Who’s Your Role Model?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I saw a clever cartoon years ago, which I’ll try to reproduce in words below:

“At the beginning of the school year, I was feeling pretty insecure, kind of like a dork. So I looked around for someone who seemed to have it all together, a guy who was self-confident and knew all the right moves. The one who stood out was Derrick Braddock, the football player. So I tried to be just like Derrick — I wore the kind of clothes he wore, had my hair cut the way he did. I tried to walk the way he walked. I even practiced using some of the same words and phrases. I looked in the mirror to try out some of Derrick’s facial expressions and learn to slouch the casual way he does. I was really making progress.

“Then one day I noticed that Derrick Braddock always seemed to be looking over at that strange kid, Louie Vinson, and I began to realize that he was trying to act like him. When Louie bought some new designer jeans, the next day Derrick showed up with the same jeans. I found out that he was imitating the way Louie acted around girls, how he moved his arms, even the food he picked up in the lunch line.

“It didn’t take me long to notice that Louie Vinson was looking at Marty Brio and trying to be like him. And then I saw that Marty was doing a poor imitation of that skinny kid, Larry Weathers.

“Do you know who Larry Weathers was trying to be like? You’ll never believe it. That guy was doing everything he could to walk and talk and dress and act like Duane Folsom, that creepy pest who’s always following me around. It’s really pathetic how Duane tries to act like me. I leave one shirt-tail out; he leaves one shirt-tail out. I try out a corny line I heard in a movie; a little later I hear him regurgitating the same line to some poor girl. The other day I was a little smelly after coming back from a fishing trip, and dumb old Duane asked me what my cologne was. What a loser!”

So what about role models? We’ve recently had some awful examples from the world of collegiate sports, where coaches who had the chance to influence young people positively, instead wounded them deeply through selfish sexual predation. From our youth we’ve been told to follow good role models, but how can you be sure?

The Bible doesn’t make this an emphasis. There are a few passages where believers are encouraged to pattern their lives after their spiritual leaders (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:15-16), and, of course, Jesus called his disciples to “Follow me.” But there are also some strong warnings in the Bible about how easy it is to be “led astray” when we put our trust in the examples of others.

Rather than focusing on role models, the Biblical idea is that our lives should be shaped from within. This concept begins in the very first pages of the Bible with the awesome teaching about our being created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). This divine image was twisted and dwarfed by the human race’s fall into sin, but it is still there, deep within each person. The Apostle Paul described Jesus Christ as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Those who turn to Christ for salvation are “being renewed in knowledge according to the image of their creator” (Colossians 3:10) and are “predestined to be conformed to his image” (Romans 8:29).

The most beautiful and graphic expression of this process is found in these words of Paul:

“All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

God, as he is revealed through Christ, is our only true role model, and he changes us, not from the outside in, through imitating others, but from the inside out by the Holy Spirit’s renewing of his image in us.