”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)
In other New Testament passages, believers are told to imitate God, to work towards godliness, because of the new nature Christ has implanted within them or because the Holy Spirit can enable and help them. Here, Paul takes a different angle. Believers are to imitate God because He is their Father, they are His children. It is because of this Father-child relationship that believers can expect a new life and way of being to flow.
It is not hard to imagine children imitating their parents — or rebelling against them — and Paul takes that same idea into our new relationship with God. He is our Father. We are to allow who He is to impact who we are.
This concept —that God is our new Father and we are to live like him— follows us into this next section of Ephesians. Paul saw the church as children in need of connection to their Father in heaven. He wanted the church to become united to our Father.
But how are we to imitate God? We do not think we can mimic His omniscience or omnipresence or omnipotence (though we may try!). For that question, Paul has an answer. First, we are to imitate God’s love (Ephesians 5:1-6). Second, we are to imitate God’s light (Ephesians 5:7-16). Third, we are to imitate God’s wisdom (Ephesians 5:17-21).
When Paul mentions God’s love he immediately, predictably, goes straight to the cross. There are many passages in the Bible which could help us understand God’s love, but none would be better than the passages dealing with the death of Christ. On the cross, God’s love was made manifest. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16).
Paul, though, hones in on a facet of the cross; it was sacrificial in nature. Jesus “gave himself up for us,” meaning He set aside the privileges of divinity when He incarnated, knowing it would eventually lead to His physical death for humankind. It was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” a phrase reminding us of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the smoke arising from the temple altar. The love of God is a sacrificial love, a love which lays aside preference and desire and self for the betterment of others. This is the love God’s children are to practice, to imitate.
In an age where it is vogue to fight for yourself, believers are to lay down their rights for the blessing of others. Our Father in heaven has brought us into his family. We are his children. In our connection to him, we can become the most loving people the world has ever known.