Friday, January 1, 2016

Why Christians Need Heroes to Imitate

The point of the Christian life is to become like Jesus. Paul said that the "work of ministry" is "for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ ... we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ[.]" (Ephesians 4:12-15). God's plan from eternity was to prepare for every Christian "to be conformed to the image of his Son[.]” (Romans 8:29).

So as far as who we should admire and imitate, the obvious answer is Jesus Himself. Why should we imitate anyone else? Our goal according to God's Word is to follow Jesus step for step. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6). There is no one more important to imitate than Jesus Christ. But then no less a preacher than Paul the Apostle himself told his flock: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1). Why not simply say imitate Christ? In the same letter he said:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:15-17)
This is so important to Paul that he sent Timothy to them just for that reason, so that they would be reminded of Paul's ways in Christ and imitate them - not simply to remember and imitate Christ. Paul isn't alone. The author of Hebrews says the same about other leaders of the church. "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb. 13:7).
The Scriptures actually urge us to observe faithful Christian leaders and imitate the pattern of their behavior and faith. We are supposed to find heroes to admire. John Piper, a man who certainly goes to great pains to focus on exalting God and drawing our attention to Jesus, still suggests that if more of us picked heroes to follow, we may be more bold and serious about our faith: "I think one reason we settle for such ordinary 'soap opera' lives is because we have no heroes. Nobody’s picture is pinned on our wall to spur us on to greatness. The Bible teaches us to have heroes." (Every Hero Gets Hiccups). Piper has invested in this by researching and preaching biographical messages of 27 great Christians you can watch or listen to here for free. This is one way I discovered some of my heroes of the faith.
We often don't see Jesus clearly, even when we set our hearts to follow Him. We have difficulty relating to His perfection across the canyon of our imperfections. Finding someone who has seen Jesus more clearly than you do is a way to connect to Jesus. We do this all the time with pastors, following where they have gone ahead in the Scriptures or their faith. The same encouragement comes from seeing how other imperfect people gained confidence in God and discovered intimate communion with Him. Experiencing how they grew into the stature of Christ in spite of fears, doubts, mistakes, sins, and confusion gives us courage and hope. It helps show us the way ahead.
I have been massively supported and strengthened in my faith by how C.S. Lewis wrestled with the perplexities and pain of life and made sense of them in Christ. I have seen more glorious and beautiful truths about the sheer logic and common sense of Christianity because of the brilliance and wit of G.K. Chesterton than I could have ever understood on my own. Our eyes should always be fixed ahead, looking intently for Jesus Himself, but our own Hebrews 11 hall of heroes spurs us on and guards us against getting lost.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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