When I was in highschool I read this book about the great basketball player Pete Maravich. He averaged 44.2 points per game in college ball one year. He was great in the NBA too. Some of the moves you see in the NBA today were pioneered by Maravich. He became one of my heroes and I was inspired by his life. I was never much of a basketball player but after I read about Maravich I improved dramatically. I read about how he was a gym rat, so I became a gym rat. I read about how he practiced, so I began to practice that way. I learned to shoot the way he shot. I learned some great basketball moves by imitating Pete Maravich’s basketball moves. The result was I played some of the best basketball of my life after imitating Maravich. Not that I ever approached his level. He was 6’5″, I’m 5’11”. He was fast, I’m slow. He could jump, I can’t. His Dad was a D1 basketball coach, my Dad wasn’t. The list goes on. But even so, for me, I improved dramatically after studying and imitating Pete Maravich to the best of my ability. (Although, after all that improvement, I refused to play for my highschool team–because the coach said he would make me cut my hair. I know what you’re thinking. I know, I know…)
Today I read another book, but this book is about imitation. In it the author made this observation:
“…imitation is simply inescapable. From birth to adulthood, imitation drives our behavior and beliefs. Peer pressure, the herd mentality, word of mouth and other social factors and processes create fresh plausibility structures that facilitate experimentation with drugs, religion, facial hair, sushi and new television programs. We rarely adopt a child, try a new diet or engage in fasting and prayer unless exemplars model these actions and the mindsets that make the actions possible. We keep up with the Joneses, sometimes with reckless abandon, sometimes almost subconsciously duplicating their patterns of speech, consumption, dress and recreation. We don’t often use the word imitation to describe these phenomena, perhaps in part because we love to think of ourselves as unique and independent actors. But we are all imitators, shaped in a thousand ways by what we see and hear around us.” (Jason B. Hood)
Science And Imitation
Science backs up Jason Hood’s observations. I’ve written before about a topic related to imitation called social norming. The economic behaviorist who hosts the podcast Freakonomics sometimes points out examples of this phenomena. If you’re interested you can check out the episode called Riding the Herd Mentality. (A further description of the podcast episode is: How peer pressure can push people to do the right thing.)
The whole deal with social norming is that each one of us believes with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind that “I am my own man (or woman). And while others may be susceptible to the influence of who they surround themselves with, I think for myself.”
But over and over again science says otherwise. I’ve heard it proven in research multiple times on the Freakonomics podcast, and by Arizona State University professor Dr. Robert Cialdini, and also in research cited by Malcolm Gladwell. The influence of those we’re surrounded by is consistently underestimated. But it turns out it’s one of the most powerful forces there is when it comes to what determines our thinking and behavior.
Jesus And Imitation
All this brings us, finally, to Jesus. We left off in our last post on the book of John with the religious leadership of Jesus’ day angry and offended by Jesus because he kept healing on the Sabbath.
And Jesus responded: My Father works this way–I work this way.
So now the religious leaders go from angry and offended to enraged. Because in that culture when you framed your relationship with God in the specific way Jesus did, it meant you are God’s equal. Jesus tells them God is his Father in a unique way, in a way that doesn’t apply to them. So they flipped out. And they decided to get serious about assassinating Jesus. (If you’re interested in the answer to the question Is Jesus God? You can read about it here: Is Jesus God?.)
So now the leaders are furious with Jesus. But Jesus responds,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (John 5:17-20)
Jesus starts from a place of complete humility: “…the Son can do nothing of his own accord…” Always a great place to start. If you can learn to live from this place of complete humility, I promise it will be one of the most freeing changes you’ve ever made in your life.
And then he says, he can only do “what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the son does likewise.”
Do you see it? We who are made in God’s image are profoundly empowered and influenced, and inspired when we see what someone does and then imitate it. And that’s how Jesus functions too. That’s how he operates. That’s what made him elevate human need above the man made rules of the religious leaders. Jesus does what he does, he lives how he lives, and he loves how he loves because he sees the Father doing, living, and loving that way.
Jesus imitates his Father.
How God Went Digging In The Mud To Make A Mirror
Jason B. Hood writes that the Biblical pattern of imitation begins with God in Genesis. “Imitation starts with God,” Hood writes, “who went digging in the mud to make a mirror.” God created us in His own image (from the dust–or mud as Hood puts it). So it’s no wonder we’re so impacted by the power of imitation.
He wants us to imitate.
He designed us to imitate.
He wants us to imitate Him, and His Son.
He wants us to live in Jesus’ likeness even as Jesus lived (and lives) in His image.
We saw how Jesus imitates his Father and in a similar way, you and I are to imitate Jesus. Not in our own energy. We should start as Jesus started when he said, “…the son can do nothing of his own accord…” We should imitate Jesus as a response to what he has done to save us. We should imitate Jesus out of our love for Jesus, because he loved us first.
If you’re a Christ follower, you might be surprised at how much you practice imitating Jesus already. When you’re at your best you imitate Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus doesn’t lie, neither are we to lie. Jesus doesn’t steal, neither are we to steal. Jesus doesn’t covet, neither are we to covet. And so on.
Of course we fail sometimes, and when we do, we sin. But even in sin we reflect Christ’s redemption when we redeem and reconcile relationships as we recover from sin. And we reflect Christ’s mercy when we forgive those who sin against us.
So Much More
At the beginning of this post I wrote of reading a book about Pete Maravich. It was a thin, poorly written, cheaply made, paperback of less than 100 pages. I didn’t have YouTube videos. None of my friends were big Maravich fans. I didn’t have the help of Pete Maravich experts who could exposit on how he played basketball. I didn’t have much of anything. Just that crummy little book.
We have so much more in Jesus Christ. He left us with his Gospels, the writings of his disciples, and the inspired Bible in its entirety. He left us with access to him through prayer. He left us with a community of people, who also seek to conform to his likeness, for us to connect with. He sent us his Holy Spirit. He sent so much to help us imitate him.
Like my imitation of Maravich, we’ll never achieve the level of Jesus. Jesus is so much more than we are. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, when we’re intentional about imitating Jesus, we can be so much more like him than if we’re not intentional about the practice of imitation. I think you probably already know that’s true. Especially if you’ve already watched this video of an example of what I’m talking about, in the context of basketball and the NBA.
The propensity to imitate is part of being human. God created us that way for a reason. He created us that way so we can use it to reflect Christ.
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
And he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Jesus commanded us to love “…as I have loved you.” We’re commanded to imitate Jesus. We’re commanded to imitate because the impact of imitating and social norming are some of the most powerful means of changing who we are.
What is being said here is, “Use it.” Use imitation. Study Jesus with 1,000 times the intensity I studied Maravich, and imitate him.
And use the power of social norming. Find others who desire to be conformed to Christ’s image and do whatever you have to, to connect with them.
References and Resources:
Jason B. Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing A Biblical Pattern, InterVarsity Press Academic, 2013
Image via Daniel X. O’Neil – Creative Commons
Imitation is good provided we imitate the right things/persons. For us as Christians, Jesus Christ is the ultimate One for us to imitate
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