Over the past couple years there has been quite a conversation online concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Much of that has been helpful. As I've been reading Sinclair Ferguson's, The Holy Spirit, (excellent book!) I really appreciated his words on our effort in imitating Jesus throughout the process of sanctification. Read his words carefully below.
If the glory of God is the ultimate goal of all things, including our sanctification, conformity to Christ is the immediate goal of that sanctification. We are called to be like him. Our corresponding responsibility is to become like him.
While the notion that the imitation of Christ is the foundation and essence of the Christian life is clearly unbiblical, it would also be deficient to develop a doctrine of sanctification that gave no attention to this New Testament emphasis. For the goal of the Spirit’s ministry in sanctification is the reproduction of likeness to Christ, and in this sense to produce the imitation of Christ. It therefore involves following Jesus Christ, taking up the cross and denying self. Indeed, the last two elements are really continuing applications and expositions of the first.
In the context of addressing suffering Christians, Peter notes that Christ had given his disciples an example. The term he uses [hypogrammos] refers to the teacher’s copper-plate by imitation of which the child learns to write (1 Peter 2:21).
The imperatives of the gospel are thus to be viewed as the concrete outworking of the imitation of Christ. In the same vein, the life of the holy love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is imitation of Christ. The fact of our participation and communion with him through the Spirit makes imitation possible; the exhortations of the New Testament give that imitation concrete form and specific direction.
This is already plain in our Lord’s girding himself with the servant’s towel (Jn. 13:1ff). While this was an acted parable of his work, it also served as the teacher’s copper-plate: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example [hypodeigma; we might say “paradigm”] that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ (Jn. 13:14-15, 17;cf. 14:26 for the role of the Spirit in this context).
The principle of imitation is explored in various ways in the rest of the New Testament. Two obvious examples must suffice. Philippians 2:1-11 urges us to grow in Christian unity. The secret of this unity is humility: the mind that we have in union with Christ and in the fellowship of the Spirit is to be the mindset we exercise with respect to one another, counting each other of greater importance than we count ourselves. Similarly, Romans 15:1-7 urges us to seek the blessing of others, and not to please ourselves. Why not? Paul’s answer is one of simple but devastating eloquence. Christ did not please himself (15:3). The implication is so powerful it does not need to be spelled out. Do what Christ did; imitate him because you are his and his Spirit indwells you.
- Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (emphasis mine)