If you would have asked me when I was a young boy what I was going to be when I grew up my answer was simple: I was going to play baseball for the New York Yankees. As a kid, I committed myself to observing everything they did. I knew how each player stood at the plate. I knew how each pitcher threw the ball. I even knew the unique ways that certain players would field the ball. If you’ve ever seen Derek Jeter field the ball, then you know that it was poetry in motion.
Why did I try to mimic these athletes? Was it admiration? Maybe it was my aspiration to one day be just like them. I’m not that unique. We often find this desire to be like our heroes. Kids dress like the heroes they admire. Teens begin to emulate their favorite athletes, actors, and musicians. Even adults want to be like the individuals they respect. Why? We mimic those whom we admire. This is true in the ordinary realm, but it is also true in the spiritual realm.
Imitation lies at the heart of Paul’s words in Ephesians chapter five. There the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God…” (Ephesians 5:1). How on earth are we supposed to do that? Can you create a planet by the words of your mouth? Can you step outside of time and be eternally existent? Can you be in all places at once? How can we imitate God if there are very clearly things which only He can do?
As the basic principle of biblical study goes, we must read the Bible in context. We cannot read a bible verse in isolation from the surrounding verses, paragraphs, chapters, books, etc. So, with this in mind the full context of our verse provides some light on our question. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God, AS BELOVED CHILDREN.” (Ephesians 5:1 ESV)
How are we to imitate God according to Scripture? “As beloved children.” This is not mere sentimentality. There is so much rich biblical theology contained in those three simple words, but we must begin with the obvious: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We learn this from the Apostles (John 1:14, 34), from the Father Himself (Matt. 3:17), from Satan and demons (Luke 4:3; Mark 3:11), and even from Christ Himself (Mark 14:62; John 9:35-36).
But there is a uniqueness to Christ’s sonship that makes it different than the Christian’s sonship. Jesus alone is the eternal Son of God. Jesus alone is eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. We, on the other hand, were born estranged from God, as utter enemies by our sin. We stand opposed to the will of the Father, and consider our ways superior and His ways inferior. When God removes His presence from us, we are naturally gladdened. In short, we were sons of the devil (John 8:44), slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17), and under the power of death (Heb. 2:14-15).
But God, for no reason found in us, solely by His unconditional predestinating work took the rusted chains of Satanic sonship, slavery, and death and renewed these chaotic links by the blood and Spirit of Christ. The Lord Jesus did so by willingly submitting Himself under the abuse of wicked men and taking upon Himself every ounce of judgement we rightfully deserve. This the Apostle highlights in the next verse of Ephesians, “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:2)
As Biblical Christians we recognize that it is only by means of the Lord Jesus Christ suffering in our place the penalty of our sin that we could be made sons of God. This sonship, this redemptive sonship, is found only for those who call Christ Savior and Lord. For apart from Christ and the application of this work on a believer, all of humanity exists estranged from God and rightfully under His righteous wrath.
However, it is by the miracle of Christ alone, by grace through faith, that we have been saved. This means for you, O Christian, that you are loved by God. You are not held at arm’s length. You are not ill spoke of as soon as you leave the room. You are in sweet fellowship with God Himself. You are dearly loved. You are dearly prized. You are deeply valued. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 ESV)
So we are called then to give ourselves wholly unto this God, not that we might be loved, but because we have been loved already. Therefore, imitate Christ. Reflect Christ. Resemble Christ. Love not merely when it is convenient or simple but love as God has loved you with great cost to Himself.