Imitators of Christ

I believe that, for me as a pastor, the scariest passage in all of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 11:1. You might have expected me to say it was one of the visions of Satan raging against the Church, or God pouring out his wrath on sinful and idolatrous mankind from the book of Revelation. Instead, it’s a tiny little verse written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian believers. He writes (ESV), “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Imitate or follow me as I imitate and follow after Christ.

The reason this passage scares me so much is that I have met myself. I know my failings. I know my brokenness. I know my sin. I know that I have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), I know that my heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), and I know my sin because it is ever before me (Psalm 51:3). Those words may have been originally written by the Apostle Paul, Prophet Jeremiah, and King David, but they stand true for me as well. I know my sin better than anyone else except God, and perhaps my wife Gretchen. Because of that, I’ll be the first to tell you, “Don’t follow me as I follow Christ.” I’m a sinner who will fail you. Leave me out of the equation. Simply follow Christ because he will never fail you.

That being said, I know that I am a Christian today because I followed other people as they followed Christ. I followed my parents, grandparents, pastor, youth pastor, and many wonderful saints who were part of my home church. They modeled for me what Christianity looked like, were passionate about God’s Word, and deeply desired that I would love God and his Word too. Not surprisingly, they were not perfect. They too were sinners who failed and fell short of the glory of God. They were imperfect people, and imperfect examples to follow, but God still used them to model for me what it is to be a believer.

As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t have been very good examples of what it is to be a follower of Christ if they weren’t sinners. Being a sinner is a prerequisite to being redeemed. They couldn’t have shown me what it is to follow Christ, without showing me what to do when you fail, fall short, and sin. When they did, they modeled what true repentance, confession, and faith looks like, and that might have been the most important thing they showed me.

Martin Luther, in his morning prayer, encourages us to begin our day by praying this: “I pray that you would keep me this day from sin and all evil, so that all my doings and life may please you.”1 Now notice how Luther encourages us to pray before bed in his evening prayer: “…I pray, forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night.”2 Luther encourages us to open our day by asking God to help us to avoid sin and live our lives in a way that would please him, but in the evening prayer, Luther tells us to admit that we once again have failed, fallen short, and sinned.

These two prayers of Luther do not constitute a license to sin, but instead, they just confess this simple reality: We human beings never move past the need for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. This is the case because we never move past being sinners who need the forgiveness of God. This is our reality on this side of glory, as the Apostle Paul confesses about his own life in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” The Christian life is one constantly filled with repentance and faith.

Knowing this, the statement of Paul to “be imitators of me” in 1 Corinthians becomes just a little bit less daunting and intimidating. Paul was a sinner who failed and fell short of God’s glory. He failed to do the good that he wanted and did evil instead, and yet he also said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Maybe any Christian can be used by God to mentor and disciple others. Maybe the fear that we have at the thought of being a mentor to a person newer to the faith is unfounded, because even when we fail, fall short, and sin, we can still serve as an example in repentance. Maybe the example of sinners falling before the cross of Christ, and confessing their need for grace and mercy, is what those we mentor really need. The life of a believer is a life of constant repentance and faith, and those are the sort of examples we need.

We don’t need mentors who are perfect and sinless, mostly because anyone who claims to be perfect is lying. As John tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We already have a perfect example to follow in Christ. Though he faced every temptation we face, he faced them all sinlessly. He laid down his life, dying the death that our sins had earned for us, paying the cost of sin in full. He is the perfect example for us to follow, but Jesus is also the standard we cannot achieve in the flesh. Thankfully, everything that Jesus accomplished with his perfect and sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection is freely given to all who believe. So even though we are sinners, by grace and through faith we are perfectly sinless in the eyes of God. We have been forgiven our sins and clothed with Christ’s righteousness.

Our human mentors cannot be Jesus, nor do we need to them to be. We need a mentor who knows what it is to sin, fail, and fall short, but also knows how to repent and confess their sins before the God who loves them. The thing is, we can all be that kind of mentor. We won’t be perfect by any means, but we will be real human beings that others can relate to. We, who know what it is to be forgiven, can point others to where forgiveness can be found—in Christ Jesus. Being this type of mentor isn’t something God has called just a couple of Christians to, but it’s what he calls us all to. We’re called to love our neighbors enough that we come alongside them, imperfect as we are, and serve them. The call is to follow Christ, and invite others along as you do.

Rev. Mike Hussey is Pastor of Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church in Sidney, Montana and serves Lutheran Brethren Seminary as a Ministry Call Mentor.
  1. Paul Timothy McCain, et. al, eds., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (CPH: St. Louis, 2006) 344.
  2. Ibid.

No Comments