I'm grateful for the people that the Lord has placed in my life. There are many people who have influenced me that I'm grateful to have known. I'm even thankful for people the Lord has brought into my life that I would consider bad examples of life and faith. I have learned and continue to learn from each of them.
We're all imitating our influences to one degree or another. I would contend that in many respects, we may learn more through what we see in and copy from the lives of others than we learn by direct teaching, even though both are valuable.
Who have you been willing and eager to imitate? Who did you imitate 10 years ago? Who are you imitating now? Are the people you imitate helping to point your mind and heart to Christ? Are they giving you a greater glimpse of the mind and motivations of Jesus?
What does God's word tell us about the kind of examples of faith we should be imitating?
I. Leaders who actually live what they proclaim
Something I have become convinced of, more and more, is the importance of good leadership. Our culture needs good leadership. Our homes need good leadership. The church needs good leadership. When leadership is weak, dishonest, duplicitous, and isn't living above reproach, everyone suffers. When leadership displays a sacrificial spirit, integrity, and a desire to lead for Christ's glory, everyone benefits.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a struggling church that was down to just a few people. The people were delightful and pleasant, but they didn't know what to do to help their struggling church. They wanted advice and encouragement. From what I could see, one of their greatest needs was a sacrificial, Christ-loving, leader with a vision and a willingness to help them reach into their community by serving their neighbors and building bridges that helped people hear and understand the gospel.
In the context of this Scripture, the early church was given some advice regarding examples of faith worth imitating. Specifically, they were told to observe and bring to mind leaders who had made the word of God clear to them. Leaders who lovingly gave up the comforts and false securities of this world to come to them and help them understand who Jesus is and the implications of His gospel.
But let's be honest, there are plenty of people in this world who can be good talkers. We all have interacted with and been taught by many impressive communicators with the gift of teaching, but what happens when you really get to know them? Do their words match up with their manner of living? Do they practice what they proclaim?
In many respects, you can tell a lot about a man's character by how he behaves when he's under stress. How does he speak when he's emotionally worn thin? How does he treat you when he's worried about something? What does he reveal about the nature of his true hopes and sense of security when his circumstances are less than ideal?
The writer of Hebrews encouraged the church to consider the outcome of the way of life of those who had made God's word known to them. The truth is, if a man truly believes in Jesus Christ, his life will confirm the depth of his faith. Behavior follows belief. There are behaviors and blessings that will become visible in the life of a leader who truly believes what he speaks. Look at his household, they'll tell you. Look at how he interacts with people who have nothing material to offer him. Look at how he handles his position of authority. Can you see Christ in that man?
If you see the heart of Christ present in your leaders, then imitate their faith. Watch what they do. Let them teach you. If they're good leaders, they've probably experienced quite a few difficulties that helped prepare them and tenderize their hearts. Leaders who actually live what they proclaim provide a powerful example of faith in Jesus that's worth imitating.
II. Jesus who suffered to make us holy
Earthly leaders are certainly valuable examples of faith, but there's no greater example than Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh and dwelt among us. He lived, died, and rose from the grave. He defeated sin, Satan, and death and invites us to receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life through genuine faith in Him. He offers this to us as an undeserved gift because He's already paid for it on our behalf.
This Scripture reminds us that Jesus doesn't change. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the perfection of love, wisdom, and power. We were created by Him and we will never find a sense of peace or ultimate satisfaction until we find it through him.
In every generation, however, there are all kinds of strange teachings being promoted that try to drag us away from a pure understanding of what it means to find our strength and meaning through Christ. In our world, there are many false religions. In our culture, there are all kinds of false sources of peace and satisfaction.
If we aren't careful, we can start drifting toward believing strange teachings that all tend to come down to a dependence on what we do, instead of what Christ has done for us. That's the big difference between a false teaching and the truth of the gospel. If your faith is in the work of your hands and what you accomplish instead of in Christ and what He has already accomplished on our behalf, you're in danger of buying into a form of strange teaching that conflicts with the gospel.
One of the issues that the Hebrew Christians were being encouraged to become aware of in this passage was the false teaching that taught that they could earn the favor of God by what they ate or didn't eat. Yes there were dietary restrictions for believers during the Old Covenant era, but the point of those restrictions wasn't to earn God's favor. The point was to encourage them to live a life that was distinct and set apart from the pagan nations that surrounded them. Jesus ushered in the New Covenant when He shed His blood on the cross and believers are no longer required to practice the ceremonial, sacrificial, or dietary requirements of the Old Covenant. All of those things have found their fulfillment in Christ.
Dietary regulations and special foods have no capacity to change a person's heart. I am not a better Christian if I eat a chili-dog for lunch or if I eat a Caesar salad with grilled chicken. One of those options might contribute to better physical health, but the food we eat will never earn us the favor of God. Jesus suffered on the cross to make us holy. We don't have to torture ourselves to gain God's favor. Through faith in Jesus, we are forgiven and our relationship with our Creator is restored.
III. Sojourners who love Christ more than they love their own reputations
One additional example we're given of faith that's worth imitating is the example of men and women who lived as sojourners in this world because they loved Christ more than the comforts or praise that can come from being admired in this life.
During the Old Covenant era, on the Day of Atonement, the bodies of animals that were slain by the priests in ceremonial sacrifices, were taken outside of the camp and burned. It wasn't a pretty sight to see and I'm guessing it wasn't an enjoyable task either.
Interestingly, when Jesus came to this earth and died on the cross to shed His blood as a sacrifice for our sins, He was crucified outside the walls of the city.
His execution wasn't glamorous. He was taken to a place that was outside of the city because they didn't want the dishonor of His execution to take place within the city walls. Jesus was treated like refuse or garbage, even though He is God in the flesh and He was paying for the sin we had committed.
The challenge we're given in this passage is to be willing to put up with any kind of cultural shame that might come with being associated with Jesus. To be willing to go to Him, "outside of the camp." To be willing to bear the reproach that may come from living for Him because we're conscious of the fact that we are not here long and our true home is in a lasting city with Jesus, not a temporarily walled off human town.
A few weeks ago, my family went to an amusement park together. Those parks operate like their own world and sometimes, it's easy to start acting a little silly while you're there. In fact, at one point, my son told me for the small price of $2.00, he would be willing to sit awkwardly close to an overly affectionate couple that was seated on one of the rides we were on. (I didn't take him up on his offer, but now I think I should have). He was willing to embarrass himself a little because he was highly aware that we were only going to be there for one day. He wasn't overly worried about how he looked while we were visiting a temporary location. In a strangely similar way, we're reminded by this passage that we're just sojourners visiting our current location, and we shouldn't fear the shame some may heap on us for loving Christ.
So, what example of faith is the Lord inviting us to imitate? He's inviting us to imitate those who lead like Jesus and love Jesus more than they love their own reputations. He's inviting us to look to His example and be willing to joyfully enjoy our part in His family as we look forward to the day when we'll all live in His presence in a permanent city, built and fashioned by God Himself.
© John Stange, 2017