Imitation Christianity

Imitation Christianity comes from Hebrews 13:1-7 and is a part of our Sticky Faith series.

At the start I need to encourage you to read and study the Scripture passage for today, and not tune me out if you are not a parent. Although this series is called Stick Faith, taken from a book to which Skip referred last week, my message this week and next week are all about living out Christianity and our faith in real life, whether you’re a parent or not.

How many of you remember the 1967 anti-smoking commercial, “Like father, like son?” It was about a father and 4-year-old son doing things together, and the little boy imitated the father’s actions: painting the house, hand signals while driving in the car, washing the car with a sponge and hose, throwing a stone on a country road, resting at the base of a tree together, and then dad lights up a cigarette, only to see the little boy pick up the pack, too. “Like father, like son?”

As a kid, I remember hearing the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, that is really not an option.

The lesson is that our children are constantly watching us, and they learn from us. The challenge is to always act as if our kids are always watching, because you know, they really are watching. As they get older, they will see whether our actions match our words.

The same goes for any follower of Jesus, people who are unchurched and lost look at YOU to discover if Christianity is real or fake. As believers, this is an awesome responsibility. Remember that witnessing is not so much what we go out and DO, a witness is who we ARE. Our choice then is to be a GOOD witness or a BAD witness. It depends on who we are imitating.

In other situations, people say that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” People can see someone they admire and seek to imitate them in there humor, golf swing, their attire, or some other preference or attribute. Think about sports icons, movie stars, and other famous people… that is why celebrity endorsements are so important. When the celebrity uses that product, we are more willing to take a risk and purchase that product.

The word imitation usually has a negative connotation because it would appear to be fake. “That handbag is an imitation.” “That jacket is imitation leather.” Or “My Bible cover is imitation leather, not real leather.”

Have you ever heard the compliment, “He’s a model citizen” or “She’s a model Christian?” I’ve had some concern over the term “model” because what does that phrase really mean? Especially when the definition of model, is basically, “an imitation of the real thing.” We want to be an authentic Christian, not an imitation or model Christian.

Today I’m going to talk about imitation Christianity. Not the fake stuff that people can use as evidence to prove that we are hypocritical in our behaviors related to our beliefs, but that fact that we are to imitate Christ, and the fact that others, like our children and unchurched people, will judge our authenticity by how we live out our faith in real life.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

I suppose there are none of us who will stand up and confidently say to anyone else, “Imitate me” or “if you want to know what a Christian looks like, look at me.” I am convinced that the longer we walk with Christ, the more we realize that we have so much farther to go in order to conform into the image of Christ.

Today we are looking at Hebrews 13:1-7, a passage that William Barclay calls the “Marks of the Christian Life…” To see this in the context of imitation, we have to take a look at the previous chapters to see the progression of Hebrews concerning living by faith:

  1. Examples of faith – Hebrews 11 – the power of Faith in Christ
  2. Encouragements to faith – Hebrews 12 – the power of Hope in Christ
  3. Evidences of faith – Hebrews 13 – the power of Love in Christ

So, faith, hope, and love, then it All Comes Down to LOVE…

Remember that LOVE is an action word, more than just that warm fuzzy feeling you get when that special someone walks into the room. If love is what defines us a Christians (John 13:35), then how does that love manifest itself in everyday life. Let me quickly suggest 6 ways we can demonstrate love, right out of this Hebrews 13 passage, and those around us can watch and imitate.

1. Community (Hebrews 13:1) – Literally (brotherly love, let it remain)

  1. Deep fellowship is not based on race or relationship, or nationality alone, but on the spiritual life we share together in Christ. Koinonia is all about sharing this common life in Christ.
  2. Fellowship based on anything else but the love of Christ will not last.
  3. When we “let love of the brethren continue,” (meno) it means that love must remain, abide, last, endure.

2. Callers (Hebrews 13:2) – I use the word callers (for someone who makes a short visit), basically, the command is to NOT neglect to show hospitality for strangers.

  1. Where there is love, there is hospitality; a great biblical example is the found in the times of the NT, travelers, no inn, dispersion (sent away from Jerusalem), itinerant preachers.
  2. An OT example of entertaining angels is in the story of Abraham (Genesis 18) where he welcomed the strangers who were said to be angels (meaning messengers).
  3. The command here is the word neglect. This word indicates the subject does the action to itself. So, you all remind yourselves to show hospitality. (There is the same use of remember in Hebrews 13:3).

3. Convicts (Hebrews 13:3) – We are to show compassion and concern for prisoners.

  1. Back in the day, Christians were arrested and imprisoned for their faith, so while identifying with prisoners may be dangerous, Christ’s love demands that we minister to them (Matthew 25:36, 40).
  2. “Remember” is the command in the sentence (you all).
  3. While we are not jailed for our faith, there are many parts of the world where Christianity is outlawed; so pray for the body of Christ around the world.

4. Companion (Hebrews 13:4) – Purity for spouse and other relationships

  1. The home is the first place where Christian love should be practiced.
  2. This text tells us to hold marriage in honor, but our nation has taken a path that does just the opposite.
    1. The first point is that marriage must be in the will of God; so, not to be unequally yoked, and that fornication and adulterous relationships have no part in marriage.
    2. Secondly, children watch mom and dad to learn how marriage works, and they will watch how you treat each other. While no one is perfect, and no marriage is perfect, in general, your daughter will grow up seeking a man like her father, and your son will grow up to be like his father.
  3. Beware of other sexual sins that kill relationships; we live in a culture of tolerance and acceptance of all types of behavior that cannot be described as pure or undefiled.

5. Contentment (Hebrews 13:5-6) – Our character must be free from the love of money; be content with what you have.

  1. When we love God and others as we should, then we will have a right relationship with material possessions.
  2. Covetousness actually means the love of money, or a love for MORE of anything, whether we need it or not. What does it take for a person to be satisfied? Usually the answer is, “little bit more.” We are able to earn money, but we are not to love it (Hebrews 13:5b-6).
  3. God promises not to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b). Contentment cannot come from material things that can never satisfy the heart, but God…
  4. God promises to be our helper (Hebrews 13:6). This verse comes from Psalm 118:6, a messianic psalm that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, which is a source of great peace to the early believers. During persecution, what can they do to me?

6. Conduct (Hebrews 13:7) – Imitate their faith, those who led you, the result of their conduct. The point is that we have the potential to impact others for the kingdom’s sake.

Ok, now let’s look at some OBSERVATION that is Practical; notice the acrostic W.A.T.C.H…

W – Worship

Corporate Worship: Kids are watching to see if you are involved in the…

  • Singing – are you singing or just standing there?
  • Reading – do you open up the Bible to follow along?
  • Praying – are you engaged, with head bowed, or checking your watch and smartphone?
  • Listening – How do you actively listen, taking notes to make comments later during the week, perhaps at dinnertime?
  • Giving – Parents, do your kids see you giving during the offering time, or is it always just passing the plate? Do they have something to put in the plate so they can practice giving?
  • Opening up to the Holy Spirit – How does the message move you, or the worship experience? Are you open to the movement of the Holy Spirit? Are you sensitive to the Spirit moving in your children? Are you able to guide them in spiritual matters?

Personal Worship: The times at home, in private.

  • Do they know about your person devotional habits?
  • Do they see you reading, praying, listening, pouring out your heart to God, seeking him, seeking his direction in your life, confessing, cleansing, adoring God, and thanksgiving?
  • Or perhaps your faith is just for Sunday mornings at 11:00. When our faith is not that big a deal to us, how can we expect the faith of our children be any stronger?

A – Actions

  • Do people see in your life the evidence of the Holy Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
  • What about in service to other people? Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.
  • I believe that our world is seeking authenticity in what we say we believe and how it affects our behavior and attitudes.

T – Testimony

  • How did you come to know the Lord? Do your kids or friends know how you came to faith in Christ? What you did to get saved? When it happened? Why it happened?
  • How did you know that God was speaking to you? How do you know when God is speaking to you NOW? How can your kids know that God is speaking to them? How can you encourage it?
  • How can you challenge others when they move in a direction that is contrary to the Bible?
  • How did your kids come to faith in Christ? How can you know for sure that they understand the gospel and what it means to be saved?

C – Church

  • Your attitude toward the church (worshipping, loving, giving, attending, praying)
  • Your activities in the church (serving, teaching, helping, supporting)

H – Holiness

  • How are you becoming more and more like Jesus Christ? We are made into the likeness and image of God, so how does God’s holiness flow out of you?
  • Are you honest with your kids or close friends about your struggles in life? Your disappointments? Fears? Hopes for yourself, for your family, for your children?
  • Are there sins over which you have victory? What about things with which you still struggle (sharing within reason)?

Sticky Faith and Next Steps:

  1. We get what we are – modeling sticky faith, we are the primary guides in our kids lives; they generally become that which we are, including faith, religion, prejudices, preferences, habits. How about anyone you are discipling? Are they imitating you because you imitate Christ? Or are you replicating yourself? Remember that water cannot rise above its source.
  2. We will get what our kids think we are – more important than what parents believe is what teenagers perceive their parents believe.
    1. Right or wrong, this is quite subjective because we can be totally sincere and authentic lovers of God and followers of Jesus and our kids can still think we are judgmental, bigoted, hypocritical, fakers.
    2. We must strive to life with integrity and live above reproach.
    3. If we don’t live in integrity, and we really are not living with authenticity, then student leaders “can’t out-teach what you teach at home (David Fraze). A positive guide can be, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, what evidence would there be to convict you?” Let the evidence speak for itself, the Holy Spirit will convict your kids of the truth.
  3. There are many ways to model and build sticky faith in front of your kids or other people – each parent has to find their own channel to stay in tune with Jesus, utilizing quiet times (in the morning, while jogging, driving to work), and devotional times, and reading.
  4. Who does God want you to invest in and impact?
  5. Why is it so difficult to be content? Honest self-evaluation.
  6. In what ways are you a Christian worth imitating?
  7. In what ways will you encourage a fellow believer this week?

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Why We Avoid Small Groups

Before you read this short list, know that it is not my goal to create internal tension or to be judgmental. Do know this… a believer who is unwilling to spend time with other believers in a small group will not…

  1. Experience a meaningful relationship with Christ: Christianity is lived out in community.
  2. Become a mature follower of Christ: without other believers holding you accountable, you will drift.
  3. Have the knowledge or passion necessary to lead their children toward Christ and His church: since the example is set, the children will follow a poor example.
  4. Be unable to speak wisdom to other believers: wisdom is gained through knowledge and experience, so if there is no experience of community, one cannot speak to the needs to others apart from the small group.
  5. Be a witnesses for Christ on an ongoing basis: one’s walk speaks louder than one’s talk, believing at a distance tells others that you are not “all in” to this Christianity stuff.

And so… I share the following five reasons that believers don’t join a small group:

  1. They don’t want to have an intimate relationship with Christ: most will prefer just enough of Jesus to get by rather than be totally committed.
  2. They don’t want to become a mature disciple: they prefer to just believe the right stuff and pay their dues by showing up to church, but don’t want to be a fanatic disciple of Jesus… that might be uncomfortable.
  3. They don’t care if their children become Christians: or attend church when they’re adults, or if their grandchildren are separated from them and Christ for eternity: if you are not excited about your relationship with Jesus, I guarantee that your kids have less of a chance to experience him in any real way. What we hand down to the next generation is caught more than taught.
  4. They don’t care about the other group members: it’s more than just going to a group in order to get something out of it, it’s about being there to help others be all they can be in the Lord. The group is designed to encourage, lift up and bear the burdens of ONE ANOTHER.
  5. They don’t care if Christianity in the west dies with their generation: Christianity is always just one generation from extinction, so what are we passing on to the next group of believers? The American church is stunted if we pass on a comfortable, me-centered, uncommitted and casual faith in a set of theological propositions.

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Why is Jesus Unique?

Why do we think that Jesus is the only Savior?

Because of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world. Consider the following ways in which Jesus alone qualifies as the exclusive Savior.

Christ alone was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). This alone qualifies him to be the Savior. Why does this matter? Only as the Holy Spirit takes the place of the human father in Jesus’ conception can it be true that the one conceived is both fully God and fully man. Christ must be both God and man to atone for sin (see below), but for this to occur, he must be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin. No one else in the history of the world is conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin mother. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone is God incarnate (John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-3, 2:14-18, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 2:5-6). So, Jesus alone qualifies him to be the Savior. As Anselm argued in the 11th century, our Savior must be fully man in order to take the place of men and die in their stead, and he must be fully God in order for the value of his sacrificial payment to satisfy the demands of our infinitely holy God. Man he must be, but a mere man simply could not make this infinite payment for sin. But no one else in the history of the world is both fully God and fully man. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

Christ alone lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 7:23-28, 9:13-14, 1 Peter 2:21-24). Because of this, Jesus alone qualifies to be the Savior. As Leviticus makes clear, animals offered as sacrifices for sin must be without blemish. The animals prefaced the sacrifice of Christ who, as sinless, was able to die for the sins of others and not for himself. But no one else in the history of the world has lived a totally sinless life. Therefore, Jesus alone qualifies to be Savior.

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What is Bad Religion?

Have you ever been disappointed or even angry with religion? Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that the church is full of hypocrites. Maybe you’ve even said that yourself!

This is a passage of Scripture that we looked at last night, the first is out series on Decision: Seeking God’s Guidance. At the end, you’ll see how this chapter fits into the topic.

Isaiah rebuked Israel for practicing bad religion—religion that benefited no one and offended God (Isaiah 58:1–14). The prophet specifically zeroed in on fasting (Isaiah 58:2–5), pointing out ways in which the people misused this important spiritual discipline:

  • They nagged God in the interests of their own personal gain.
  • While seeking their own self-interests, they exploited their laborers.
  • Their fasts became a source of strife, debate, and hostility toward others.
  • They used severe fasting practices to call attention to themselves.

After challenging these practices, Isaiah described what true fasting ought to be like (Isaiah 58:6–13):

  • It should result in bringing relief to the oppressed.
  • It should result in feeding the hungry.
  • It should result in the poor being taken into homes for shelter and clothing.
  • Superior attitudes of finger pointing and evil should decline and ultimately disappear.
  • It should lead to repairing things, including damaged relationships.
  • It should involve treating the Sabbath as a day to worship the Lord rather than continuing to work for personal gain.

It’s easy to point the finger at others and criticize or ridicule their religious practices and spiritual life, but what about your own patterns of faith? How do they measure up to the Lord’s description of true religion? If there are places where you need to change, find at least one other person who will hold you accountable for making the necessary reforms.

For me, Isaiah 58:11 ties this chapter to the key on seeking God’s guidance: The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. Pay attention to THIS chapter to better position yourself to hear from God and allow him to guide you.

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How to Please God

This ought to be the primary focus of all authentic followers of Jesus Christ. How can we claim to one of God’s children if we don’t seek to please God with our lives? Let’s take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1–12 for some guidance.

Living a Life that Pleases God:

  1. What We Are to Do:
    1. Live your life choosing to please God in all you do. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
    2. Live by growing in the knowledge of God’s ways, so study the Bible. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2)
  2. How We Are to Do It:
    1. Live holy and pure
      1. Live a life that is holy, or “set apart” from the ways of the world. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
      2. Live within God’s requirements for sexual purity. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
      3. Live a life that demonstrates self-control. (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
      4. Live a life that is holy and honorable. (1 Thessalonians 4:4, 7)
      5. Live without ignorance of God and his ways, lusting like pagans. (1 Thessalonians 4:5)
    2. Live with integrity in relationships with others. (1 Thessalonians 4:6)
    3. Live knowing that when you reject the Word and ways of God, you reject God. (1 Thessalonians 4:8)
    4. Live with brotherly love toward others. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)
    5. Live a quiet life, minding your own business, work with your own hands. (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
    6. Live a life that gains the respect of others. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)
    7. Live a life that is dependent on no one except the Lord, earn your own living. (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

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