Ephesians 5:1–2: “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.”
One unavoidable pattern we see in life is children adopting the habits of their parents. I’ll never forget the day my preschool-aged son pointed an angry finger at his younger brother and said, “You stop that right now!” I heard my own tone of voice and saw my own anger reflected in his, and it broke my heart.
At the beginning of Ephesians 5, Paul exhorts us as children of God to be imitators of our heavenly Father. My son’s imitation of his sinful mother led him to act unlovingly toward his brother. But our imitation of our Holy Father leads us to love others as Christ loves us.
Be Imitators of God
Paul knew that the default of these first-century believers would be to imitate the culture around them. They were surrounded by those who lacked understanding (Ephesians 4:18). They needed Paul’s exhortation to no longer walk as those who were apart from Christ (Ephesians 4:17). Paul contrasted their old ways and their “new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We need these same exhortations as we face pressure to mold to the world’s ways.
Paul wants us to understand that putting on this new self leads to being imitators of God. This is what it means to put on the new self—to live a life that reflects the reality of God’s Spirit dwelling in us, transforming us into Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). We don’t imitate our worldly peers; we imitate our heavenly Father.
As Beloved Children
Our imitation of God doesn’t earn us acceptance as God’s children. We imitate God because we’ve been accepted as His children. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:5 that God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians 1:11, we learned that we’ve been given an inheritance, which is again evidence of our status as sons and daughters. In Ephesians 2, we saw that we were children of wrath because of our sin, but God intervened in love and saved us by His grace. We are no longer strangers with no hope, but members of God’s household by the blood of Christ shed for us (Ephesians 2:12, 13, 19).
If we are redeemed children, we will adopt the characteristics of our heavenly Father. Our thoughts, words, and behavior will exhibit His communicable attributes, such as love, patience, goodness, holiness, justice, mercy, wisdom, and faithfulness.
Walk in Love
In these last chapters of Ephesians, Paul describes many ways we can imitate God by being holy in our speech, sexuality, and submission. These are all aspects of growing in maturity in Christ. And Paul views love as a primary mark of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13, Colossians 3:14). And so here, he commands us to imitate God by walking in love.
Walking in love is connected to Paul’s other commands about how we are to walk. We should not walk in futility (Ephesians 4:17). We are to walk in the light and wisdom (Ephesians 5:9, 15). Walking in love is just one way we put God’s glory on display and live in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1).
As Christ Loved Us
Paul doesn’t leave us to wonder what it means to walk in love. He tells us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Let’s look at just some of what God’s Word tells us about how Christ loved us.
Christ’s love is undeserved. We were dead in our trespasses, living as sons of disobedience, doing what we pleased, and unaware of our own hopelessness (Ephesians 2:1-3). “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Christ’s love is sacrificial. He gave Himself up for us, taking the wrath we deserved, and reconciling us to God (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24). Nothing we could do would satisfy the debt we owed God because of our sin, so Christ laid down His life as the pleasing sacrifice to atone for us.
Christ’s love perseveres. Nothing can separate us from God’s never-ending love for us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39, Jeremiah 31:3).
As beloved children of God, we imitate God when we love those who don’t deserve it with a sacrificial, persevering love. We remember that Christ has loved us in this way, and we look for ways to show His love to others. What would it look like for you to imitate your Father today as you walk in love?