In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” As I began reading some of Rees Howells – Intercessor, the author mentions that Rees at one point resolved to “live up to the teaching of the Savior,” which I take to be obediently imitating the example of Christ. However, the book also reports that Rees got this apparently bad idea from reading Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps and later thought better of it. Can you explain why he would change his mind?
I can understand how the modern Sheldon-inspired WWJD push could be considered more of a marketing success than a spiritual triumph, but, based on 1 Corinthians 11:1 and similar verses, are we not to imitate Christ nonetheless?
Thanks for this thought provoking, yet fair question. Paul does say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In fact, the word followers comes from the Greek word that sounds like the English word mimic and means “imitators.” This seems to legitimize the question, “What would Jesus do?” and the attempt to imitate Jesus. But the key here is the phrase even as I also am of Christ.
How did Paul “follow” Christ? The Pauline answer is repeated:
- “If you through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Rom. 8:13)
- “Christ liveth in me…by faith.” (Gal. 2:20)
- “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18)
- “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21)
- “Christ in you… Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Col. 1:21-29)
Very clearly, the way Paul “imitated” Christ was by accessing the imparted life of Christ through faith. Only God meets the standard of God. That is why we need imputed righteousness in justification and imparted righteousness in sanctification. The flesh cannot imitate Christ. At best, it can only produce the form of godliness that denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5).
The Christ life or Spirit-filled life is when the Spirit fills you with the life of Christ as you walk by faith (Col. 2:6; Gal. 5:16). This is impartation, not imitation. We imitate Paul only when we, as Paul, depend on Christ to live His very life through our personalities. As we walk by faith, the Spirit imparts the life of Christ to us.
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