Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Ephesians 5:1 takes me back to a simpler time when my children were small and all of their dreams, heartaches, and goals were simple, touched with the endless possibility of imagination and not yet crippled by reality. Back then, my husband and I were incredibly cool. We might have even been the most amazing people on the planet… at least in the eyes of our children.
I have so many memories of them imitating us — my son’s pudgy, two-year-old hand flopping to and fro on the table as he tried to mimic the rhythm his daddy was tapping out with his fingers; my middle daughter trying to “mother” her baby sister as I mothered her; my youngest carefully watching our judo class and attempting ukemi on another mat until she melted the heart of our 6′ 5″ sensei (who had no daughters) and he decided to make an exception for her on the minimum required age.
Yesterday, Ephesians 5:1 kept drifting through my mind, jumbled together with thoughts like those I just shared. However, each time I sat down to write about it, the words simply would not come.
After a final, frustrated attempt, I deleted all the clunky and disconnected sentences I had written and chalked it up to being distracted by the plethora of animals scattered about my home (we are pet sitting for some friends and are currently outnumbered by four-legged beasties, mostly predators save for one very squeaky and nervous prey).
Forgive my digression…
At any rate, I did pray for understanding since the verse would not leave my mind. Although my small group recently finished studying the book of Ephesians, apparently God had more to say to me through this epistle. So this morning, I sat down and began reading at Ephesians chapter 5 when I sensed the Holy Spirit’s gentle suggestion to start back in chapter 4.
Beginning in 4:17, I read through to 5:2, and… well… Go ahead and read it yourself. I’ll wait.
Did you see it?
As I prayerfully read this passage, I saw something I had missed in the way the book was segmented in our recent study. In verse 24, there is the admonition to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God…”
Of course, this reminds me of a similar verse; Galatians 3:27 which states, “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…” and others like it.
As I read with these Scriptures in mind, I had a mental image of a small child dressing up in a parent’s clothes in joyful mimicry of the person they look up to the most. And it hit me — that is the way we ought to be with
Sure, most of chapter 4:17-32 is composed of a list of what is often called “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” and while these guidelines on the behavior expected of the redeemed are exceedingly important, if a person is truly in Christ, those actions are the symptom, not the cause.
For we who are in Christ are not a people called merely to follow a prescribed set of rules and regulations, we are a people set free from bondage to sin and death. Although it is true that there are things we should do and things we should avoid, the driving force behind our behavior is the key. We do not live for the sake of the rules, but we live in imitation of our holy, pure, compassionate, and gracious God.
As His children, we dress ourselves rather clumsily in His garment of righteousness, our adoration of Him compelling us to strive to the uttermost of our childish ability to walk and talk as He does. Astonishingly, in His mercy He has even given us the gift of His Spirit to help us along the way.
Do you see it now? The list of “dos and do nots” in Ephesians 4 — and indeed anywhere they occur in the New Testament– is less a list of rules to follow so much as it is a gauge by which we measure our likeness to Him.
If you will, think of it as that impossibly high mark on the growth chart that represents our Father’s stature as we put on His tallest hat and stretch up on the tips of our toes in an attempt to reach it.
Forgiving others, putting aside falsehood and speaking truth, walking in forgiveness and purity, striving for holiness, laying aside bitterness and wrath — all these and more are things that our God already does. He is the goal we are running this race to reach; He is the reason we run at all.
Instead of trying first to modify our behavior, what if we simply kept our adoring eyes fixed on the Lord, giving our entire effort to emulate Him? Through His Word and prayer, He will indicate areas that we may need to adjust. When He does, like beloved children, we can respond in joyful obedience, fully convinced of our Father’s great love for us as we imitate Him in righteousness and holiness not out of guilt or shame or duty but because we want to be like Him more than anything else in the world.