Imitation as Sanctification

In the EEC Galatians commentary, after the commentary proper will be biblical-theological comments. Here's a draft of one such comment based on Paul's command to the Galatians to imitate himself in 4:12.

In the beginning of this paragraph Paul urges the Galatians to imitate himself in his approach to the Law (Gal 4:12). When with them Paul had stopped following specific Torah practices which would have inhibited his fellowship with them as Gentiles. Paul now encourages them in light of their desire to take up the Law to imitate him by going a different direction. A call to imitation occurs frequently in the NT. Contrary to contemporary sensibilities, which might view a call to personal imitation on the part of a church leader with suspicion of veiled vanity, the NT call to imitation of godly people is an appropriate response for believers who seek to follow Christ. Occuring frequently in paraenesis in the NT, calls to imitation are most frequently found in Paul, but he is not alone in his use of the concept. The person who is the object of the imitation is frequently Paul himself. Paul commands the Corinthians to imitate him because he is their spiritual father in Christ by virtue of the gospel (1 Cor 4:16). Paul commends the Thessalonians because they imitated him by receiving the gospel with joy in the midst of affliction (1 Thess 1:6). Paul commands imitation of his own example of ministry (Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 3:6–12). Paul is not the only center of attention, however. Paul commends the Thessalonians for their endurance under suffering in imitation of the churches in Judea (1 Thess 2:14). The author to the Hebrews encourages imitation generally of those who show faith and patience (Heb 6:12) and specifically of leaders whose lives embody faith (Heb 13:7). John encourages imitation of those who do good because good comes from God (3 John 11). The key theological link in this call to imitation is not simply reduplication of another’s character; the ultimate goal is the believer reproducing the character of God himself. Paul mentions this specifically on two occasions, once referencing Christ (1 Cor 11:1) and once referencing God (Eph 5:1). Thus the call to imitation has the ultimate goal of reproducing the character of God in the believer by means of following the example of godly individuals who in turn have imitated God.[1] As a very natural way to develop and learn, imitation in the NT becomes a sanctified means to practice holiness and develop godliness.

  1. See NIDNTTE 2:429, which states, “The Pauline statements contain a certain tendency to build imitatio into a hierarchical system (ranging downward from God to Christ, Paul, the congregation, and other congregations).”  ↩