“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; Pentecost 12; 8/12/18
I think it’s safe to say that everyone here today has, probably, imitated someone in their life. We all have done it. Imitation starts very early in life. From the way we laugh, the facial expressions we make, the way we walk, the way we talk, and the way we sing. We need role models who we can imitate in life. And you have probably heard the saying that, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”
And that imitation continues as we grow older. The way we tie our shoes, and tie our ties. The way we brush our teeth, and brush our hair. The way we go to work, and the way we actually work. Our expressions, and even the way we relax, are often a product of someone that we imitate.
I can remember when I was young, for hours imitating the batting stances of various professional baseball players, and also the shooting styles of NBA players. And some imitators, known as impersonators like Rich Little, Dana Carvey, and Frank Caliendo have made quite a living imitating the speaking styles of famous Americans.
Today, God’s Word in the book of Ephesians tells us “Therefore, be imitators of God!” Wow! The Bible is not just talking about imitating your parents or grandparents, your teacher, a professional ballplayer, or a politician. Paul is going for the gusto! Be imitators of God!
Paul was writing this letter, while he was in prison, to the Christians living in Ephesus. Although he was unable to be there in person, he knew them very well, and he encouraged them to live out this Christian life in a way that was distinctively different from the rest of the world. He had lived there for at least three years, teaching and preaching diligently.
These Christians living in Ephesus, had largely come from a Gentile background, that is, they didn’t have the historic connection to the people of the Old Testament. They weren’t descendants of King David, King Solomon, or the prophets. Their ancestors instead were idol worshipers, who believed in many different kinds of gods, and who also lived wild and impure lives.
Paul wanted these Ephesian Christians to live a markedly different life from the ways of the majority of their Gentile world. Listen again to how he speaks to them, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Don’t imitate them! Paul says, “Don’t let your heart get hard and stubborn. Paul says. That’s the way you used to be. That is your “old self.” It’s time to start new!
Instead, he says, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” He’s saying, you’re a new man, or new woman, Ephesian Christians! And you’re a new man, and a new woman, people of Trinity, Muskegon! Don’t imitate the rest of the world, instead, be imitators of God!
Now sometimes when we hear the term “imitate”, we might think, “That’s easy, just act like them on the outside.” Like it’s just an act. And there are times that we have all done that. Acted one way like Christians at one time, and a totally different way another. Kind of like, coming to church for an hour on Sunday morning, and then returning back home or another place and acting and speaking the same way as before. This acting job, this hypocrisy, is what Paul is really speaking against, and he calls for us to change through the Spirit.
Because the truth is, that we all struggle terribly with this—Ephesian Christians who lived in about the year 60 AD and Christians all over the world in all times and places, in 2018, both you and me alike. We all fall short. We sin, by letting our old sinful self take over. We say, “Why shouldn’t i? The rest of the world is doing it. So we gossip, we lash out in anger, hold grudges, steal from others, and talk in dirty corrupt ways, even though we say we’re Christians. It’s a real battle!
But, praise God that we are not judged on how many times we fail or fall short. Instead, we look to Jesus, who was authentic in every way possible. There was no acting one way, and living another way in Him. In all His ways, He was tenderhearted, forgiving, and loving to the core. That is why He sought out and healed the sick and the troubled. He went searching for them, the man with a legion of demons, the woman at the well, and Zacchaeus the tax collector. He spent time with them and cared for their needs.
And what shows even more, Jesus willingly took the sins of all people of all time to the cross. And there on the cross He died for them, so that all who believe in Him would have the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. On the third day He rose again so that we through faith would have victory over sin, death, and the devil. This was no act. It was true to the core.
Now when Paul says, “Be imitators of God”, he’s certainly not saying that we need to save people from their sins by dying on the cross. No, that’s already been done by Jesus. He has done the work of salvation, full and free. But Paul is calling the Ephesian people and us also to imitate the attitude of Jesus, “by being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
What Paul is emphasizing to the Ephesian Christians is that they were created by God for something special. A few weeks ago, we talked about how God had planned before the creation of the world for the Ephesian Christians to be part of His family. God knew that they would be brought to faith in Jesus through this missionary Paul, and He knew that they would be baptized and given the Holy Spirit as a deposit in their heart. And He says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” God the Holy Spirit had great plans for them!
And God the Holy Spirit has great plans for each of us too. He knew about you before the creation of the world. He had plans for you to be baptized and brought to faith in Christ, more than you can imagine. He has also given you the deposit of the Holy Spirit in your life. Don’t grieve Him! Don’t bring Him sorrow. Don’t allow sin to rule over your life. The Holy Spirit has made your body His temple.
So let me ask you again, “Who are you imitating in your life?” Are you imitating the rich and famous of our world? Paul says, “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.”
Look to the supreme life of Jesus. Imitate His kindness. Imitate His tenderheartedness. And imitate His forgiveness. And not just on the outside, but let it be from your heart. I know, there are so many problems, so many temptations, so much heartache. And sometimes we get frustrated. But, God has you here to be his hands and feet, His ambassadors. Look to Jesus!
Jesus could have so easily walked away from all of the problems, but instead He came to bring hope and healing. The book of Hebrews says it best, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
God grant it…