The other week, I was asked to drag the infield of the baseball field at Oldham County High School where I’m an assistant coach. I’ve drug other infields, so this wasn’t my first rodeo. Dragging a baseball field requires meticulous care. If you go too fast, you may leave ruts in the dirt. If you run over the grass, you will kill it with the metal grates intended only for dirt. It was explained to me that typically you want to first drag a border around the edges of the infield and outfield grass and then fill in the border with large overlapping circles. Before I got on the tractor, one of the other coaches said, “Why don’t you watch me do it first?”
In watching him do it before repeating the process myself, I participated in a process I’ve done countless times in my life. We learn through imitation, both negatively and positively. In a certain sense, everything in life can be traced back to imitation. Sometimes, it’s explicit as it was for me on the baseball field the other week. Other times we don’t even notice we’re imitating as when we grow up speaking with a certain accent that tells outsiders we belong to a certain region. None of us start from scratch. A college professor once made the argument—one I initially rejected—that none of us had ever had an original idea. I now believe he was right. We’re all imitators.
The Bible tells us we were created to be imitators. God created us, male and female, in his image and calls us to imitate him by being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it—all actions he has previously modeled (Gen. 1:27-28). To be human is to imitate. We are inherently imitators. The problem is that, since the garden, we are constantly wanting to imitate the wrong things. Because we are sinners, we would rather imitate the serpent’s undermining of God’s authority than the God in whose image we were created.
Sometimes I give my kids a hard time about clothing styles. It’s funny to me how styles take root in culture, and everyone mindlessly goes along without asking where it came from. Have you noticed that short shorts are back in for guys? When I was in high school, boys in “daisy dukes” would be ragged endlessly. Sometimes I leave the baseball locker room and see guys rolling the tops of their shorts to see who can expose the most leg. Where did this come from? Who determines what’s in and what’s out? No one can really say, but once it’s established, everyone imitates.
The relative moral neutrality of clothing styles aside, the real human dilemma is that we’ve replaced imitation of God with imitation of God-substitutes. We’d rather imitate things we’ve created in our own image than imitate our Creator. Everyone is always imitating. The question isn’t, “Are you imitating?” but “Who are you imitating?”
Thankfully, when God determined to restore his image-bearers, he did more than send an instruction manual from heaven. The Bible tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Yes, he came to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross and to win the victory over death through his resurrection. But he also came to model what it means to be human. We’ve so lost sight of what we’ve been put on this earth to do that we needed God to take on human flesh to show us.
And what is that human calling? How do we faithfully image God? First, we must acknowledge that it’s only possible through Christ. We must be restored supernaturally and reconciled to God. We must repent and place our faith in Christ for salvation and receive the gift of his Spirit.
Second, once our status as God’s redeemed children is secured through Christ, we imitate the one who saved us. We know how Jesus lived because we have his word. We know that he devoted his life to loving God and loving others. We know that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We know that his church is called to have the same mindset he had, namely to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [to] count others more significant than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
And if we’re ever unsure, we look to Paul’s advice: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We go to the church and look for models to follow—more mature disciples who can show us what Christ looks like. We’re all already imitating. The question is, will you be intentional about imitating Christ?