Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
Chapter four was marked by two walk commands, and in chapter five, we are given the remaining three. Our verses give the first of the next set: walk in love.
IMITATORS OF GOD // VERSES 1
Thomas Watson once wrote, “It is one thing to profess God, another thing to resemble him.” This is the task that the Apostle Paul lays before us now: to imitate God, to resemble Him. Belief in His existence is not enough, as James notes, even the demons believe in God. The demonic belief, however, is similar to Hitler’s belief in the reality of the Allied forces as they prepared to assault Berlin. Fittingly, they shrieked in terror as they saw Christ walking upon the earth. It is possible, therefore, to possess a demonic wisdom that knows something true about God while remaining entirely at enmity with Him.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!” We who are in Christ are no longer enemies of God. The sacrificial atonement of Jesus has rescued us from the futile broad, easy path with destruction as its end. He has raised us from death in sin to life in Himself. He has mediated our transformation from children of God’s wrath to adopted co-heirs with Christ. He has transferred us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God.
Therefore, in light of these abundant riches that we possess in Christ, Paul commanded us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling and to no longer walk as the Gentiles do. The transformative work of Christ in us can only continue to transform the ways in which we live. In other words, a dead man who is brought back to life will naturally show evidence of being alive. Or to use the analogy that Jesus used, a good tree will yield good fruit. All of the commands that Paul has presented to us so far in chapter four do not earn our salvation; instead, our desire to obey is a testament to our life in Christ.
Too often, we look back to the sincerity of our initial conversion to give us assurance of our salvation. The evidence of life, however, is not a birth certificate but a heartbeat. Likewise, the evidence of spiritual life in Christ is desire to put off the old self and to put on the new self, to kill sin and to walk in the likeness of God.
Paul’s command to be imitators of God is, therefore, a kind of summary of all of chapter four, although it does particularly tie itself onto verse 32. “Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” is an implicit command to imitate God, to model our actions upon Him. Yet the apostle now takes the underlying thread woven throughout chapter four and makes it explicit: therefore be imitators of God.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones remarks about this command, “Our word mimic comes from the very word the Apostle used. We are to mimic God, we are to imitate God.” But in what ways are we called to mimic God? Certainly, Paul is not calling us to act like gods ourselves! Notice the qualifying clause: as beloved children.
A few weeks ago, I got a new haircut and have been using styling cream for the first time in my life. My daughter has evidently noticed this change because last week my wife found her putting a cream in her hair as well. When questioned, she declared that she was trying to make her hair look like mine.
Because the almighty God is now our Father, we are to imitate Him as His beloved children. Children beloved by their father and mother do not need to be coached into imitating their parents. John Chrysostom notes that “Not all children imitate their father, but those who know themselves to be beloved act like beloved children.” When they have tasted the reality of being cherished, how could they not want to pattern themselves after their parents?
Of course, our parenting is doomed to be flawed by sin, which is why repentance is a key component of parenting as well as the Christian life. As earthly parents, we discipline with a finite and broken understanding; therefore, it is grace upon grace whenever our children desire to imitate us. God, however, is our perfect heavenly Father. His discipline is always fully and completely loving, wise, patient, and good. In fact, He has used creation itself as a canvas for painting us a portrait of His steadfast and eternal love for us. From forming us in His image and giving us Paradise to resurrecting us with glorified bodies to dwell with Him forevermore, our Father is writing the Story, the true Myth, radiating His manifold wisdom to every corner of the cosmos through making traitors into sons and daughters. The cross stands at the epicenter, bloodied yet beautiful, gruesome yet glorious. At Golgotha, the wrath of the righteous Judge was perfectly displayed in harmony with the love of the Father. By this one sacrifice, Jesus has forgiven us of all sin and brought us into the household of God. Truer words have never been spoken than referring to us as beloved children.
WALK IN LOVE // VERSE 2
The commands of verses 1 and 2 are, therefore, describing the same reality. To imitate God is to walk in love, and to walk in love is to imitate God. God, after all, is love, and our redemption is His great display of love toward us. The very concept of love, however, continues to be highjacked and disassociated from God Himself, so we must not assume that our present-day notions of love match the biblical reality. The LGBT movement, for example, celebrates their victories with the phrase “Love Wins.” But is the normalization of behavior that Paul called the fruit of “a debased mind” (Romans 1:28) truly a triumph of love, or is it instead a bastardization of it? Yet whenever love is forcibly detached from the Father, what else should we call it?
The apostle warned Timothy of these days by reminding him that people would become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). When love is welded onto pleasure rather than God for its definition and substance, the result is a counterfeit of love similar to the Egyptian magicians’ reproduction of God’s miracles through Moses. Of course, I do not mean that our society’s conception of love is altogether unloving; rather, it is an appearance of godliness minus God, like a hospital that does not actually treat patients. It is merely vice wearing a mask of virtue. Dipping into next week’s passage, “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (5:6), and love divorced from God is utterly vacant. And if we are steeped in the Scriptures, we will be catechized into the world’s empty conception of love.
What then is love?
Paul gives his famous definition in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
We should notice above all things that the apostle’s description of love perfectly reflects the character of God. He is supremely patient and kind. He is never envious or boastful, arrogant or rude. He does insist on His own way, but He does not do so at the expense of others (which is what Paul means). God insists upon His own way, knowing that following Him is in the greatest interest of His creatures. He is not irritable toward our constant failures and rebellions; instead, He corrects and disciplines us with the steady and strong love of a father. He is not resentful over our self-asserted supremacy; rather, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). He is Himself Truth and is perfectly just against all wrongdoing. As the Creator of all things, He is our love, our belief, our hope, and our endurance. Or, as John said, “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
John also notes that “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). Jesus is the manifestation of God’s love because Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). This is why Paul does not merely conclude verse 2 with after the word love. Instead, He specifies by saying that we must walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross was the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us and the most fragrant of all offerings ever made to God. Our life, in turn, is now “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
But how are we to walk in love, imitating the love of God? We can again go to John’s First Epistle for, at least, three tangible and clear descriptions of walking in love.
First, John bids us to always remember that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This is a summary of the points I have been trying to make above. Unless we first know and experience the love of God through Jesus Christ, we cannot properly love at all.
Second, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). He likewise declares, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (4:20-21). As we stated regarding Paul’s command to bear with one another in love, it is foolishness to claim to love Christ without also possessing a love for His body and bride.
Third, “by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3). Now that the futile burden of being justified through keeping the commandments has been fulfilled in Christ, we obey God’s commandments in love. Our obedience to God’s commandments is now a tangible presentation of our inward love of God. For instance, the commands given to us in the previous passage should not be burdensome to us. We should long love both God and others by putting away falsehood and speaking the truth. We strive to have a beneficial anger at sin and its effects without it becoming unbridled or resentful because we hate the grief that sin causes to the Spirit and to one another. We should hate theft and love honest labor and cheerful giving because God has given to us the Pearl of infinite price. If we love God, we should desire to obey Him.
THE REWARD OF PLEASING OUR FATHER
I would like to conclude by addressing a misconception of love, which also (I hope) will end by tying our two verses together again. C. S. Lewis opens his sermon, The Weight of Glory, with these words:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love.
Because our thinking is subtly shaped by the words we use, Lewis was right to note that he was not merely arguing semantics. I have said before (and still stand by it) that our move away from the word childrearing to parenting notes a shift of focus from the good of the child to the performance of the parent. Nevertheless, even if we do not view unselfishness as the supreme virtue instead of love, this point stirred up within me a realization that I often view love as Lewis describes unselfishness. I can easily treat love as simply being unselfish and emphasizing my abstinence instead of the other person’s happiness.
Love, however, delights in the happiness of others. In fact, the reward of love is in pleasing those whom we love. Gifts, for examples, are expressions of love because we give in order to give another person a little bit of delight. Love, therefore, takes joy in the joy of others. Lewis goes on to describe how this reward of love connects to our glory to come when we are face to face with our Lord:
When I began to look into this matter I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation” by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator… To please God.. to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
This is our motivation for walking in love, for obeying the commandments of God, for imitating Him: we are His beloved children. There is a simple yet profound beauty to be found here. Our reward, our highest delight, our glory is to see God pleased with His workmanship, to see Him glorified by His redeemed people, us. Paul already alluded to this by calling us in 1:18 “his glorious inheritance in the saints,” which mirrors our inheritance in Him that is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). As a child’s reward for behaving well is warm approval of his father, we will “enter into the joy of [our] master” (Matthew 25:21) through the work of Christ. Walking in love and imitation of our Father is in many ways a cross in the present, but it is crown of glory for all eternity to come.
We are able to walk in loving imitation of God because He has made us His beloved children through the sacrifice of Christ. I have come to see while studying these two verses that they succinctly and powerfully convey the heart of the Christianity. Although I would desire for you to memorize the entire book of Ephesians, I strongly encourage you to memorize these two verses this week. If you are not sure how to begin memorizing, simply read these verses ten times, focusing carefully upon each word, and then try saying them without looking ten times. Do this each day, and you will almost certainly have it memorized. But do not just memorize them, meditate over them. Repeat them in your head throughout the day. Ask questions and pray. Paul told the Galatians, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (6:6), so share with me the morsels of manna that are revealed to you by the Spirit.
 Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture, 32.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light, 292.
 John Chrysostom, ACCS: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 182.
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 25.
 Ibid., 36-39.