When we go to school or a lecture or seminar, we’re typically looking to find out what the teacher knows. And it’s rare for most of us to have a continuing relationship with a single teacher, unless you’re in an apprenticeship situation. We tend to think of teachers as people you get information from, not necessarily someone you mimic or have a relationship with (though it’s great when that does happen).
These assumptions color how we respond to the Bible’s description of Jesus as Teacher or Rabbi (Matt. 19:16; John 1:38, for example). Being a student of this type of teacher goes beyond just listening to what he has to say. The relationship between a rabbi and their disciples, or talmidim in Hebrew, went deeper.
those who leave family to study and follow the ways of their teacher [rabbi]. They study not only to learn what their teacher knows but to become the type of man their teacher is.” (Psalm 11918.org)
Being taught in this sense isn’t just about taking in knowledge. It’s about changing who you are and how you think.
Our Two Great Teachers
We’re not just pulling this idea that disciples of Jesus should become like Him out of Jewish tradition. It comes straight out of the Bible. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, WEB). That’s our goal — to become exactly like our Teacher. And while this title is usually applied to Christ, it also includes God the Father.
It is written in the prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who hears from the Father, and has learned, comes to me. (John 6:45, WEB)
Both member of the God-family are closely involved with teaching us. And as we learn from them, we’re to become like them. The idea that we can become like God is so incredible it’s almost unbelievable, but that really is our ultimate goal (1 John 3:1-2). They mean for us to become part of their family and even share in their oneness (John 17:20-23).
Patterned After God
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about how we need God’s spirit in us to learn the things God gives us. God’s truths don’t make sense to “the natural man … because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9-15, WEB). We need God’s spirit to unlock our minds and transform them. And this process results in us developing “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16, KJV).
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5, KJV)
As our Teacher, Jesus is the template we pattern ourselves after. The more we become like Him, the closer we are to being full-grown Christians who’ve attained “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, WEB). Growing up as a Christian means growing into being like Christ (Eph. 4:15). We are learning to be like Christ from Christ as we put off who we were before and “put on the new man” patterned after God’s holiness (Eph. 4:20-24).
Our Role As Mimics
Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. (Eph. 5:1, WEB)
The Greek word translated “imitators” in WEB and “followers” in KJV is mimetes (G3402). It’s root word is mimos, a mimic. We’re to be following the Father and Jesus by mimicking what we see them do with the goal of becoming just like them.
Mimicking goodness is part of the pattern of Christian life. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, WEB. See also 1 Thes. 1:6; Heb. 6:12). All faithful Christian disciples and teachers are working towards the goal of being like our great Teacher, Jesus. On a related topic, this is also how you can tell if a human teacher is trustworthy — they’ll be imitating Jesus and urging you to do the same.
You can tell which teacher disciples are following by the way they act and speak. The longer they follow a teacher, the more they start to look and sound like him. That should be happening with us, too.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, WEB)
If we are true disciples, we’ll be developing our Teacher’s character. It should be clear to those around us that we’re following someone special.
as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance, but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy; for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:14-16, WEB)
Once we become Christians, we place ourselves under the authority of very specific teachers. We’re being taught by God the Father and Jesus Christ to become like them. When we walk with and learn from these Teachers the relationship doesn’t just provide us with knowledge. It’s meant to transform every aspect of our lives until we get to the point where we think, act, and react the same way they do.