Should We ‘Imitate’ Jesus or ‘Follow’ Christ?
The following is not a semantic exercise but rather a meaningful discussion. Most new age Bibles use the word “imitate” in place of “follow,” which is used in the Kings James Version.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (KJV) Be ye therefore ‘followers of God,’ as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as (in the same way that) Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1, making a plea for the brethren to ‘walk in love’ toward others “as” or ‘in the same way as Christ loved us… suggesting that we should also conduct ourselves in that same way of love.’ (Paraphrased by AJL). Christ IN US is the God’s given lover of all men; now He loves them through us.
By ‘as Christ’ means ‘in the same way’ as Christ. Jesus way was that He walked in union with the Father, as “one” (Jn 10:30). Paul walked in union with God in Christ as the Spirit within Him, all being “one.”
Interestingly, though the Greek word for “follow” could be translated “imitate” as it in in the new age bibles (i.e., AMP, NIV, NASB); the KJV translators, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose the word “follow” in Eph 5:1, not the word ‘imitate.’
I believe there is a significant distinction between the words “follow” and imitate, as seen here;
- To “follow” speaks of an active involvement with the living, active, dynamic guide.
We are to “follow” the living God who is IN and One with the resurrected living Christ… now as that Spirit who is located within every believer’s spirit.
Thus, God is alive, fully alive and involved within us… by Christ’s Spirit within us.
- To ‘imitate,’ on the other hand, does not infer an active living model, but rather a ‘static model’ to be ‘imitated.’ This then makes God merely an ‘afar off model’ and this misses the point of Paul’s “Revelation of the Mystery” of Christ IN US. We are not at arm’s length from God!
To translate the word for “follow” as ‘imitate’ indicates that we are separate from God, but the fact as seen in Paul’s epistles is that believers are NOT separate from God – we are in an intimate everlasting union with God in Christ, now as the Spirit within our spirit.
The “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is within our spirit… intimately leading, guiding, and empowering our soul, and our soul (by its ‘will’) is to co-operate… to direct our body.
How do we actually follow God? Paul’s “revelation of the Mystery” is the gospel of “Christ in you”?
Consider that Paul says he is the ‘prototype’ or model for us as grace believers as we are to follow - that is to follow Paul’s way following the living Christ to whom he is and also we are united. So, ultimately it’s not for us to ‘imitate’ but rather to “follow the living Christ within us moment by moment.”
Paul says we ought to ‘follow’ his way of ‘following Christ.’ Paul is the model of the living way for us to ‘walk in the spirit’ – in accord with the Spirit of Christ. I think this is borne out in these Pauline verses.
- 1 Cor 11:1 Be ye followers of me (Paul), even as (in the same way that) I also am (a follower) of Christ.
- 1 Timothy 1:16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me (Paul) first (Gk., protos, as the prototype) Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering (patience), For 'a Pattern' to (Gk., hypotyposis, to typify for) them which should hereafter believe on (trust in) him to life everlasting.
Again, how did Paul follow Christ? Paul lived by his living, continual union with Christ In Us.
Thus, having Paul as our model, it’s not for us to ‘imitate’ Paul, but to “follow the living Christ within us moment by moment”… just as Paul did.