When I was in high school, I played basketball. One afternoon, my coach decided to forego practice and take us to see a movie instead. The movie was Hoosiers. Set in 1951, it told the story of Coach Norman Dale, who led a small, ragtag team of Indiana farm boys to the state championship.
My coach took us to see Hoosiers for two reasons: inspiration and imitation. We, too, were a small, ragtag team that regularly played larger, more talented teams, and coach wanted to inspire a fighting spirit within us. But he also wanted us to imitate Jimmy Chitwood, the star player on Coach Dale’s team. Jimmy always squared up for his shots. He always tucked his elbows in when he shot. He always followed through with his wrist. He always went to the boards for a rebound. Coach wanted us to do the same.
In life, as in basketball, we learn by imitation. As young children, we imitate our parents. As adolescents, we imitate our peers. As adults, we imitate—or at least try to keep up with—the Joneses. Imitation is inevitable. The real question is not whether we imitate, but who we imitate.
As Christians, we are expected to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4.1). Whose “walk” is worth imitating? God’s, of course! Consider Ephesians 5.1–2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
How do we imitate God? Certainly not by becoming gods ourselves! There is an infinite, qualitative distance between Creator and creature that simply cannot be bridged. We are not eternal, for example, and we cannot become all-powerful or all-knowing. Some Mormons proclaim, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be,” in the words of LDS Apostle James E. Talmage (1862–1933). Some New Agers speak of the “divine spark” within us. No Christian says these things. We simply cannot become God. But we can become like God, at least in terms of our moral character.
How so? Paul commands us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Implicit in this command are two profound theological ideas. (1) God is love (1 John 4.8). And (2) his love is most fully expressed through Christ’s death on our behalf (Romans 5.8). The more we imitate God, therefore, the more loving, self-giving, and forgiving we should become.
My basketball coach wanted my team to shoot like Jimmy Chitwood. Square up. Tuck your elbows in. Follow through with your wrist. Hit the boards. Shooting like Jimmy Chitwood didn’t happen overnight, however. We had to unlearn bad ways of shooting and learn new ways.
Walking like Jesus Christ isn’t easy either, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But every time we love a little more, give a little more, and forgive a little more, we become more and more like God.
P.S. If you want to know how Jimmy Chitwood shot, watch this video: