(Ephesians 5:1) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
As I read the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, this verse unfolded before me. The phrase “Therefore be imitators of God” really stood out to me. To imitate means to follow someone mimicking their movements. When thinking on the second half of the phrase “as dear children”, consulting a Dictionary was unnecessary, as an image of my own children filled my mind. The children to the left are very dear to their father and mother.
My wife and have the privilege and responsibility of love them and leading them in the instruction and admonition of the Lord, yet they are not idols to us. Since we had been born again the Lord has led us to refuse the temptation to live through and for our children, but that does not diminish how precious and dear to us they truly are.
I must admit my first inclination considering the above verse, was of the two little ones pictured below (Ellie Mae who is four and Elijah who is 18 months). The reason for this is not that the little ones are more dear to me than the older, but that it is easier to tell when they are imitating my behavior (good or bad). For instance when looking at the picture to your left, for anyone who knows me, it is easy to tell Ellie Mae is imitating one of my silly faces. When considering the picture to the bottom left (Elijah is mini-me), a resemblance is apparent. Yet when he grunts extemporaneously, one need to look no further than his imitation of dad’s James brown impersonation.
The point being made: For little children, imitating their Dads and Moms is basic to their nature. This is especially true if their is a close emotional tie, and it is actually essential to early child development of identity and personality. It is for this reason we must be careful with our behavior. They are watching and not only will they imitate our actions, attitudes and emotions, those imitations will have a heavy influence in the formation of their identity. It is for this reason that Ephesians 5:1 is so vital to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.
When I began to meditate on “Therefore be imitators of God…” I must admit I was a little intimidated. I realize its possible to over complicate a powerful and simple concept, but lets just let the word’s soak in for a minute… We are supposed to imitate GOD!!! The God who is Spirit. The God who is perfectly holy and dwelling in light unapproachable. The God who created everything we see and cannot see. The God who uphold’s all things by the word of His power. The One who names Himself “I AM THAT I AM”, is the one who’s actions and character we are to imitate? Just how in the are we supposed to do that? Though it seem beyond grasping, Praise God we need only to look to Jesus Christ our Savior.
As it is with knowing the unknowable God, so it is with imitating the God who’s thoughts and ways are higher than our’s. Men can only know God by Jesus Christ the Son, who is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), the expressed image of God’s person and the brightness of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). In Christ we have all we can know or experience of God. In Christ we have all we can imitate of God as well, as I Peter 2:21 declares… “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us and example, that your should follow in His steps“. It has become very cliche to wear a WWJD bracelet, but knowing what Jesus did and would do is where imitating God begins.
HOW WE IMITATE GOD
When considering how we imitate God it is important to consider the phrase “as dear children“. Being a child (from an natural view) should be a a settled identity, whereby we are already physically and emotionally like the ones we are mimicking. When considering my own children, it is apparent they are my (and my wife’s) children, with out any imitation at all, as my wife and I have passed along certain physical and dispositional traits. Therefore they do not have to pretend to be like someone they are unlike; because they are already constitutionally like us.
For children of God, this is a truth we can often fail to grasp in our spiritual life. Being born again we are constitutionally like God, bearing certain characteristic of Christ without imitation (I John 3:9). Therefore we are not acting like someone we are unlike, but imitating One who birthed us in Christ as His children. Imitation is not acting, for we do not actors portraying Christ. Let me explain.
Good actors can “inhabit the role” they are playing and can convince us through speech patterns, mannerisms and make-up and effects, that they are the person they portray. But alas they are not, nor will they ever be, because they are simply acting. It is important to note that in the Greek language actors are called “hypocrites” those who were pretending to be someone they would never actually be. You’ll admit, being a hypocrite is a terrible choice for a child of God, because its not who we are.
For many Christians, imitating God is difficult, for this very reason. It is not that they have not been born again, but that they have a hard time believing they are “dear children”. For many it would seem, through all their failures and weakness, that they are mere pretenders; trying to attain something they find impossible (to live the Christ life). In spite of this human tendency,we must fight for a faith that holds to the truth that we are God’s children, who are born again new creations. How often we feel about our success of failure in imitating our Savior, is not the defining factor; but faith in His word concerning who we are. This is not an excuse to be undisciplined or lazy in seeking to imitate our Savior, but remind us our Father is not waiting of us to screw up. Far too often that view of God persists.
This is something I struggled with for years, because of my life before Christ. Like many, I grew up desiring to be pleasing to my mother and father, yet for whatever reason it seemed that was an impossible task. It appeared to me that my parents were waiting for me to fail, waiting for an opportunity to slam me for not getting it right. Whatever the reason for this disposition, it resurfaced at some early point in my walk with Christ. The arrival of this unwanted pattern of thought, was amplified whenever I attempted to live the Christ life more fully in my personal life or ministry, especially when my efforts seemed to fail.
Now we can agree that if your love for Jesus compels you to minister to others, there will be ample opportunity for it to be weakly executed on our part, mischaracterized or rejected. In those times we redouble our efforts, and try harder, often with little more effect than previously. We wonder how God could be so patient, believing he must be tired of us, or waiting for another one of our broken efforts to fail. We tire of trying, grow weary in well doing and believe we are saved, but certainly not as dear to God as others. Our delight as dear children is gone and pretending is a waste of time. At this point we have superimposed our broken view of how parents or others regarded us (or as we thought they did) on to God our Father in error. We believe he sees us not as dear children, but the child that does not measure up. For those who truly love Jesus nothing could be further than that truth.
(Psalms 103:13-14) As a father pities his children,So the Lord pities those who fear Him.For He knows our frame;He remembers that we are dust.
WE IMITATE HIM AS DEAR CHILDREN
In order to gain a proper perspective on how to imitate God as dear children, allow me my two youngest children for illustration. In looking at the picture to the left, there are two facts to consider. The first fact is that Mom or Dad took both of the pictures. The second fact is that both children are more than happy to ham it up for the camera. When considering the first fact, we understand the picture to the left is one of many captured and spontaneous moments, where Mom and Dad had there eyes upon these two children are glad to smile, ham it up and yes imitate is because they Mom and Dad’s eyes are on them. They know we are there to encourage and delight in their actions. They do not feel we are waiting for them to fail
We as God’s “dear children” need to discover that “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cries” (Psalm 34:15; I Peter 3:12). Through Jesus God has become our Father, yet more intimately our “Abba”, and His eyes are looking looking for the sake of criticism but to delight in what he has made that is good. Let us rejoice that God rejoices (sings) over the saved, taking pleasure in those who are fear Him, hope in Him and have faith in Him (Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 147:11). As much as my children know I delight in them, God all the more delights in us, as we are imitating Him. Herein lies our chief motivation for “imitating God as dear children“: Since delights in us and His eyes are upon us, we desire to please Him through imitation. This is the essence of living in joy and grace, instead of legalistic fear.
We desire to be holy because He is holy and in Him so are we. We love one another and practice forgiveness because He does so with us. We desire to love our enemies because it is what He does and who we are in Christ. We seek the fullness of the Spirit for it is the inheritance and power to glorify Jesus. We seek to imitate Christ, for it is what delights our God and Father. We imitate Him, because its our born again disposition to want to be like the one who is always present with us and attentive to our lives.
Are we imitators of God? Do we believe we are His dear children, upon whom His eyes are trained? Are we seeking to please Him as our highest privilege and honor? Or are we growing weary in well-doing, as we work to convince Him we are worthy of His love? My fear for us is that we easily default to this last position, as a result of a warped view of His fatherhood to us. Let us remember Jesus was worthy of His love, therefore we are already worthy of His Fatherhood, and our status as His “dear children”.