Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
The thought in these lines from Ephesians 5:1-2 continue the thought from the end of Ephesians 4, where he described how Christians should relate to one another. The believer has an example for how they should treat other believers: God Himself. Christians are to be imitators of God.
The idea is simple – that believers are to make God their example and model. It does not say here, “Think about God” or “Admire God” or “Adore God,” though those are all important Christian duties. This is a call to practical action, going beyond our inner life with God.
We could say this is a continuation of the same idea Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:13 regarding the extent of Christian growth: to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We could also say that this is a continuation of the idea from Ephesians 4:32, where we were commanded to be forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. God’s behavior towards us becomes our measure for our behavior towards one another.
It is important to see that God is far more than our example. Many errors come into the church when Jesus is presented only as an example of behavior. We are not saved by the example of Jesus, but once we are set in right relation with God by the work of Jesus, then His example is meaningful to us. God is more than our example, but He is also our example.
We are to imitate God as dear children: Children are natural imitators. They often do just what they see their parents or other adults do. When we act according to our nature as children of God, we will imitate Him.
We all imitate someone or something. We meet a person and are impressed by them – and unconsciously want to be like them. We see a video of someone we admire and want to be like them. Christians should make the conscious choice to let God be their example, God as He is displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, believers should walk in love, as Christ also has loved them. As in all things, Jesus is our example. As He has loved us and has given Himself for us, we are to display the same kind of self-giving love.
We sometimes think we could lay down our life in a dramatic way to show our love for others. But God often calls us to lay down our life little by little – in small coins (as it were) instead of one large payment – but it is laying down our lives, nonetheless.
As Christ dwells in you, be an imitator of God. It is fitting for the children to imitate their father.