Are you Evil and Pernicious?
October 22, 2014
"FOR TO THIS YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED, BECAUSE CHRIST ALSO SUFFERED FOR YOU, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, SO THAT YOU MIGHT FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS." --1 PETER 2:21
In the broader Reformed world there are some who seem to have distaste for the theological concept commonly known as the "imitation of Christ." They think it smacks of liberalism or Pelagianism or something worse (if indeed there is something worse than Pelagianism).
However, the imitation of Christ is a duty placed upon all Christians. The Scriptures are clear on this matter. Only someone with a serious aversion to piety and holiness would reject the concept. Or they take the most grotesque version of the doctrine and throw the baby out with the bath-water.
There are, however, some points that need to be made so that we understand the difference between an orthodox, biblical understanding of the imitatio Christi and the a-theological version that is so easy to dismiss.
Regarding God's holiness, for example, we must understand that the immediate motive to holy living is not God's essential holiness, but the holiness of God revealed in the person of Christ. If God chose to relate to us based on his essential holiness, apart from mediation in the person of Christ, we would be utterly consumed. Consider whom Isaiah saw in chapter 6 (see Jn. 12:41).
As John Owen notes, "it is the holiness of God as he is in Christ, and as in Christ represented unto us, that gives us both the necessity and motive unto ours with God." Jesus is, morally considered, "the most perfect, absolute, glorious pattern of all grace, holiness, virtue, obedience, to be chosen and preferred above all others, but he only is so; there is no other complete example of it."
Whatever problems people may have with the concept of the imitatio Christi, we cannot escape the reality that if we have any interest in Christ, we must emulate him in his holiness.
Paul commands Christians to "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5) before setting before them the example of Christ's humility (Phil. 2:6-11).
Moreover, if we belong to Christ we will suffer with him (Phil. 3:10; 1 Thess. 2:14-15). If we are in Christ we must walk as he did (1 Jn. 2:6). In fact, Romans 15 is a perfect commentary on the practical implications of the imitation of Christ.
That is why Stephen Charnock's words are spot on:
"Those that lay claim to a relation to God, without imitation of him, are not children, but bastards. They may be of his family by instruction, not by descent. There is no implantation in Christ, without an imitation both of the Creator and Redeemer."
But there is an important point that must be made, which I wish had been more strongly emphasized by Thomas à Kempis in his famous work, The Imitation of Christ.
Our faith in Christ for redemption (e.g., justification) is, according to John Owen, "only half of our duty of faith." He adds:
"Unto these ends, indeed, is he firstly and principally proposed unto us in the gospel, and with respect unto them are we exhorted to receive him and believe in him; but this is not all that is required of us. Christ in the gospel is proposed unto us as our pattern and example of holiness; and as it is a cursed imagination that this was the whole end of his life and death,--namely, to exemplify and confirm the doctrine of holiness which he taught,--so to neglect his so being our example, in considering him by faith to that end, and labouring after conformity to him, is evil and pernicious."
To deny the imitation of Christ is "evil and pernicious," so long as we insist on the fact that Christ our redeemer is the principal focus of our faith. But after Christ our redeemer, the most precious words to a Christian are "Christ our example" (Warfield).
Therefore, if you have a Seminary Professor who mocks this idea, ask for your money back for the class, pray for him, and buy him this excellent book.
Pastor Mark Jones was a closet Pelagian, until today.