Imitate Jesus

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Paul tells us that though Jesus was God in the flesh, Jesus did not use His divinity as something He “used to his own advantage.” In the Greek the word here means “to take by an open display of force like someone seizing a prize or bounty.” In other words, rather than openly displaying the power of His divinity, Jesus instead set His divinity aside and “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

Paul learned this truth from Jesus Himself:

For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. 

John 5:18-20

We see in this passage in John the same two truths that are articulated in Philippians 2: 1) Jesus was God in the flesh, and 2) Jesus made himself completely dependent on the Father, not operating out of His divinity but rather His humanity. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity it wouldn’t be true that “the Son can do nothing by himself.”

Instead, Jesus operated as a human who was fully connected to the Father and completely filled by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), walking in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). By doing so He became our example, not just our Savior.

If Jesus operated out of His divinity, Christianity becomes a spectator sport where we get to say, “Well, yeah, but Jesus was God!” We never have to take up the call to imitate Jesus because that seems impossible. But by Jesus operating completely out of His humanity, we don’t get that excuse. We are now invited to fully connect to the Father and be completely filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus modeled and just as the first century Christians attempted.

When Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead, He did so as a human who was fully connected to the Father and fully empowered by the Spirit. Then He turns to His disciples, who are in no way divine, and commands them to do the same things (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 10:1-21; Matthew 28:19-20). And we see the disciples do what Jesus had been doing. They just needed the authority of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4, 43) in order to perform some of the same signs and wonders.

All of this leaves us without excuse. The whole, “Yeah, but Jesus was God” excuse doesn’t really work. Jesus is our example, and we are to imitate His life. Paul put it this way, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1). He also said, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children…”(Ephesians 5:1).

As Children

Every parent will eventually experience that moment. It is always meant as a complement, but it doesn’t always land that way. It’s the moment someone says of your child, “They are just like you!” In a split second, both a flood of pride and a flood of concern hits your soul. This could be a great thing! This could be a terrible thing!

Children don’t wake up in the morning striving to imitate their parents. They don’t put it on their calendar or on their to-do list. They don’t enroll in a program helping them to imitate their parents. It happens naturally. Children pick up the language, mannerisms, voice inflection, moods, and morality of their parents.

It happens without anyone noticing or trying. It happens because of proximity and love. The things and people we love and to which we are in close proximity, we will begin to naturally imitate. This is especially true of children.

This is why Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Follow God’s example (literally: imitate God), therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”(Ephesians 5:1-2).

One might counter this command with, “How can we possibly imitate God? Isn’t that impossible?”

Apparently not!

Scripture wouldn’t have commanded it if it was impossible. We have the Holy Spirit in us, empowering us to live as Jesus lived. When we write off this command as impossible, we belittle the full potential of “Christ in you, the hope of glory”(Colossians 1:27).

The key here is what Paul writes immediately after the command to “imitate God.” He suggests we do it “as dearly loved children.” This is about being secure in our identity as sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s not about striving. It’s less about effort and more about intimacy. Remember, children imitate their parents not because they make a strategic plan but because of proximity and love. This is an invitation to experience proximity to the Father. It’s an invitation to experience the love of the Father.

Consider the possibility that the ONLY way to imitate God is “as dearly loved children.” With faith like a child, drawing nearer and nearer to the Father, as we spend time with Him, we will naturally become like Him. We will find our capacity to love increase. Sacrifice will start to feel like a joy. We will see in others what we couldn’t see before…before we began to see through the eyes of the Father. Our lives will become a fragrant offering.