I had a conversation with someone recently about what identifies a Christian.
He was talking about a conversation he’d had with someone about the importance of being recognizable as a Christian, but the other person was pointing to such things as clothing and other physical marks of identification.
He pointed out to the person that if someone is walking down the street is it really reasonable to expect that we will be able to identify a Christian just by how they look externally?
People who identify Christians in such an external way have something right.
They recognize the importance of being identifiable as followers of Jesus, but what really does identify us as Christian?
If you go into a restaurant wearing a “Christian” t-shirt and treat the waitress rudely, what is going to identify you, your t-shirt or your behavior?
If you have a “Christian” fish on your car and cut someone off, what is going to identify you, the decal on your car or your driving habits?
Ephesians 5:1-9 helps us answer these questions.
I. Imitate God
!! A. How in the World?
If you played hockey and your coach expected you to imitate Wayne Gretzky, would you think that was an achievable goal or not?
If you were taking a cooking class and the intructor challenged you to cook like Iron Chef Bobby Flay, would you be encouraged or intimidated?
If Juanita was your piano teacher and expected you to play like Beethoven, would you think that was fair?
The first verse commands us to imitate God, but how in the world can we do that?
Hendriksen writes, “We stand in awe before His majesty.
How can we imitate Him whom we cannot even fathom?”
Job 11:7, 8 highlights the mystery of who God is when it says, "“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know?"
When the Apostle John met Jesus on the Isle of Patmos he wrote in Revelation 1:17, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead."
How is it possible to imitate God when He is so far above us, so much greater than we are, so awesome that we can’t even understand Him?
There is no doubt that we cannot imitate everything about God.
God is the creator of the universe and we can’t imitate that.
Carla was putting up a wall tattoo of the world at school and when she was done she informed me that she had made the world and she had done it in only two days.
It is funny because it is so absolutely impossible for us to make the world.
God is the triune God who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a mystery far beyond our understanding.
We can’t imitate Him in that.
God is our redeemer and in an amazing story which began in the Garden of Eden and was completed at Golgotha, He has redeemed all who come to Him through faith in Jesus.
We can’t imitate Him in that.
Nor are we called to imitate Him in these things, but as we look at the text, we see that we are called to imitate Him in one particular respect and that is in love.
Ephesians 5:1, 2 we read “Be imitators of God…live a life of love.”
The call to such imitation is not a suggestion, but a command.
!! B. It Is Possible
And it is possible to obey this command for three reasons.
Because We Have Been Changed
Whether it is shaving, or dressing like them or having the same mannerisms, children imitate their parents.
When the text says “as dearly loved children” there is a connection made that we are called to imitate God because we are His children.
It is a motivation to become like the Father who has made us His children.
But this phrase is more than motivation, it also communicates what makes it possible for us to love.
The reason we are able to love is because of how we have been changed.
In our natural state the Bible indicates that we are God’s enemies – Romans 5:10 speaks of the time when “we were God’s enemies.”
In our fallen state, it was impossible for us to imitate God because our hearts were not inclined to obey God or listen to God.
There was rebellion in our hearts.
But when Jesus came into our lives everything changed.
Suddenly we were changed from enemies to “dearly loved children.”
Suddenly our wills were changed so that we wanted to obey God.
Suddenly our hearts were changed so that we were able to follow God.
!!! 2. Because We Are Loved
A second reason why the command to love is not completely impossible is because of God’s first love for us.
I John 4 reminds us that “we love because He first loved us.”
This text says a similar thing when it says, “…just as Christ loved us.”
I don’t know what it’s like with you, but I often find that my response to another person depends on their actions toward me.
If I sense that they are open and friendly to me, I am likely to be open and friendly to them.
If it is clear to me that they like me, I find it easier to like them.
I respond to being loved.
If it is natural for us to respond to love it is so important to understand just how much we are loved by God.
Christ loved us so much that He was willing to leave the glories of heaven, come to this earth and die on the cross for us.
His love is not a general sample, it is clear, costly and specific.
He loves us and has made a great sacrifice for us.
Since we are loved like that, it is natural to expect that we will also love Him in return and love others because of the way in which we have been loved.
!!! 3. Because We Have an Example
It interests me how often actor’s children become actors, musician’s children become musicians and missionary children become missionaries.
Certainly one of the reasons is that these children have observed the practice, the use of the skills and the values of these roles while at home.
Missionary parents emanate the value of sharing faith and living simply and sacrificially and their children see this modeled.
They live with an example of what it means to be a missionary and many of them follow the model they have lived with.
It is possible for us as children of God to obey the command to imitate God in love because we have the example of Jesus who has demonstrated what it means to love.
His example of love was to offer Himself to God as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice.”
How can we imitate God? Well we can’t imitate Him in all things, but we can imitate Him in love because of what He has done in us, what He has done for us and what we have seen in Him.
What Does This Mean?
What does this mean practically?
To love means more than just caring about others.
Caring about others has specifics which go far beyond kindness.
As we move to the next verses, some of these specifics are described.
!! A. Holiness Instead of Impurity
Ephesus was the center of worship for the cult of Diana.
Diana was a fertility goddess and prostitution was a part of the worship practice of this cult.
The Gentile Ephesian believers had grown up understanding and probably participating in this kind of religion.
When they became Christians they were changed and this kind of immorality was not to be a part of their life any more.
Yet sometimes, as in Corinthian, they still struggled with this temptation.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1 such a thing happened.
There we read, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife."
This individual had been swayed by the surrounding culture and the church was called to recognize that this was not appropriate and needed correction.
The context of Ephesus was in some ways not much different than ours is.
In 1952 on the I Love Lucy show, Lucy was pregnant, but the word “pregnant” was not allowed in the script.
In 1961 on the Dick Van Dyke Show, Dick and Laura slept in twin beds with a night stand between them.
Today the book “The Bridger Generation” says that “Every four minutes during prime time network television, characters display sexual behavior or talk about sex.
Yet only about 1% of the sexual references occur between a married couple.”
Recently I heard about the movie “Friends with Benefits,” which presents the idea of an intimate relationship between casual friends.
We live in a culture today in which the values regarding sexual practice are the polar opposite to the holiness to which we are called and so it is important to talk about these things and make the right choices about them.
Verse 6 warns that we should not be “deceived by empty words.”
The temptations which come to us from our own desires are often reinforced by such arguments as that it is OK to be intimate outside of marriage if you love one another or that if we are free in Christ, it doesn’t matter what we do or that what we do with our physical body doesn’t pollute our spirit, so it is OK.
These are deceptions and go contrary to God’s will and God’s will is always for the purpose of being life giving.
So instead of immorality, we are called to holiness.
!! B. Desire for God Instead of Desire for Stuff
The text also warns Christians to be wary of greed.
I have heard of a monkey trap that is used in different places in the world.
It consists of a staked container with a small hole.