If you have ever had to monitor or even change what you eat or drink because of a dietary or medical concern, you are probably familiar with various imitations or alterations of your favorite foods and beverages, like diet sodas or low-sodium or low-fat versions of things you like to eat. You probably also know that most of those variations or outright imitations are different – if not outright bad – compared to the real thing. Despite the claims otherwise, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” brand spread isn’t just like real butter, and no, turkey bacon is nothing like real bacon.
But we don’t switch to salt substitutes or sugar substitutes or – gasp – bacon substitutes simply because we don’t want the real thing, do we? We do it because we’re trying to alter our diets for the sake of being healthier. However, the simple fact remains: it helps if it tastes good. In fact, the more the imitations taste like what we’re replacing, the more likely we’re going to stick to it, and in the long run, the better the switch is for us.
Jesus calls us to make a switch, too. As Jesus called his first disciples, he told the, “Follow me.” Peter, Andrew, James, and John dropped their nets, and followed Jesus. Matthew got up and left behind his life of collecting taxes to follow Jesus. As the Twelve followed Jesus, he called them to be more like himself, to be imitators of himself, even to the point of death, saying, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, NIV 1984).
Disciples of Jesus are imitators of Jesus. While the Twelve actually followed behind Jesus as he preached, taught, and healed, how do we become imitators of Jesus? Paul says by imitating those who imitate Jesus, such as himself; he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (ESV). That was the model by which the apostles and the early church made disciples; read Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (NIV 1984)
Being disciples who make disciples isn’t just a matter of reading or hearing and knowing God’s Word; it’s a matter of imitation, following the example of those who follow Jesus. This is the pattern Paul described in Philippians 3:17: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (NIV 1984). Certainly, we must know the Scriptures so that we might know Jesus better, so that we might be better imitators of Christ. As we grow, imitating others who imitate Christ, we become part of the pattern that others might follow, imitating us as we imitate Christ.
God’s faithful have always offered a challenge to the world around them simply to “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8, NIV 1984). How might someone “taste” of God these days? By experiencing those who imitate Christ, by interacting with the Church. But they won’t want to follow Jesus if their experience with us leaves a bad taste in their mouth, will they? Let’s work together to make sure that each of us, all of us together are so much like Jesus that all they hear and see and experience from us is Jesus.