1 Timothy 4:12. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
The last thing we need is an example.
We must never preach Jesus as an example first. First he must be our rescuer. Our redeemer. Our giver of unconditional love and grace. To begin with Christ as example is to risk mixing law with gospel. It is to make Jesus the means to an end, rather than making him the end itself. Examples usually present us with something that we must do, rather than giving us something to simply receive. But the gospel always begins with receive. To begin with example is to begin with condemnation, when what we all really need is to begin with absolution. Real forgiveness, no strings attached. Real love, not requirements.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only absolution. It is not just forgiveness. It is not simply freedom apart from an ever deepening faith. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a life, Christ’s own life, placed into you. His heart. His desires. His affections. His mindset. And how does this life of Christ find its expression? How does the believer learn to release the life of Christ within?
Surely the answer is through the receiving, trusting, and obeying of the word of Christ. And, of course, the life of Christ finds its expression through the internal guidance of the Spirit of Christ in us. How can Jesus live his life through us? Only as we listen to his voice by word and by Spirit and follow him into a life of complete dependence upon our Father.
But is there one more step to all this? Is the last thing we need an example?
Some might push back at what is called mimetic discipleship (discipleship by imitation or by example). First, because, as we’ve already noted, we often think that if we stress imitation we are in danger of bypassing Christ’s unconditional grace and mercy and embracing a form of law. No doubt this can be a real danger in the Christian life. And second, we resist examples and imitation because they sure can come across as prideful – programmatic at best (take my discipleship course) and manipulative at worst (to be a good Christian you have to be just like me).
But let’s just pause for a minute and think about almost every other good thing in life. Where have we ever NOT needed an example to follow? How did you learn math? Or how to play piano? Or how to cook? Or more deeply, how to relate to others in love? How did you learn to walk with those who are suffering? Or how and why did you even come to receive Christ in the first place? Was it not from the word of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, AND the example of someone in the body of Christ?
How will Timothy’s Ephesian congregation learn to faithfully trust the good news of Jesus Christ alone? How will they learn to love one another deeply? How will they come to experience the freedom a life of purity brings? How does any child of God learn anything of Christ? Yes, they’ll read it in scripture. Yes, they’ll feel it in their spirit. And yes, they’ll hear it with their own ears and see it with their own eyes in the speech and conduct of an example. Hopefully a Christ-like example.
This is holistic discipleship. Truth and love not only preached, but also lived out. Christ declared and displayed. This kind of example of Christ is the last thing we need, but we sure do need it.
So who has displayed Christ to you? Who has taught Jesus to you? Not just about Jesus, but how to fully trust him with your whole life?
And who are you an example to? Who are you discipling? Who are you mentoring? Is there anyone that you encourage to look at your life in order for them to see the dependence and love of Jesus? If not, why not? Maybe it’s time to start training for godliness (day 314).
Remember your example might just be the last thing that a Christian brother or sister needs to get them moving forward in Christ again. Your example might bring clarity to the gospel they hear in the word and feel in their spirit. Your example of love and grace might just encourage another to pursue love and grace. Your life of purity might turn a heart back from the edge of sin. Your example of faith in Jesus might just carry someone further along into “to live is Christ.”
Would you say that you are an example of Christ?
You in Christ
How does Christ our savior empower us to be an example of Christ?
Christ in you
If Christ isn’t flowing out of you as an example, why not? What do you need to believe to change that?
Playlist: Christ our example.