If someone handed you a book with a list of instructions, you probably could handle it: "Pray," "Forgive your brother," "Confess your sins," "Be kind," "Don't be rude," "Settle things with your accuser before you give your offering."
But if someone handed you a book with a list of instructions, and said, "Besides obeying these instructions, observe the way I act and copy me," that would be a whole other kettle of fish.
That's how it is with the Bible. When I was thinking that God merely had specific-and theoretically countable-commands for me, I could at least make a start on the list. And I would not have to try to give my heart fully to the project.
But here is what I find instead:
"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).
"I urge you, then, be imitators of me" (1 Corinthians 4:16).
"Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Philippians 3:17).
"What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9).
"It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate" (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
That, ladies and gentlemen, throws the Bible wide open. Now the Christian life is no longer a matter of obeying an order, but of patterning my minutest actions, attitudes, mannerisms, duties, and pastimes on the Master:
"Whoever says he abides in him must walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6).
If praying all night on the mountain was needful for the Lord, maybe I ought to think about it. If fasting was Paul's regular discipline (2 Corinthians 11:27), I ought to think about it. And what, come to think of it, is the biblical evidence for Jesus' views on entertainment, on retirement, on education?
Part of me is tempted to say: "Well, Jesus and Paul suggested imitation as an option, not a command. If you want to, you can imitate them." I will have to think about that one. Are there some commands that are non-negotiable, and others for the AP class that aspires to the higher life? I don't know. But I would have to ask myself this pointed question: If at any given point I decide not to opt for an imitation of Paul or Christ, then what is it precisely that I am opting for instead? For, of course, there is always the positive choice as well as the negative rejection.
Actually, I am much more delighted than upset to have noticed that the Bible is thrown wide open by Paul's invitation to imitate him and to imitate Christ. The positive side of that for me is that there is nothing off-limits. Nothing to be considered fanatical. I am not shut out of the higher Christian life if I want to go there. There is no two-tiered hierarchy here, no province of Gnostics. If I wish to imitate Christ to the nth degree, I am within my rights.
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