Ephesians 5:1-2. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Even though this is the start of a new chapter in your Bible it is actually the end of the last section. A section that told us to not walk like the Gentiles in a futile or worthless mindset, but to put off and put on based on our new identity in Christ. A section that ended with these words:
Ephesians 4:32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
And then comes the powerful conclusion: therefore imitate God by walking in love.
Remember, in our new covenant walk the imperative (command to obey) is always empowered by an indicative (truth to be believed). So HOW do we walk in love? By claiming the new covenant promise that we ARE loved. Which Paul says twice in as many sentences – as beloved children, and as Christ loved us.
Do you have any idea how loved you are? Me either. It’s a hard reality to grasp. Perfectly loved all the time. No more no less. No matter what. For better or worse. Without end and without condition. Loved in spite of how well we perform. Loved through every mountain top and every valley.
But it’s true.
It was Paul’s prayer for us before he even began talking about how we should walk. He prayed that we would be rooted and grounded in love and know the love of Christ, a love beyond knowledge. We are loved beyond understanding. Beyond all the experiences of this life. Beyond death even.
How do we know? Because Christ gave himself as a sacrifice for us. And beyond that, God made us his beloved children. There is no greater love than that. From God’s perspective there’s no turning back now. He loved us as enemies (2:1-3). He loved us before time. In love he predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters (1:4-5).
So what do we do when we read a command like the one we’re looking at today? Imitate God’s love. Do we let it steal God’s love from us (which it cannot)? Do we suddenly make God’s love conditional?
Our instinct is to turn this into another law and then let it drive us either toward despair or toward pride.
- Despair: “Imitate God? Who can do that? I don’t love like God. Oh no, I’m in trouble.”
- Pride: “Imitate God? I got this. I will work so hard at imitating God and be the best at it.”
But when we turn it into a law we miss the whole point of our union with Christ. Imitate God’s love is not to be accomplished from law, it’s to be accomplished from life. Christ is our sacrifice, our offering to God on our behalf. What does that mean? It means no more law keeping. It is finished. He did it. He imitated God. He loved. He walked. For us. Imitating God and walking in his love is no longer a standard to maintain, it is a covenant promise to claim.
This is what makes new covenant commands different from old covenant commands – they’re already obeyed. BY Jesus. Now we obey them FROM Jesus. When we are commanded to imitate God’s love here’s the most important part: God’s love for us in and through the indwelling life of Christ is the power for our walk in love.
We are God’s beloved children. That’s the promise. Claim it. You have God’s nature. His DNA. What little kid doesn’t try to be like their mom or dad? Holding their hand in the parking lot. Dressing up like them. The way they talk, and eat, and play, and work. This imitation is a natural part of life. We watch what mom or dad do and then we copy it.
And here is the love that we are copying – and gave himself up for us.
The love of God that we are imitating, that we are walking in, is the love of the cross. The love of self-sacrifice. Of self-giving. For the good of others. For the salvation of others. As our Savior taught us, this is not the love of the “pagans” who love only those who will love them back. This is loving an enemy even. Good Samaritan love. Love that requires a living sacrifice to complete it. This kind of cruciform love is the kind that is a fragrant aroma to God.
“To live is Christ” means you are loved more dearly and deeply than you could ever imagine. Now you have nothing to lose and nothing to gain but a brother or sister. By faith you’ve received the sacrificial love of Christ, now by faith you can walk in that same love. And that smells good to God.