Mimics from Birth
When I was in the seventh grade, I wanted to be just like my friend Meg. Meg had glossy blond hair that fell into a perfect pageboy. She had enviable clothes. She was funny, smart, and popular. She listened to cool music and carried the right purse. She had a figure, and a tan the color of honey. She knew things about makeup. She was pretty much perfection.
So I did what lots of middle school girls do: I got a pageboy haircut. I scoured the clearance racks for Meg-like clothes that I could afford with my babysitting money. I changed my speech patterns and musical tastes to match hers. I even tried to learn to walk with the same stride she had. I studied everything that made Meg wonderful and then tried to imitate it to the smallest detail. Never mind that I was six inches taller than she was, with pale, freckled skin and all the curviness of a ten-year-old boy. I made an in-depth study of her, and I did everything in my power to conform to her image.
I have often thought about this time in my life, both for what I did wrong and for what I did right. I was actually very good at recognizing what it took to effectively imitate someone—paying careful attention to her attributes. And I was even right to want to imitate perfection. But I was wrong to think I could find it in another human.
We humans are imitators. From the time we are babies, we imitate those around us. Sometimes we imitate actively, like when I tried to become Meg. Other times we imitate passively, like when we realize belatedly that we are turning into our mothers. Could it be that we are designed this way for a reason? That our propensity to imitate is actually intended for our good?
Ephesians 5:1 tells us to “be imitators of God, as dearly loved children” (NIV). Children who know they are dearly loved imitate their parents out of joyful adoration. They want to be like them. And this is the way we are called to imitate our perfect God: not out of a slavish middle-school desire to become better or different than we currently are, but out of a joyful recognition that he is lovely and completely worthy of imitation.
But know this: we will not imitate him by accident. We will certainly become our mothers without so much as trying, but we will not wake up ten years from now and find we have passively taken on the character of God.
Imitation of God happens in much the same way that it did in junior high, only this time, we have a much worthier object. Just as I made a study of my friend, we must make a study of our God: what he loves, what he hates, how he speaks and acts. We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned. We must make a study of him if we want to become like him. We must seek his face.
There are many good reasons to invest in learning God’s Word, but there is none better than this: that with every purposeful effort, with every perspective-laced reading, with every patient step forward, with each process-ordered attempt, with every prayer-infused interlude in the pages of Scripture, we move closer to his countenance, we come more directly in line with the radiance of his face. We see him for who he is, which is certainly a reward in itself, but it is a reward with the secondary benefit of being forever altered by the vision.
We become what we behold. Do you believe that? Whether passively or actively, we become conformed to the pattern we spend the most time studying.
Upon what is your gaze fixed? Your bank account? Your bathroom scale? Your child’s next accolade? Your dream kitchen? The latest blockbuster TV series? Your phone? It is the nature of this life that we must fight daily to make room in our line of sight for that-which-transcends. Many things hold a legitimate claim on our attention, but when our eyes are free from the two-year-old or the spreadsheet or the textbook or the dinner dishes, where do we turn them? If we spend our time gazing only on lesser things, we will become like them, measuring our years in terms of human glory.
We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned.
We Have Two Choices
But here is good news: the One whom we most need to behold has made himself known. He has traced with a fine hand the lines and contours of his face. He has done so in his Word. We must search for that face, though babies continue to cry, bills continue to grow, bad news continues to arrive unannounced, though friendships wax and wane, though both ease and difficulty weaken our grip on godliness, though a thousand other faces crowd close for our affection, and a thousand other voices clamor for our attention. By fixing our gaze on that face, we trade mere human glory for holiness: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
There are really only two possibilities in this life: be conformed to the image of God or be conformed to the pattern of this world. No doubt, you want the former. But be warned: The Word is living and active. It will conform you by dividing you. And in the dividing, miracle of miracles, it will render you whole. We become what we behold. I don’t know about you, but I have much “becoming” to do. There is a vastness between what I am and what I ought to be, but it is a vastness able to be spanned by the mercy and grace of him whose face it is most needful for me to behold. In beholding God we become like him.
This article is adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.
- How to Pray When You’re Struggling to Understand the Bible (Jen Wilkin)
- Podcast: How to Study the Bible (Jen Wilkin)
- Busting the Myth of Human Omnipotence (Jen Wilkin)