Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Imitation of Christ vis-à-vis the Gospel

The notion of the Christian life for many who claim to be seeking to live it is bound up in the imitation of Christ. For them, to be a Christian is to live like Christ, and therefore it is ultimately more existential/pragmatic than it is foundational. This of course ably deconstructs the idea of what it means to be a Christian to accomodate the "Christian Buddhist", the "Christian Hindu", the "Christian Muslim", etc., blurring key distinctives and muting biblical Christianity's claim to exclusivity.

"One of the most sinned-against biblical principles is that of the grace of God in the gospel as the pattern, motive and power for Christian living. Let us take the example of Jesus. The Christian church has always acknowledged the role of the imitation of Christ as a valid principle in Christian living. After all, if we cannot see Jesus as an example of the godly life, who can we see this role? Yet the church has recognized, when it has sought to understand things in the light of the Bible, that Jesus did not come primarily to set an example. Following Jesus was not, for the disciples, solely a matter of trying to be like him in his perfect humanity. It was first of all a matter of believing in him as the unique fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies of the Christ, the Saviour who was to come to do for them what they were powerless to do for themselves. To keep the biblical perspective we need to see that imitation of Jesus is secondary to and the derivative of the acceptance of his unique role in doing things that can never be merely imitated. The Christian disciple imitates elements of Jesus' life and ministry such as serving one another and even laying down one's life for others. But such serving can never achieve what Jesus' serving achieved in the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all who believe."

- Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, ch. 1, p. 12.

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