Aristotle wrote that a human being is “the most imitative creature in the world, and learns at first by imitation.” The ability to imitate what we see, hear, and feel is a key aspect of human development. For the Christian, imitation is also the key to effectiveness in our witness. Our pattern for imitation is Jesus himself, and though we may not reflect him accurately in every circumstance, we should be progressively resembling him more and more every day as a testimony to his transformative power in our lives.
The dictionary defines a pattern as “a reliable sample of traits, acts, tendencies, or other observable characteristics of a person, group, or institution.” Consequently, the pattern for Christians becomes living in such a way as to reflect accurately the traits and tendencies of
Christ (the person), his followers (the group), and his Church (the institution). These traits and tendencies fulfill the critical purposes of attracting others to Christ and bringing glory to God.
In 1 Peter 2:11-12, the apostle Peter outlines for his readers the pattern for Christian living: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” From this text we see four keys to living out this pattern.
First, we must embrace our identity as exiles. Exiles are people living in a place to which they do not belong. They are pilgrims in a foreign land, often driven there by necessity or for a purpose. The Bible often speaks of believers in these terms. This world is not our home, the apostle Paul said, “for our citizenship is in heaven.” We do not belong in this world, yet we have been placed here to accomplish the work the Lord has given us to do. Rather than seeking to fit in with the world, we should embrace our identity as exiles and thereby differentiate ourselves from it. As long as we continue to see ourselves as citizens of the world, we will not set forth the proper witness to the world.
Second, we must fight against our own sinful desires which belong to our old nature not our new. In Christ, we have been set free from the power of sin in our lives. As such, we should no longer walk in the desires of the flesh but cast them aside in favor of following after a greater desire, to become progressively more like Jesus.
Third, we must present a godly witness to the world. No one likes to be called a hypocrite. And certainly, the Lord Jesus will not be pleased if we claim to know him but fail to reflect him in all that we do. In the historical context of 1 Peter, Christians were viewed with suspicion and hostility because they did not look, and act, like the culture around them. Our context is not all that different and neither is our response to it. We are to be honorable people, more accurately people of integrity, whose practice matches their preaching and who do not return hostility with hostility.
And finally, we must testify to the gospel through our good deeds done in the world. Early Christians were regarded as evildoers because they refused to compromise with the culture around them. Peter’s admonition was to overcome these accusations by doing good. So that even though we are regarded as counter cultural, the good we do is still attractive to the people around us. In this we reflect the pilgrim’s pattern and we let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).