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FIRST-PERSON: Redemptive imitation

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–It often has been said the greatest form of flattery is imitation. If that is true, why do you think someone would imitate another? Why would someone dress, talk, walk or act like someone else? A person might imitate someone else because they see value and benefit. It may be a person’s style, appearance, popularity or success; but there is something appreciated by the imitator about the imitated.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, the Apostle Paul says, “you became followers [imitators] of us.” Why did the people of Thessalonica want to imitate Paul and his coworkers? In verse 5, Paul explains, “… our gospel did not come to you in word only [in other words, we did not just deliver the gospel through a sermon], but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.” How did they deliver the Gospel in much assurance? I understand “power” and the “Holy Spirit” — but “much assurance,” that is different. Paul tells how they did it in verse 5: “you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.”

Paul went to Thessalonica and shared the Gospel through word and deed. They lived out their faith among the lost each day. Many saw the benefit of the way Paul lived, learned truth from his teachings and became “imitators” of him. This is something Paul wanted people to do. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”

No story better explains this truth than that of Sam and Sonja Rivera. The Riveras had moved to Georgia from New York City and quickly became involved in the community. Sam coached his son’s little league baseball team, they developed many friends in their neighborhood and were enjoying their new lives and careers.

The father of one of the boys on Sam’s team invited him to attend a baseball clinic with several members of the Atlanta Braves. Sam, a baseball enthusiast, quickly accepted his invitation and brought the entire team. Toward the end of the day, John Smoltz shared a testimony about his relationship with Jesus Christ. That day, Sam realized he needed a Savior and responded when the invitation was given. After receiving Christ as Lord of his life, Sam went home excited about sharing his decision with Sonja. She became very unhappy with Sam and told him not talk with her anymore about this.

Sam was baptized the next week with his two sons in attendance, but not Sonja. Sam continued to attend church with his sons and he was rapidly growing in his faith. Several months later on a Sunday evening, I noticed Sam entered the worship center with Sonja. I went over to meet her after the service and asked if I could visit one night during the week. She accepted!

After arriving, we spent a few moments getting to know each other better. I asked Sonja if she would like to discuss how Jesus could transform her life. She did not say yes or no, but pointed at Sam and said, “That is not the man I married. He is so different. There is so much peace in his life. He is not the same man I married.” I have to say I was very excited to hear her words. I told her Sam was different because he had been born again.

I shared the Gospel with her and eventually asked if she was willing to follow Jesus. Her response was so unique it shocked me. I had never heard anyone respond that way before. Sonja looked at me and said, “Of course!” After pausing for a second or two, I gathered myself and led her in a prayer. We all three cried and rejoiced in how God was blessing their family.

On the way home I was thinking of her response, wondering: Why “Of course”? Then it hit me. (I am a little slower than most.) After living with the old Sam for nine years and with the new Sam for three months, she was an eyewitness to what happens to a person who follows Jesus. Who wouldn’t want Jesus? As a former colleague Jack Smith, now on staff at the Atlanta-area Dogwood Baptist Church, would say, “If my neighbors knew what I had in Jesus, they would chase my car down.”

The people of Thessalonica and Sonja were able to see clearly the difference Jesus can make in a person’s life. The results were the same. They became followers of Christ.

In some circumstances, God uses our lives as much as He uses our words to communicate the Gospel. We should be following Him so closely that the Gospel is delivered in “power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance.” When the world sees Jesus in us, they will see the value and benefit of being a Christ follower. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Thomas Hammond is director of personal and mass evangelism for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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  • Thomas Hammond