Growing up I loved watching epic hero films. I loved them so much that I would inevitably adopt the culture and lifestyle of the heroes and live it out in my daily life. When I first saw Superman I decided to wear my red caped pajamas to school for remainder of the school week. I dyed myself green after watching The Incredible Hulk because I wanted to be like Lou Ferrigno. I only ate pizza after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I only wore underwear after seeing Masters of The Universe. In short, I entered into discipleship after these heroes.
Recently my daughter has begun to demonstrate this same adoption of culture and lifestyle. Only, it is not with superheroes — it is with Netflix-type shows. My wife has been watching Call The Midwife, a PBS period drama about obstetrical care in the 1960s in England. My daughter has occasionally walked in and asked what is happening on the television and so my wife explained as best she could that these women are pregnant and that these nurses are helping to deliver the baby. So, it came as no surprise that we found our daughter delivering small dolls from the stomach of her much larger teddy bear. Last night I swear I heard her yell out, “Oh no, the baby is in breach position.” My daughter also loves watching Dancing With The Stars. Soon she began mimicking the routines in her bedroom and then begging us to give her scores for her routine. But her favorite show is Fixer Upper. Shortly after watching the first season for third time we found our daughter yelling out “Demo Day” before banging on her bedroom walls. Afterwards, she came into our living room and said, “Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” before rolling back an invisible canvas in reveal of her remodel. And if we don’t begin crying and screaming, “Oh my goodness!” our daughter will instruct us to do so as it is in keeping with the tone of the show.
In reflecting on this humorous facet of parenthood, I began asking myself an important question: Why does my daughter imitate these shows in such precise detail with little to no apparent struggle? No one instructed her to obey the shows. No one told her that there were rules to follow. No one demanded that she work on her strict obedience to the shows. And yet I see her intuitively becoming a young disciple of Chip and JoJo.
The Great Commission, Discipleship, And Obedience
People who tend to talk about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, tend to emphasize three important things (teaching the Bible, going, and making disciples) and yet tend to miss one important thing — obedience to Jesus is the outcome of The Great Commission and the metric that Jesus’ gives for Christians to evaluate the effectiveness of their own personal ministries. Yes Jesus wants Christians to make disciples, and yes disciple making will entail going to places, baptizing people, and teaching the Bible. But obedience and life change is the metric for evaluating this.
So why is it that we might de-emphasize this key component of Matthew 28? Perhaps it is because obedience sounds so…well…old school. Obedience feels like the proverbial older deacon in the church who is yelling at us to slow down. There doesn’t seem to be any fun in obedience. We prefer focusing on fun things like teaching and going and the like.
But obedience is still a component of discipleship no matter how we feel about it. So is there a vision for embracing a joyful side of obedience?
Why Imitation Is Helpful For Obedience
Thomas à Kempis was a Dutch Catholic priest most notable for his work, The Imitation of Christ. The goal of this book, and the educational program that sprung from his book, was to train people in obeying Jesus through imitating everything Jesus did. Thomas discovered that imitation is like the sugar that helps the medicine of obedience go down with much less struggle.
What disciple-makers like Thomas have discovered is that obedience is inherent in imitation. When we strive to imitate someone we learn to obey, not out of dry obligation, but out of the joy before us. I became obedient to the Ninja Turtle way because of the joy of imitating their ways. My daughter is obedient to Chip and JoJo out of the joy of imitating their ways. Likewise, Jesus understood that if we can become enthralled with Jesus, we will begin to imitate Him in all things. And this imitation will involve obedience to everything He taught.
Imitation, then, is the vision for obedience to Jesus in discipleship. Imitation, then, puts all of scripture into a workable paradigm. Jesus’s teaching on loving our enemies, for example, not only makes philosophical sense as a teaching, but it becomes a way of life that we see Jesus living out. And we love our enemies out of imitation of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus’ teaching on not being anxious makes theological sense, but it also becomes a lifestyle imitation precisely because we see Jesus not being anxious.
So today, if you are someone who is struggling with obedience in a particular area, can I encourage you to stop trying to obey (in a dry, rigid, rule following manner). Instead, can I encourage you to spend your efforts reading the Bible to catch a vision about how Jesus is living then focus your efforts on imitating Him in that area?
Discipleship is not about following rules, it is about following Jesus. Discipleship is meant to feel like binge watching a Netflix show about the King of Kings and then immediately going to imitate Him in all things.