How can we imitate God as Ephesians 5:1 directs? To try to imitate God seems phony.
Ephesians 5:1 indeed tells us we are to be followers, or imitators, of God. Notice this command refers to believers only, as Paul wrote to “dear children,” indicating members of God’s family through the new birth.
The family analogy here pictures what this imitating really means. In a family, children are great imitators of their parents. You look at children and often see how much they resemble their parents, not only in physical features but also in their actions. This happens because they spend time with their parents and “pick up” many of their parents’ habits, mannerisms, and attitudes. How often have you heard it said that these qualities are more caught than taught?
Likewise, we as believers are, as members of God’s family, to bear the family’s resemblance. This resemblance comes about in our lives by our abiding in Christ—the more we see of Him through His Word, the more we can be like Him. It also comes about through obedience. We do not imitate God if we disobey His Word. God is absolutely holy and perfect; we will never be perfect in this life. Yet this passage commands us to follow after Him, to imitate Him. We will find ourselves becoming more and more imitators of Him as we obey His Word.
Since we are imperfect, there has to be a way apart from ourselves for us to be enabled to fulfill this command. Since the Holy Spirit indwells believers, He produces the character of Jesus Christ in us. But in order for the Holy Spirit to do this, we as believers need to yield to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit indwells each believer, but He doesn’t automatically fill or control each believer. The latter happens only as the believer is willing to let the Holy Spirit control. We can follow, or imitate, God by allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession and control of our lives (see Gal. 5:16–26). We need not try to imitate God in our own strength. Instead, when we are under the Holy Spirit’s control, the Holy Spirit directs the course of our lives in such a way that we bear that resemblance as God’s children.
Ephesians 5 shows us some tests to see if we are imitating God as commanded in verse 1. Verse 2 says that we’ll walk in love. After all, isn’t God love according to 1 John 4:8? Since God is love, we must love if we are to imitate Him. That is the way God “walks.”
Verse 8 shows us another test: We will walk in the light as well. Why? God is light (1 John 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness and sin. How people today need to get this picture, especially because, according to surveys, even professing Christians engage in sins forbidden by the Scriptures. Imitating a holy God leaves no room in our lives for sexual sin of any kind, for example. In fact, verse 3 of Ephesians 5 deals with this matter in its use of the word “fornication,” which covers not only sex between unmarried partners but the whole gamut of sexual sin. How we need to cry out to God for victory in every area of our lives so that we follow (imitate) God in all these areas.
The last verses of chapter 4 in Ephesians deal with sins just as deadly as sexual sins. Bitterness, corrupt speech, lying, deceit, and stealing are ruining many professing Christians who don’t view these things as sin and who don’t see the need for repentance and victory. If we are going to imitate God as commanded, all these need to go.
We walk in truth because God is truth (vv. 15–17; 1 John 5:6). Truth and wisdom are closely related. Are you wise because you dwell in the truth? Do you know what God’s will is for you? We follow God by being in the truth. Falsehood and imitating God do not go together. Trying to imitate God is indeed phony, then, to anyone who does not belong to God’s family. Sadly many people are like that—trying to please God even though they have never been born again into His family. But it is normal for a child of God to bear the family resemblance. We are commanded to do so, and it is a reality because the Holy Spirit can help us obey.
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