Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-I2
Be imitators of God sounds such a hopeless aspiration. It’s like telling a four year old with his set of crayons, “Do it like Rembrandt”. A hopeless task, bound to frustration.
Or is it one of those self-help guides: “If you aim for the stars, you may just skim the trees. So aim high, my son.”
Either way, it sounds such a grandiose scheme that I suspect I might give up on it rather quickly. Dear Diary, Today I tried to be like God. Failed. Try again tomorrow.
It’s like that little joke:
So far I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped,
haven’t lost my temper,
haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I’m really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God,
I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I’m going to need a lot more help.
But there it is, a straightforward summons from a guy who described himself as the “worst of sinners.” Paul asked the Lord for help in a situation and was told, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He also noted that “Salvation is not of ourselves lest anyone should boast.” So what did he mean by “Imitate God”?
And –come to think of it- what did Jesus mean when he said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48). It sounds equally gobsmackingly far-fetched.
Here comes the explanation.
We are to imitate God as beloved children. That is to say, we are working out of our new nature, not out of our poor effort at all. We are born again of the Spirit of God, and can expect to show the fruits of that new nature. Have a look at Galatians 5, which gives a detailed contrast between the old way of living and the new.
So are we to just wait for it to happen? Like an apple tree earnestly inspecting its own branches for the signs of fruit?
Well no. The verse continues “And live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
If the first clause provides the means of “imitating God,” then the second shows method and mode.
It’s living in love. It’s living as Christ loved us, even to the point of giving up everything on behalf of those who treat you badly. It is for us that Christ … gave himself up.
I’m always impressed by the account in John 13 of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. It starts “He now showed them the full extent of his love.” Isn’t that amazing? You’d think that that comment related to dying on the cross or rising from the dead, but no, it relates to serving others, to putting himself in a position where they look down on him, and taking the role of a slave.
That’s what God did, in Christ.
Lord, I can’t pretend to value my own saintly abilities very highly, but I realise that I can, after all, wash feet.
Help me to find out what that means in my world, in my day, today. And to do it.