On Imitating Christ (Bavinck)

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity

The Christian faith does have the concept of imitating others. Specifically, we’re called to imitate the love and forgiveness of God (Eph. 5:1). Paul told the Corinthian church to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 1:11). Christians are called to model the faith in a way for others to imitate (1 Thess. 2:14). And the New Testament teaches followers of Jesus to imitate other strong and solid believers (2 Thess. 3:7, Heb. 6:12; 13:7).

Speaking of imitating Christ, what exactly does that mean? Many have discussed it throughout Christian history and there have been some poor ways of explaining it. Herman Bavinck wrote about imitating Christ in Reformed Ethics. I really appreciate his discussion of this important topic. Here’s one aspect of imitating Jesus that is very central to the teaching:

The imitation of Christ means acknowledging Christ as Redeemer, as Mediator. This is the condition for the imitation of Christ. Anyone who needs no Redeemer also needs no example. Modernists have no savior and also no ideal; they ‘take a shot in the dark’, have no purpose, are restless and driven, or become indifferent. A holy person like Jesus can never be an example unless he is first our Savior. Otherwise he would frighten us away, just as the law that he fulfilled presses us down rather than lifts us up.

The imitation of Christ, therefore, is only possible in faith. Christ is the example not for everyone but only for those who are regenerated. Imitating him is the only form of the spiritual life. Therefore, our lives can be directed to Christ only when they proceed from him and abide in him. The mystical union with Christ is the foundation of the imitation of Christ.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, p. 339.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015