My husband and I once adopted a little Banty rooster named Napoleon. While we were driving home with the rooster, my husband spotted a field of horses and was making his best attempt to get their attention, when from the back seat we heard a neighing sound - it was Napoleon!
The rooster's previous owners later informed us that Napoleon had spent his first couple years around horses. Napoleon was obviously not a horse, he just sounded like one; no matter what he did he'd always be a chicken. Napoleon was an impersonator. To impersonate means to pretend as in acting; to mimic the appearance or manner for the purpose of entertainment, profit, or fraud.
To imitate, on the other hand, means to seek to follow the example of, to take as one's model or pattern; or to have the same characteristics. The difference between imitate and impersonate has to do with our heart.
To imitate Christ (to become like Him) involves not only our heart but also the Holy Spirit. An example of that can be found in Acts 19:11-20. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul by healing the sick and driving out evil spirits. Learning of Paul's accomplishments, a Jewish chief priest and his seven sons, who were practicing exorcism for profit, tried to duplicate the miracles of Paul.
They tried to invoke the name of Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed without even knowing Jesus. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches." One day the demon possessed man answered them, "Jesus I know and I know about Paul, but who are you?" The man with the evil spirit then jumped on them and beat them severely.
The people of this pagan city (Ephesus) were so affected by what happened that they held the Lord Jesus in high honor. Many believed, openly confessed their sin and a number of those who practiced sorcery burned their scrolls publicly. Verse 20 says, "In this way the Word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (NIV).
These false "men of God" were Christian impersonators/impostors; they didn't understand that Paul's work came from the power of the Holy Spirit. Their motive and their hearts were in a different place. They were focused more on what they could gain (money and prestige) for themselves, than on changing the lives of people for good. Paul's heart was focused on Jesus. He understood that the power to change people was through Christ.
The original disciples followed Jesus for three years before his death and resurrection. Paul only had that one miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. With only one encounter, how could Paul say, "Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ"? Paul acknowledged Jesus as Lord, confessed his sins and surrendered his life to Christ. God removed his heart of stone and gave him a new heart and put a new spirit in him. From there, with the help of the Holy Spirit and obedience to God, Paul grew to know Jesus. Saul (Paul) was transformed by God from a persecutor of Christians to a preacher for Christ.
Living the Christian life is a process; sometimes the change is slow. Just like Paul, we need the power of the Holy Spirit and obedience to God to grow to be more like Jesus. The Corinthians did not have the New Testament to learn about Jesus. All they had were a few leaders in the new church. Just like the Corinthians, we have people in our lives that do not know Jesus. We are the closest thing to a Bible or an example they have to get to know Jesus.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and think about:
1. Can you look back over the last year and see a change for the better in your thoughts, attitudes, and actions? What areas need work?
2. Do you spend time studying the bible, praying and time with other Christians?
3. What kind of example are you to your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors?
4. Can you say to a new Christian, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ?"
If your answer is no, what can you do, starting today, to imitate Christ more?