The goal of every Christian is to become like Christ. This is what God has in mind in one of the most beloved promises of the Bible: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The “good” in view is explained in the next verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).
All of our efforts at discipleship must keep this goal in mind. We want to help people grow in Christlikeness. That cannot be accomplished merely by teaching the principles of Christianity theoretically. Rather, to help believers grow as disciples, we must be willing not only to tell them how but also to show them how.
The Apostle Paul emphasized this “show and tell” approach to discipleship in his own ministry. That is why he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He viewed as inherent in his own growth as a disciple the responsibility to help others grow. So he invited other Christians to follow him as he followed Christ.
Paul reveals two commitments in this admonition. First and foremost is his commitment to be an imitator of Christ. Granted, Jesus is much more than an example for us, and no one will ever be made right with God simply by trying to imitate Him. Any devotion to Christ that does not arise out of sincere faith in Him as Lord is misguided sentimentality. That reality, however, should not keep us from fully appreciating the power that His example can be for us. As Octavius Winslow rightly notes:
There is no single practical truth in the Word of God on which the Spirit is more emphatic than the example which Christ has set for his followers to imitate. The church needed a perfect pattern, a flawless model. It wanted a living embodiment of those precepts of the gospel so strictly enjoined upon every believer, and God has graciously set before us our true model.
The whole character of Jesus’ life of obedience to God’s commandments shows us how, as His disciples, we are to live in this world. His call is the same today as it was when He walked the earth: “Follow me.” So, we are to pattern our love for one another after His love for us (John 13:34). We are to cultivate the mentality of a servant because we see that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). We are to endure unjust suffering with patience with the knowledge that this is part of our calling, because, as Peter explains,
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21–23)
Paul was determined to live in accordance with God’s revealed will just as Jesus had done in His earthly ministry. He pursued Christlikeness as a goal.