Children imitate and mimic what they see and hear. It’s how they learn new skills and behaviors. But this is not an encouragement on how parenting. We are, instead, looking at what it means to be a child.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NASB95) In this section of Paul’s letter, he provides a series of expected attitudes, behavior, and actions of believers in Jesus. The discussion begins at 4:17 and runs through 5:21. The list of attitudes, practices, and activities is daunting and challenging. But in the center, the verses we just read is the key to leading a healthy Christian life.
In all our endeavors, there is no speedy pill or device which instantly takes us from “want to be” to mastery. If I want to be an electrician, there is much to learn and master. Much of that learning happens by watching and imitating someone that is an electrician. Even if we’re learning from books or youtube videos, we are still mimicking what someone else learned before us. The same is true in leading a life that pleases God.
This is more to this than just asking, “what would God do?” We must look at what God is doing right now, beginning with the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. All the things we’ve talked about and desire are first demonstrated by God. Love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, and compassion are constantly on full display if we have eyes to see them.
Sometimes though, we may find it difficult to see what God is doing. To another group of believers, Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB95) We often begin by observing and adopting the ways of those who have walked in the faith before us. That may be so for a time, but ultimately, we must begin to see God’s ways for ourselves.
A few words of caution. Leaders must provide an excellent example while always pointing to Christ. Notice that we didn’t say a perfect example since that is impossible. Beware of those that claim perfection and point to themselves more than towards Jesus. Following Christ is the journey of a lifetime. A path of growing and changing as we discover more about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – and more about ourselves. In many ways, the farther we go in Christ, the more we understand how much we don’t know.
As we strive after imitating God, there should be many moments of surprise and awe. Faith and the Fruit of the Spirit that is growing in unexpected places. Like grace given where none is deserved or wanted. Some of those moments will come as we read the Bible; others will come as we observe God’s handiwork in other folks and ourselves. But imitating God is more than just seeing and finding; it is also doing. Here’s an example. The sun rose this morning on the evil folks and the good folks (Matthew 5:45). Now, I can’t make the sun rise or fall, but I can imitate God through the grace of a smile on all I encounter today.