Not imitation but incarnation

ImitationoflifeThere’s a world of difference between imitation fruit and living fruit on a vine or tree. And there’s also a world of difference between what you think you should do for Christ and having Him live His life through you. One is imitation, the other is incarnation.

So, my question is, which of these describes your Christian walk?

The reason I ask is that I hear well-meaning Christians talk about how we should love others because Christ showed His love to us. Well, it depends on what you mean by that.

If you’re saying that we should go out and try to love people because we’re supposed to, almost like a “pay it forward” thing, that’s the flesh. That’s like saying, “What would Jesus do” in a given situation and trying to copy that behavior.

But what did Jesus actually do? He said that He and His Father were one (John 10:30); that if you’ve seen Him you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). This didn’t make Jesus the Father; it meant that He lived from the Father.

Remember, He emptied Himself (Phil.2:5-8).

Then He told us to do the same, to abide in His love as He abides in the Father’s love (John 15:10). This is not intimation; this is incarnation.

Here’s the problem. Imitation Christianity tells us what we ought to do, and not do, because of what we read in the Bible. But incarnation Christianity says, “This is what it looks like when Christ is living through you.”

Do you understand the difference? Because they are actually the opposite of one another. One is flesh, the other is walking in the Spirit.

No matter how real the fruit in the picture above looks, it’s actually plastic. It’s not real, it has no life and it’s not good to eat! The same is true with our imitation Christianity.

Let me give you a case in point. Jesus told us to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; then love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

My question is, can you honestly say that you’ve ever actually done that? All? Really? Because the truth is, we can’t even follow this one single commandment on our best day! We hit and miss, we hold back, we keep our distance from God and others. Our love is conditional, preferential and portioned out.

You see, Jesus told us these things to bury us in our own self-righteousness.

But religious, self-righteous people actually think they can and should do it. And because they think they are doing it, they feel obligated to judge anyone who isn’t.

In this imitation world, we still haven’t actually come to Christ. We still need the unyielding, stainless steel, perfectionist called the Law to bring us to the end of our subjective rule-keeping (Gal.3:24-25).

I’m not even saying that we’re not saved. That happens by grace through faith alone. You can be a royal son of the King and still act like a homeless orphan. What I’m saying is that we still haven’t found the life Christ paid for.

Imitation Christianity preaches 1 Cor.13:4-8 and tells us we should stop being impatient, rude and proud. You might say, what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that it’s the flesh’s way of trying to make it happen. It actually hinders and opposes the life of Christ.

It strengthens our flesh and hardens our self-righteous veneer.

But when we finally see our utter inability to even follow one command sufficiently, we understand what Paul is talking about–that this is what love looks like when you’re abiding on the vine…in Christ.

Therefore, this New Covenant, led by the Spirit, turns Jesus’ commands into promises.

So, while religion can be imitated, the life of Christ must be incarnated. Here’s what Jesus said in this regard…

Most assuredly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink His blood,
you have no life in you.” (John 6:53 NKJV)

He wasn’t being cannibalistic, He was telling us that the life is in Him, not in our rules, our religious rituals or trying to be good like Him.

It’s only found in His life living in our life.

Jesus’ teachings actually made obeying the Law quite impossible…and, if you can receive it, irrelevant.

We are to live from Christ’s life. Period.

What don’t we get about “apart from Me you can do nothing“? (John 15:5)

Beloved, our life is literally found by receiving Him. And this results in His Spirit changing us, transforming our heart, to where it now becomes like His heart. He behaves through us.

We don’t view Jesus from the outside anymore, trying to imitate what He did. Rather, we encounter His love when we receive it into our hearts by faith.

Then we stay there (“abide”), and out of the overflow of our transformed heart, extend the same love to others.

That’s His love, not our imitation.

For Christ is now incarnated in us and we are hidden in Him (see John 17:21; Rom.6:2-6; Gal.2:20; Col.1:27; 3:3).  For our real life is found in this Divine union, not in our religious imitation.

So what do you think about this? Does what I’m saying make sense to you?

 Photo credit: by V Fouche (modified) | used by permission from freeimages.com.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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12 Responses to Not imitation but incarnation

  1. dcummuta says:

    Yes… I think if we’re honest we could all say this painfully makes prefect sense, but it’s a good hurt. Another session of prying our white knuckled hands from the reigns of performance. Thank you Mel.

  2. Cindy Powell says:

    “Imitation Christianity tells us what we ought to do, and not do, because of what we read in the Bible. But incarnation Christianity says, ‘This is what it looks like when Christ is living through you.'” Yes, yes, yes – you are making plenty of sense! I think I HAD to get this because I am just such a lousy imposter. Some people are strong enough to make a good show of it on their own, but I never was. This is why one of my favorite saying is that “intimacy with God is NEVER based on performance.” If it was, I would have been counted out before I ever started because I was never able get the whole churchianity “need-to-look-good-on-the-outside-and-keep-all-the-rules” thing down very well. Thankfully, though, His grace grafted me IN–a much better place to be! 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, and amen! I wasn’t a very good rule-follower. But I had a ton of pride in other ways. God very efficiently showed me how much I clutch on to my self–preservation, fear and self-absorbed behavior. Of course, He does so by loving it out of me. 🙂 Blessings.

  3. TK says:

    When I read your blogs, I always find myself wanting to ask questions about rules. Do you believe A is a sin? What about B? But I feel like just asking might prove I don’t understand. What I’m hearing is there are no specific rules as we have been taught by traditional Christianity. Instead, there’s this sort of letting go… emptying of yourself as you say. Perhaps what is right and wrong for those who do that will be different for each person, depending on what their calling is in life.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Great questions, as always, TK. It deserves a thorough answer. 🙂 First, understand that “sin” is defined biblically as “missing the mark.” We should ask, missing what mark? It’s missing God’s nature, His design for our lives, which is always revealed and motivated by pure love. For instance, I would never steal from you, lie to you, or hurt you in any way if I really loved you. We throw around this word, love, very loosely in our culture, but God’s love always does what’s best for the other person because you’re intimately connected with that person at a deep heart level. Love looks like two people becoming one. This is how God loves us.

      Paul said that the rules (called the Law) were added to reveal just how sinful we were in our flesh (self-effort). They were meant to reveal our misguided heart and chronic self-serving motives. But the rules are not the problem; it’s our desire for counterfeit affections and things that are toxic to our soul, and that hurt others. So, the transformation must come to the heart, not just with our outward behavior.

      We must understand, once and for all, that following rules will never change our hearts. They only harden our hearts. Paul said that rules are for rule-breakers, not for those whose hearts have been made one with God. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit.

      So, while we still need rules to keep law-breakers in check, they will never make us righteous, nor right with God.

      Christ came to bring freedom from sin’s deceptive stranglehold on our lives. He does this by transforming our heart from the inside-out. So that we will do what we do, not because of rules, or no rules, but because it’s our heart’s desire to do what’s best, for our heart is in sync with God’s perfect love. I Hope that makes sense.

  4. So much difference between abiding and following rules. Been rereading Romans this week; I can’t even write about it yet, I’m so in awe of the gift of the Spirit. Religious law takes us down a path of judgment – of others and ourselves. Abiding is surrendering to an openhearted faith and trust in God’s faithfulness and love. It’s powerful, and overwhelming at times, yet filled with joy and peace beyond description.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, Susan. It’s His life that’s empowering us, leading us and changing us. Rules can never change us, only make us comply, resist or hide. It does nothing for the heart. But when His love comes rushing in, He changes us and makes us want to love others with a heart full of grace. And being overwhelmed with love, filled with joy and peace beyond description is a sure indicator that it’s God doing it! Blessings.

  5. Ayanda says:

    Yes it does Mel. Grace scandalises the flesh and strips us naked of what we thought we had on. (Our self rightousness posing as real rightousness), righteousness is not in what we do but rather what Christ did for us. I am still learning that :-).

    Inedvertantly when we talk about leaving the imitation behind we worry about becoming depraved but the truth is without the blood of Christ, without what Christ did for us on the cross we are depraved and we are corrupt (like corrupt software), the Law shows us that in that it is impossible for us to keep it because the Law is good and demands perfection. So it is scary when you first let go of the Law its like going to varsity for the first time without the school structure and rules, without our parents to keep us in check.

    So thank God for the Holy Spirit. What I am realising is when I stop looking at the things that I must do under the Law and put my eyes on my relationship with Christ somehow I am transformed. For example. I realised that there though I wanted to forgive people who have hurt me I was startled to find that I hadn’t forgiven at all, I was trying so hard to forgive because I wanted to please God but the harder I tried the more the wounds manifested themselves and so in pain and defeat I went to God about it and He asked me one question ” Do you believe that I have forgiven you?” (Not an angry question mind you but rather as a teacher probing a student or a father probing a son) In truth I was still holding certain sins up to God as though they were a monument.

    So I started learning and observing how God had forgiven me and how He deals with to me when I don’t get things right (in my case He always tells me He loves me and He values me) and then as if suddenly I found forgiveness for others seeping into my life.

    My point is we try to imitate because we love God and we want to do right but in our trying we are being subtily deceived by the flesh to self effort and the resulting fruit is fake and if we are honest with ourselves we know it is fake. I may not have physically killed the people who hurt me but I sure have killed them within myself in other ways eg I cut people off, I banished them from my life and they became dead to me. (Which is still a cleverly concealed mass murder)

    However when we abide in Christ and watch what our Father does as if by magic real fruit starts to manifest in out live. ( I hope this makes sense) 🙂

    As always thank you Mel for partnering with God in your blog, if these were just your words they wouldn’t bring me life, because my spirit wouldn’t understand them. But because they are word of partnership with the Holy Spirit I find life.

  6. Mel Wild says:

    This makes perfect sense, Ayanda. You’ve got it! A couple things you said I want to repeat and comment on because they’re so good… 🙂

    “Grace scandalises the flesh and strips us naked of what we thought we had on.”
    Amen! Wonderfully put. This revelation can only come by way of the Spirit revealing it to us. Otherwise, we will continue in our delusion of self-righteousness. We must take that step of faith into the wild wonder of God’s amazing grace.

    “So it is scary when you first let go of the Law its like going to varsity for the first time without the school structure and rules, without our parents to keep us in check.”
    This is SO true. Like here in the US, when college students are finally out from under the yoke of their parents, like prodigal orphans, they indulge their misguided hearts. Real freedom in Christ is really quite unnatural for us, which is why we will have a tendency to prefer a religious cage of confinement to being guided by the Spirit. It’s no accident that religion in Latin means to “bind again!”

    But a “son” who knows who he or she is in the Father’s embrace has a truest freedom that leads to life and fullness of joy. For when we find our life as “accepted in the beloved” we don’t need the counterfeit affections anymore.

  7. Amen! Growing up I always had the “WWJD” mentality, where I would try to live by the Bible merely from my own efforts instead of Jesus living through me (and would fail miserably quite often!) It all changed when I realized that it was by abiding in Christ daily that He would help me love others in a way only He could and live a life that glorifies Him not because of rules I try hard to follow but because of an overflow of my relationship with Him. Thank you for the post and much-needed clarification for all of us of what it really means to not imitate Christ by our own efforts. Have a blessed day!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yup, abiding is where its at! Funny how long it takes for us to figure that out. It took me about 20 years!
      Thanks, Anna. Your encouraging comments and insights are always appreciated. Blessings to you too.

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