How to Imitate Biblical Heroes

How to Imitate Biblical Heroes by JASON HOOD for The Gospel Coalition

Christians have struggled with the concept of imitation in recent decades. On the liberal end of the American church spectrum, Jesus has largely been reduced to serving as a nice example, the kind of guy whose love and inclusiveness should be imitated. On the other end of the spectrum, some conservative evangelicals have reacted with alarm, avoiding or even decrying imitation.

In evangelicalism’s messy middle, Daniel’s diet plan is a model, Jesus is an exemplar for CEOs, and moralistic “be like” sermons shorn of the gospel sometimes beat down without mercy on the souls of the saints.

Anyone who grew up in the “messy middle” has stories that illustrate the confusion. I remember walking around a church property seven times in an attempt to pray away a drainage problem. Our church’s leaders were inspired by the book of Joshua and Hebrews 11:30. We were attempting to imitate biblical characters’ actions in hopes that we would achieve success like they did.

For those confused or concerned about imitation, the final three chapters of Hebrews (Heb. 11–13) function as a brief training manual for faith, obedience, and the imitation of Jesus and the saints. We’ll look at two important features in these three chapters that help us avoid errors and put imitation to work.

1. Biblical Definition of Imitation

This section of Hebrews helps us define imitation. Indeed, confusion often arises when we define it too narrowly. For those living in the era of cloning and photocopiers, this may be hard to grasp, but exact duplication is rarely the point of biblical imitation. This is where the messy middle often goes wrong. When Paul told the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), he wasn’t calling them take exactly 12 disciples or to speak Aramaic (or walk around their church property seven times). Rather, he was calling them to a cross-shaped, self-sacrificial pattern of life.

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