Imitate Christ

by Rachel Mullen

If you’ve never read The Imitation of Christ, written in the 1400s by Thomas à Kempis, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most influential books in my spiritual life. My paperback copy, which has been in every bedside table I’ve owned since graduating college, is hanging onto the spine by the thinnest of threads. The book is literally a step-by-step guide to imitating the life of Christ (according to Thomas à Kempis). He wrote it as a senior monk instructing new monks on the monastic life. It is a joyless, stark, and harsh book. There are no hugs. No feel-good stories. Nothing to make you feel warm and fuzzy…well, except the path to salvation, of course. The instructions are clear, and I can 100% guarantee, you are not following them all. No one is.


Thomas à Kempis is a downer, but he’s right. Every time I read a section like this, I start to rankle: “Certainly when Judgement Day comes, we shall not be asked what books we have read, but what deeds we have done; we shall not be asked how well we have debated, but how devoutly we have lived.”1 But then I think about it, and I know Thomas the Taskmaster is right. My own pursuit of knowledge is a form of pride, and while God wants us to use the brains God gave us, that pursuit is not always focused on Christ.


In this season Lent, let us use this time to focus on the life of Christ, on the kind of person he became, the model that he was. As we await the celebration of Easter, let’s focus on how we can be more like him. When reading a text like The Imitation of Christ, it can be overwhelming. Where should I start? What should I do first? Am I too far gone? Jesus knew this Christian life would be difficult for us. Thankfully, he left us the Holy Spirit to teach us everything and remind us of everything he told us.


In the end, we should all be striving to be more Christlike in our own way and time. That might mean becoming a monk like Thomas à Kempis, or it might mean seeking peace with a neighbor instead of continuing an argument. “Therefore, continue in your simple but staunch faith, and approach the Sacrament with reverent humility and securely entrust to God all that you are unable to understand.”2



1 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Vintage, 1998), 7.


2 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Vintage, 1998), 214.

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