“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us as gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
One thing we must never lose sight of is that the primary object of the Christian faith is to make us holy, blameless and full of love in the presence of God. Paul makes this clear in various places in his writings. He tells us that Christ didn’t come into the world simply to forgive our sins or to save us from eternal judgment. God’s ultimate goal was to purify for Himself a people who would dwell forever in His glorious and holy presence. And this is Paul’s point here: the great goal of the Christian life is fellowship with God in holiness and love.
Paul uses the Greek word, mimetai, here to make his point. It is from this word that we get the English word ‘mimic’. Essentially, what Paul is saying is, “be mimics of God”. In other words, we are to reproduce certain qualities of God’s own moral nature in our lives. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
Now if we are to mimic God successfully, the first thing we must do is make an intense study of His character. We can hardly imitate Him if we do not understand who He is and what He has done. Again, it is impossible to imitate God unless, and until, our sin is taken away by Christ. So before we can imitate Him, we need to mourn over our sin, seek God’s forgiveness and rest upon Christ’s atoning work. Then we need to ask God to renew us by His Holy Spirit. Until we do this, we cannot move off first base in trying to imitate Him.
I think it’s interesting that the main area in which we are to imitate God involves living a life of love, patterned on the love that Christ has for us. What Paul means is that everything we say and do must be based on the same kind of love that Christ had for us when He gave Himself up for our sins. Christ died for His enemies and His love was unconditional. If we are to imitate Him, we must be able to show unconditional forgiveness to others. The question is, “Do we harbour grudges and resentment? Do we forget injuries?” Further, remember that God’s love is indiscriminate: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.” In other words, God doesn’t confine His blessings to the deserving; He extends His kindness to everyone. Do you? Are you kind to people you don’t like at work? Are you sympathetic to strangers? This is what it means to mimic Christ.
Paul goes on to say that Christian love not only expresses itself in forgiving others, but it regulates our sexual relationships, our attitude towards money and our speech. With respect to sexual relationships, Christian love always respects boundaries and refuses to take advantage of others. If we are to imitate Christ, then we regard it as unspeakably selfish to take sexual advantage of someone else or to breach another’s trust. We should always act in their highest interests.
With respect to money and things, Paul says we must restrain our self-centredness and desire for self-gratification by being generous. With respect to our speech, he says that our language must not be profane but must be controlled by a spirit of intelligent thankfulness. This is what it means to imitate God.