Can You Say, “Imitate Me”?

ApprenticeshipD.A. Carson asks, ““Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.” 

Unbiblical? How so? Well, because Paul gives us many examples of this when he told countless Christians to imitate him as they grew in their Christian life (1 Cor. 4:15-17; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9; 2 Tim. 3:10-11) and Paul tells his young pastors to do the same in their ministries as well (1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7-8). Christians are called to live in an imitatable way. Our lives should teach along with our words.

Dr. Carson recounts the power of this truth in telling a story from his student years:

As a chemistry undergraduate at McGill University, with another chap I started a Bible study for unbelievers. That fellow was godly but very quiet and a bit withdrawn.

I had the mouth, I fear, so by default it fell on me to lead the study. The two of us did not want to be outnumbered, so initially we invited only three people, hoping that not more than two would come. Unfortunately, the first night all three showed up, so we were outnumbered from the beginning.

By week five we had sixteen people attending, and still only the initial two of us were Christians. I soon found myself out of my depth in trying to work through John’s Gospel with this nest of students. On many occasions the participants asked questions I had no idea how to answer.

But in the grace of God there was a graduate student on campus called Dave Ward. He had been converted quite spectacularly as a young man. He was, I suppose, what you might call a rough jewel. He was slapdash, in your face, with no tact and little polish, but he was aggressively evangelistic, powerful in his apologetics, and winningly bold. He allowed people like me to bring people to him every once in a while so that he could answer their questions. Get them there and Dave would sort them out!

So it was that one night I brought two from my Bible study down to Dave. He bulldozed his way around the room, as he always did. He gave us instant coffee then, turning to the first student, asked, ‘Why have you come?’ The student replied, ‘Well, you know, I think that university is a great time for finding out about different points of view, including different religions. So I’ve been reading some material on Buddhism, I’ve got a Hindu friend I want to question, and I should also study some Islam. When this Bible study started I thought I’d get to know a little more about Christianity—that’s why I’ve come.’

Dave looked at him for a few moments and then said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have time for you.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ said the student.

‘Look,’ Dave replied, ‘I’ll loan you some books on world religions; I can show you how I understand Christianity to fit into all this, and why I think biblical Christianity is true—but you’re just playing around. You’re a dilettante. You don’t really care about these things; you’re just goofing off. I’m a graduate student myself, and I don’t have time—I do not have the hours at my disposal to engage in endless discussions with people who are just playing around.’

He turned to the second student: ‘Why did you come?’

‘I come from a home that you people call liberal,’ he said. ‘We go to the United Church and we don’t believe in things like the literal resurrection of Jesus—I mean, give me a break. The deity of Christ, that’s a bit much. But my home is a good home. My parents love my sister and me, we are a really close family, we worship God, we do good in the community. What do you think you’ve got that we don’t have?’

For what seemed like two or three minutes, Dave looked at him.

Then he said, ‘Watch me.’

As it happened, this student’s name was also Dave. This Dave said, ‘I beg your pardon?’

Dave Ward repeated what he had just said, and then expanded: ‘Watch me. I’ve got an extra bed; move in with me, be my guest—I’ll pay for the food. You go to your classes, do whatever you have to do, but watch me. You watch me when I get up, when I interact with people, what I say, what moves me, what I live for, what I want in life. You watch me for the rest of the semester, and then you tell me at the end of it whether or not there’s a difference.’

This Dave did not take up Dave Ward on the offer literally. But he did begin to watch him and to meet with him, and the Lord drew him. Today he is serving as a medical missionary.

Carson exhorts us all well:

You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, ‘Watch me.’

Come — I’ll show you how to have family devotions.

Come — I’ll show you how to do Bible study.

Come on — let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith.

Come — I’ll show you how to pray.

Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother.

At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me. (Taken from The Resurrection to His Return).

This little video captures the heart of the life that says, “Watch me”.

HT: Justin Taylor

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About Dana Dill

I am a happy slave of Jesus Christ, a thankful husband to Chawna Dill, and the youth pastor of South Shores Church. I'm here on assignment (Acts 20:24).
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