Young boys and young men crave a father figure. Young girls and young women crave a mother figure. We look for heroes to emulate. We look for someone who is excelling in an area we are passionate about so we can imitate them.


If a young man’s passion is to follow Christ, he looks for an older man who has been successful at this. If his biological father did not model it, he might look to a pastor. This is not wrong. God created us to need role models.


The apostle Paul taught this concept repeatedly. He told the Philippians, “The things you have… seen in me, practice these things” (Philippians 4:9). He told the Thessalonians that he offered himself “as a model” for them so that they would follow his example (2 Thessalonians 3:9). He told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).


One of the main ways we behold Christ is by beholding His attributes in spiritual fathers and mothers. This is vital because the way we are transformed into His image is by beholding Him. This is why 2 Corinthians 3:18 says it is by beholding Him that we are “transformed into the same image” or why Hebrews 2:12 says to fix “our eyes on Jesus”.


However, it is also common to turn spiritual fathers and mothers into idols. We begin looking more to them as our model than to Christ. When we do this, we not only take on their good qualities, but unconsciously take on their bad ones as well. A key lesson on the road to spiritual maturity is learning how to behold and emulate Christ-like qualities in others without turning them into an idol.


The same is true of our approach to scripture. We emulate certain attributes of men and women in scripture because they are part of Christ’s nature. Abraham kept strong faith while he waited for God’s promise because it is the nature of Jesus to have strong faith. Jacob longed for a great spiritual inheritance because it is the nature of Jesus to long for a great spiritual inheritance. David’s passionate heart of worship; Daniel’s courage in the face of death; Jeremiah’s grief and brokenness over Israel’s sin; Solomon’s wisdom to rule; Job’s commitment not to blame God for his suffering – all these qualities point to the nature of Jesus. Their successes were only possible through His empowerment. By contrast, their failures are also recorded to help us avoid turning them into idols, but to see them as human and avoid repeating their mistakes.


Because different men and women embody different aspects of Christ’s nature, it is good to have multiple models to emulate over the course of our lives. This helps remind us that it is ultimately Christ we are seeking to behold, not any other man or woman.


As spiritual sons and daughters, we must guard our hearts against idolizing our role models. We must guard against wanting their approval more than the approval of God. We must guard against thinking they are always right and could never mislead us. We must guard against putting them ahead of our spouse. (The command to leave our father and mother and cleave to our spouse can apply to spiritual parents, as well as biological parents.) We must remember our ultimate goal is not to become like them, but to become like the Lord. If we are looking more to Christ than to our role models, we will be able to receive the good without also taking on the bad.


My Serious Mistakes
I made serious mistakes in this area early in my marriage. For several years I beheld a man that I thought of as a spiritual father figure whom I now believe is a deceiver. Among other problems, he modeled a false message that a man’s outside-the-home calling is more important than his inside-the-home calling. This is like putting the building before the foundation it is built upon. If I had not made this man into an idol, perhaps I would have been able to receive some good things without taking on the bad. Instead, I did turn him into an idol and it nearly destroyed my marriage.


While my marriage was being restored, I felt like the Lord impress upon me that I need to be re-fathered, spiritually. As I prayed about who my new spiritual father figure should be, I felt led to an evangelical leader whose ministry was devoted to building godly marriages and families. I began reading and listening to all the material he published. The more I spent time receiving from him, the more I became inspired by God’s perspective of the high calling of a husband and a father. 



Many young people sincerely desire to live sold-out lives for the Lord, but do not know how because they did not receive adequate modeling. This was also the case of the generation that entered the Promise Land in the book of Joshua. In the next chapter, we’ll find out how God prepared them for their destinies.