In Disney’s animated classic, Peter Pan, there’s one scene that I end up parroting with children at one point in time or another– the “Following the Leader” song. Michael and John go off with the lost boys, and as they’re going through the jungle out to tangle with the “Injuns” that they are after, they sing a cute little song about following the leader where they imitate whatever John is doing. They go across a bridge, follow his motions, and try not to lose little Michael following along behind. I’ll embed the video further along, but anyone who’s seen this movie knows what I’m talking about.
What we see in this song, and in a lot of children’s games is the concept of following or imitating the behavior of a leader. And when it comes to the Bible, we are told that both Christ and Paul are examples for us to follow or imitate.
So imagine my surprise when I see this pop up on my Twitter feed a while back:
The ESV also renders this verse as be imitators of God. So what’s the deal here?
Satan, an Imitator?
I think we first have to start out by asking ourselves what it means to imitate someone. The Free Dictionary states that to imitate is:
1. To use or follow as a model
2. a. To copy the mannerisms or speech of; mimic
b. To copy (mannerisms or speech)
3. To copy exactly; reproduce
4. To appear like; resemblehttps://www.thefreedictionary.com/imitator
So, does this fit with what we know of Satan? No. Satan did not want to imitate God– he wanted to replace him.
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
Now it is true that he goes on to say that he will be like God, the obvious thrust in this passage is that he wants to replace him. Looking at other references, we see that Lucifer/Satan wants Jesus to bow and worship him. We only find Satan attempting to overthrow God, to lie and to seek to get the worship that is due God. If this is Satan seeking to imitate God, he’s terrible at it.
So I don’t find the argument that Satan is the one that imitates to be compelling at all.
If you read anything about how to improve your life, many will give examples for you to imitate– hopefully with the same results– whether it’s a diet plan to imitate, or workout videos that show you how to get muscle that you should imitate, or ways to start a website… There’s much to imitate, meaning to copy.
To say that a believer should imitate Christ is not saying they are trying to replace or fool anyone into thinking they are Christ, but to say they are copying the behaviors and decisions that Christ has made.
Is Follow Better Than Imitate?
You can be a bad follower just like you could be a bad imitator. I mean, Judas Iscariot followed Jesus. While it accomplished God’s plan, it didn’t turn out well for him! Many claim to follow God, and yet the book of Hebrews says that some of these are not following correctly and will be lost.
Follow gets some help because we talk about following people on social media– but that doesn’t mean we’re trying to be like the people we follow, just that we’re getting their opinion. If anything, you can learn more about who I admire by who I imitate rather than who I follow.
After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.
In any case, I chalk this whole debate up to the KJV Only people trying to find anything they can to differentiate themselves with other versions of the Bible in attempt to explain their idolatry of the text, rather than the writer of the text.