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, ESV.
As we like to say, the word “therefore” is there for a reason! Paul is building on the foundation he laid in the previous chapter, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1) and to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (4:17) but in “the way you learned Christ” (4:20). Having established what that walk looks like, he grounds these new covenant commands in the gospel.
As His children, we are to imitate God the Father. We learn how to do so by looking to the example set by His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. What do we see in Jesus? We see His love as He offers Himself to God on our behalf. As the recipients of the love of God in Christ and children of God, our lives must be characterized by a similar love. Paul emphasizes two features of that love.
First, the love of Christ we are to imitate involves sacrifice—intentionally giving ourselves for the good of others. To walk in love as part of our effort to imitate our Father will cost us dearly. This kind of love acknowledges humility and knows no limits based on “my rights.” This kind of love does not cling to offenses but forgives completely, no longer holding the offender guilty. This kind of love does not demand a worthy recipient. This kind of love may be incredibly painful, either physically, emotionally, or financially. This is sacrificial love.
Second, the love of Christ we are to imitate involves holiness—Christ’s offering of Himself was pleasing to His Father because it was the offering of the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. Therefore, the saint cannot simultaneously play around with sin and expect his sacrifice for his fellow man to be a pleasing offering to God. God regularly condemned Israel through the prophets for the sacrifices they brought to the temple while practicing injustice in their daily lives.
Paul expands on this command to imitate God for the rest of the letter. But we would do well to hold these two verses up as a mirror before we dig deeper into specific applications.
May God grant you a heart changed by His grace and bless your pursuit of holy and sacrificial love this very day. I am praying for you.