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Are You an Imitator or an Actor?

Did you ever want to be like someone else so much that you began to imitate that person’s behavior?  At some point in life, most of us have had role models to whom we have looked for examples of how to behave.  We tend to pattern ourselves after people whom we respect, such as parents and grandparents.  Sometimes we choose people who have achieved things that we also want to achieve.  Some have made poor choices by imitating the bad examples of others.  Young people today often choose terrible role models (peers in school, pop-culture celebrities, athletes, musicians, movie stars, etc.) whose examples lead them astray.  Regardless of whom we choose, our lives are always profoundly affected by those whom we choose to imitate.

The Bible commends the practice of imitation, provided that we choose to imitate the right examples.  The ultimate role model for all of us is the one in whose image we are created, God Himself, and thus we are told to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).  The Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, came to earth and lived as a man in part to give us a pattern of behavior, love, selfless sacrifice, etc., to imitate (John 15:12; Phil. 2:5; 1Pet. 2:21).  Not only are we to imitate the pattern of Christ’s way of life, but we should also imitate that same pattern as it is emulated in others.  For example, the apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1Cor. 11:1; see also 4:16).  He commended the Thessalonian Christians for becoming “imitators of us and of the Lord” (1Thess. 1:6) and “imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus” (1Thess. 2:14).  He told them that he and other teachers of the gospel had offered “ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2Thess. 3:7, 9).  Similarly, we are told to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12) and to imitate the faith of those who have led us and taught us the word of God (Heb. 13:7).

The practice of imitation is closely related to the idea of discipleship.  To demonstrate this, let us compare an imitator to a disciple.  An imitator is one who observes the actions of another and then mimics them in his own life (in fact, “mimic” comes from the root word of mimētēs, which is the Greek word from which “imitator” is translated).  Similarly, a disciple is a learner or pupil, who learns not only from the words of his teacher but also from the teacher’s actions.  The disciple’s learning is not merely an intellectual exercise, but rather it is a means of transforming his life into conformity with his teacher (for example, see John 13:13-15).  By definition, a disciple imitates his teacher as closely as he possibly can, and thus a disciple is virtually the same as an imitator.

Let us understand that there is a vast difference between imitating someone else and pretending to be something that one is not.  True imitation is a sincere attempt to emulate the actions, words, attitudes, etc., of another person, but pretending to be what one is not is play-acting or, in another word, hypocrisy, which is merely a superficial performance that creates a false appearance.  A hypocrite only pretends to be like someone else, but he never actually becomes like the other person.  Contrary to that, an imitator genuinely changes who he is so that he takes on the same traits that he observed in someone else.

As we have already seen, the Bible commends the imitation of godly persons, but it strongly condemns the practice of hypocrisy.  In fact, no one received harsher words of condemnation from Jesus than the hypocritical Pharisees (see Matt. 23; Luke 11).  This is because a hypocrite’s entire life becomes nothing more than an act, and nothing about him is as it appears to be.  The Lord called hypocrisy the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Luke 12:1), which suggests how hypocrisy affected everything the Pharisees did (“a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” – 1Cor. 5:6).  Such leaven even makes what appears to be good in the hypocrite into something evil.  For example, many of the things that the Pharisees did were technically correct, but their motivation was evil.  In truth, they desired the appearance of righteousness for the praise of men rather than the glorification of God and the benefit of their fellow man.  In this way, even when positive benefits result for others because of a hypocrite’s actions, the hypocrite is not gratified unless he is recognized and benefited himself.  This is the hypocrite’s self-serving and evil way, and it makes him the ultimate liar and deceiver, for his life is built entirely on false pretenses.  A hypocrite is nothing but an actor and a pretender who is only a hollow shell with no real substance.

So then, consider your own life and answer this question: in regards to your relationship to Jesus Christ, are you an imitator or an actor?  Are you genuinely imitating Christ’s traits of moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2Pet. 1:5-7), or are you merely putting on a good appearance to garner the approval of others?  If you are a good actor, then you may be able to delude others, but “do not be deceived, God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7).  Ultimately, we all will be judged by the Lord, and no actor or pretender will be able to deceive Him.  Therefore, let us be true imitators of Jesus Christ and all of those who likewise imitate His perfect example.

Stacey E. Durham



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