John Frame on sanctification by imitation, and the atonement as exemplary for the Christian life and preaching

From Frame’s chapter entitled “Human Beings as Revelation”:

Imitation of other persons is an important means of learning in general, and specifically an important means of learning the Word of God. As I indicated in the last chapter, understanding the Word is applying it, and there is no better way to learn the application of the Word than by seeing it applied by others who understand it well. So God himself is the norm for our life, as he says “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16; cf. Matt. 5:48). And the life of Jesus, as God and man, is an example to us, as are all the lives of people who follow him.

The imitatio Christi is a major theme of the NT. We are to be like Jesus. We do that by obeying his teaching, but also by watching how he interacts with people in his earthly ministry. We should copy not only what Jesus says, but the way he says it. But the most profound form of imitation is the imitation of Jesus’ atonement.

We might think that we can imitate Jesus in many ways, but not in his atoning love. After all, none of us can bring about the salvation of others by giving our lives. But remarkably, in the NT, it is the atonement that is the main point of comparison between the love of Christ and the love of the Christian. The love of God that we are to imitate is most fully displayed in the atonement (John 3:16; 15:13; Rom. 5:8;  8:39 [in context]; Eph. 2:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:16; 1 John 3:16; Rev. 1:5; cf. Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:1-11; 1 Peter 2:18-25). We are to love one another, specifically as Jesus first loved us, by dying for our sins (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:9-11).

God’s love to us in the atonement is beyond measure (Eph. 3:18-19), in the depth of Jesus’ suffering, including his estrangement from his Father, in the greatness of the blessing he bought for us, and also in our total lack of fitness for this blessing. As recipients of God’s grace, we are supremely unattractive to him. We are the tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:9-13), the “poor crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21), those who were “still sinners” (Rom. 5:8) when Jesus came to die for us.

Truly, no sacrifice of ours can atone for the sins of someone else. But these passages make abundantly clear that our obligation is nothing less than to lay down our lives for one another, as Jesus did for us…

Learning by imitation is an important means of sanctification, a vital means of appropriating the Word of God. We should imitate God, Jesus, the apostles, and other exemplary characters in Scripture. Scripture often refers to such exemplary people. See Rom. 4:16-25; 1 Cor. 10:1-12; Heb. 6:11-12; 11:1-12:2; 13:7; James 5:17-18. For this reason I oppose the notion that preaching should merely expound the redemptive narrative of Scripture and should never appeal to biblical characters as examples. In expounding past revelation, the Bible itself appeals to such examples, and we are not preaching the Word as we should if omit such references.

And we should ourselves seek to be examples that can be imitated by our fellow believers. Human life, redeemed and matured, is a profound form of revelation. We and others need to have it in order to rightly apply God’s Word.

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, p. 317, 319

About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
This entry was posted in Atonement, Christian life, Preaching, Sanctification. Bookmark the permalink.

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