most rational way to live, but the reality is that we are just following in the footsteps of those who came before us.
This is important to accept because imitation plays a crucial role in following Jesus.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2; NLT)
If we are Christians then our identity is rooted in the reality that we are God’s children. Like my children imitate me, Paul wrote that we are to imitate God.
One of my fundamental beliefs is that the purpose of our lives is to demonstrate God’s character. We can only demonstrate His character if we imitate the way He lives.
Now this sounds all well and good, but how do we imitate God?
After all, we can’t see God and we are unable to have a relationship with Him the way we have a relationship with our parents. We spent years living with our parents, and it was only natural that we would pick up on their mannerisms, actions, habits, and beliefs. How do we do that with God?
Now it is true that the fullness of God is revealed in Jesus, but when we are talking about observation and imitation it is a little hard to observe Jesus since he hasn’t walked this earth in 2,000 years. This means imitating God doesn’t happen naturally like it does with a parent and a child. To imitate God requires intentional action on our part.
Let me suggest two actions we need to take if we are going to be children of God and imitate Him.
- We need to study the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the Apostle Paul explained the importance that Scripture has in our lives. Scripture is important because God uses it to prepare and equip us for the work God has called us to do. In the Old Testament we have the Law. It is the Law that guided Jesus’ life and was the foundation of his teaching. The Gospels reveal to us the way Jesus lived out the Law and the rest of New Testament reveals how the early church lived and taught the way of Jesus. The Bible helps us imitate God because it reveals His heart and character to us.
- We need to study other Christians. Remember observation is an important learning method. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians to, “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1; NLT). Paul followed Jesus, and the Corinthians who had no contact with Jesus, could observe the way Paul lived. This same pattern continues to this day, as the younger generation observes the older generation to gain an understanding on how to live a life of faith. We also have biographies and stories of Christians who have gone before us, and in our imaginations, we can observe how they lived. This is why being part of a local church family is essential to our spiritual formation.
You and I were created to imitate God. The way we imitate God is to follow Jesus, who reveals to us the fullness of God’s character. Jesus taught us how to demonstrate God’s character in this world.
If we are going to imitate God it requires intentional action on our part. We have to study the Bible and the lives of other Christians to gain the insight we need to follow Jesus.
We are God’s dearly loved children, and the expectation on our lives to reflect God’s character into this world. This will not happen by accident, so be intentional about imitating God. Read the Bible, be with other Christians, and follow Jesus.