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The virtuous imitation of Christ

Read: Romans 8:28, 29

Most Christians are familiar with the verse ‘all things God works for the good of those who love him’.  We usually apply this verse to the circumstances of our lives, claiming that somehow God’s plan for us will always lead to our good.

This is often problematic, but it is also a superficial reading of the context of this section of the book of Romans.

Should we dare a quick overview of such a rich and nuanced section of Scripture, we see in that there is a struggle being described between sin and righteousness in the lives of Christian disciples (we might easily equate sin with vice and righteousness with virtue).  And here in chapter 8 we are told that the Spirit helps us in our weakness (8:26).  Might this be weakness of character?   Immediately after we find the famous verse concerning God ‘working things’ for our good (8:28).  Might ‘the things’ Paul has in mind be related to our character rather than to our circumstances?  And then we are told that we are meant to be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’ (8:29).  Might this mean that God’s plan for us is to shape us through the power of the Spirit to increasingly  exhibit the virtues of character of Jesus?

When we speak then of character education in terms of human flourishing, might the good news of the Gospel and the plan of God for us be to allow us to flourish in this way? If you want to engage a little more with this and with what Christian theologians call the recapitulation theory of the atonement, you may want to watch the video Virtonment.

Christian discipleship is about imitating Christ. But what does that mean?  The emphasis here is that the imitation of Christ has to do with the imitation of the virtues of character.   This is the core of the walk of discipleship.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (15th century) is probably the most famous ever Christian devotional book.  One only needs to look at the index, to immediately see that one of the core themes is the imitation of the virtues of Christ.   We find chapters like ‘Of thinking humbly of oneself’, ‘Of prudence of action’, ‘Of works of charity’ , ‘Of the good, peaceable man’, ‘Of self-esteem’, ‘Of gratitude for the Grace of God’…  and so on.

In chapter XIX à Kempis writes: ‘The life of a Christian ought to be adorned with all virtues, that he may be inwardly what he outwardly appeareth unto men.’

A prayer:  Oh God, who by your Spirit have freed me from the bondage of sin and vice, empower me by your Spirit to develop righteousness and virtue as I imitate and become conformed to the image of your Son. May my life be adorned with all virtues, that I may be inwardly what I outwardly appear to men.



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