You may have wondered at times if it’s okay to copy or imitate others. As followers of Christ, we want to live according to God’s truth and will. So what guidance does Scripture provide on this issue? There are several key principles we can draw from the Bible.
Imitation is a natural part of human behavior. We learn by observing and mimicking others, starting from infancy. This extends into adulthood as well. When we admire someone, we often seek to emulate their actions and attitudes.
At times, imitation is perfectly fine and even beneficial. Paul encouraged believers to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Hebrews 6:12 exhorts us to imitate the faith and perseverance of those who inherit God’s promises. There are even instructions to mimic that which is good (3 John 1:11).
However, the Bible also warns against blindly or wrongly copying others. Discernment is needed to determine when imitation is helpful versus harmful. As followers of Jesus, our ultimate model is Christ Himself. Any other example must be evaluated in light of His flawless character and sinless life.
As you reflect on what the Bible teaches about copying others, keep these key principles in mind:
- Imitate only that which aligns with Christ
- Avoid copying behaviors that dishonor God
- Seek discernment through prayer and Scripture
- Be motivated by love, not envy or pride
- Make sure imitation flows from inward conviction
The rest of this post will expand on these themes. You’ll see that the Bible provides both commendations and cautions when it comes to copying others. The goal is to walk in godly wisdom, staying true to our convictions while avoiding pitfalls.
Imitate Only That Which Aligns with Christ
As Christians, our core identity is in Jesus Christ. We have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life in Him (Galatians 2:20). Jesus is both our Savior and Lord, meaning He is the ultimate authority over our lives. No other example or influence should supersede what He desires for us.
Paul says it clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV): “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” The only imitation Paul endorses is that which aligns with Christ. This means evaluating any potential example in light of God’s Word and character. Does it match what we know to be true about Jesus? Does it glorify God or point people toward Him? If not, then it is inappropriate to copy regardless of how appealing it may seem.
You have an incredible model in Christ Himself. As Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV) encourages, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Keep your eyes focused on Him. Only imitate examples that are clearly following in His footsteps.
The Gospels give you a vivid depiction of who Jesus was and is. Pay close attention to His character, His priorities, His treatment of others. The more you get to know Christ intimately, the easier it will be to discern which behaviors align with His example. Then you can imitate wisely, with an eternal perspective.
Avoid Copying Behaviors That Dishonor God
One clear principle from Scripture is that we must avoid copying behaviors that dishonor the Lord. God’s glory should be our highest aim in life. Anything that detracts from His holiness or contradicts His commands must be rejected.
We see this concept in 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NKJV): “Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
Being holy means set apart for God’s purposes. We are to reflect His righteous character in our conduct. So we cannot blindly imitate patterns of sinful living, whether from our past or from those around us.
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) also stresses the need for discernment: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The world’s standards often run counter to God’s truth. Entertainment, social trends, and cultural values frequently clash with biblical principles.
Ask yourself: Does this behavior align with purity? With honesty? With the Fruits of the Spirit like love and self-control? If not, then turn away from imitation and toward obedience to Christ. He will lead you on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).
Seek Discernment Through Prayer and Scripture
Given the importance of avoiding ungodly imitation, how can you gain discernment? Scripture points to two key sources: prayer and God’s Word.
First, you need to humbly seek the Lord in prayer concerning any potential example you may follow. Ask Him to make His truth clear and to guide your decisions. James 1:5 (NKJV) promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
Prayer for discernment should involve:
- Confessing any anxieties or sinful desires
- Surrendering your will to follow Christ alone
- Asking God to reveal if this example honors Him
- Seeking protection from deception and blindness
Keep your heart open to the conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit. He will impress God’s wisdom upon you as you seek it.
Secondly, test all things against the standard of Scripture. God’s Word equips you to evaluate every influence, as Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) states: “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Study relevant biblical principles that apply to the situation at hand. For example:
- The Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- Guidance about friendship (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33)
- Instructions on godly living (Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:1-17)
Measure the potential example against these truths. Scripture will protect you from unwise imitation that can lead you astray.
Be Motivated by Love, Not Envy or Pride
In seeking to imitate others, check your motives too. The Bible warns about imitation flowing from sinful desires like envy, pride, and selfish ambition. These corrupt our discernment and decision-making.
For instance, Galatians 5:26 (NKJV) says: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Don’t imitate out of a desire for the position or praise someone else receives. That reveals a pride problem in your own heart.
Similarly, Philippians 2:3 (NKJV) cautions: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Self-promotion should never be your reason for copying someone else.
Rather, let love guide your actions. The example of Jesus and His early followers show imitation rightly motivated by compassion, humility, and service. Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV) urges: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” When you imitate to benefit others out of sincere love, you fulfill God’s law.
So check your heart. Are you copying out of selfless love or some fleshly craving? Take time to purify your motives through prayer. Then you can follow examples in a way that pleases God.
Make Sure Imitation Flows From Inward Conviction
One final principle for discernment is to ensure your imitation aligns with inward conviction, not just outward conformity. It is possible to mimic someone’s actions without really embracing the heart motivations behind them.
For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for concentrating on external practices without internal change. In Matthew 23:25-26 (NKJV) He said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
Genuine imitation requires asking God to shape your desires, thoughts, and attitudes. Transformation starts from the inside out. As Romans 12:2 (NKJV) explained, you must have a “renewing of your mind” first.
Don’t just mimic the actions you see and admire. Seek to understand the heart motivations and convictions inspiring them. Let the Holy Spirit instill similar convictions in you. Then your imitation will have depth and integrity, pleasing to God.
In summary, the Bible provides both commendations and cautions when it comes to copying others. As followers of Christ, we must be discerning. Imitate only that which aligns with God’s truth and character, seeking to honor Him above all. Let your imitation flow from prayer, scriptural wisdom, and pure motives of love. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Himself. He is the supreme model who always directs our paths aright.
Through the Spirit’s empowerment, we can walk in godly discernment regarding imitation. This protects us from poor examples while allowing us to benefit from those worthy of following. Just remember to evaluate every potential influence in light of Christ Himself. Seek only to copy His perfect example, with all other models taking secondary place. Doing so will lead to blessing and growth in your spiritual life.