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7.20 Ephesians -- Be Imitators of God

The beginning of chapter 5 sums up Paul's code of morality:

           Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:1-2).

One notable phrase in this verse is "dearly loved children."  This is the new state of the believer, contrasted with our earlier state:

            "we were by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:3 RSV).

            The NIV mistranslates this verse as "objects of wrath,"  but it is the same word as "children" in Eph 5:1.   Believing in Jesus' atoning death, accompanied by repentance for one's sin-filled life, brings the grace of God and regeneration to the Jew or Gentile.  This is the process by which a person is changed from being a child of wrath to one dearly loved.  And only then is moral behavior possible. Outside this new existence in Christ lie only varying shades of sin.

           "Be imitators of God." 

            How to do this?  The Christian who models his conduct after the example of Jesus will hit the mark.  Here is the heart of Christian anti-nomianism, and how fitting it is that Paul the Hebrew of Hebrews should express it.  He understood, unlike many later Catholic and Protestant believers, that not only the Jewish Law ended at the Cross, but that Law itself as a principle of right conduct also ceased.  It was not the business of the apostles and prophets to come up with a replacement Mosaic code.  Why?  Because Law itself was disqualified as the organizing principle of the redeemed human community.  The human spirit was no longer to express itself to God or to other men by obedience to an external code.  Rather, Law was superseded by love -- not the principle of love, the ideology of tolerance and diversity, the poetic delusion of idealists, but the actions of an "agape" motivation of the heart.  This love is not a possibility for the old man, ruled as he is by self-interest and lusts.  So we can always ignore what the politicians, novelists and filmmakers say about love.  Rather, this spiritual capacity was both exemplified and bequeathed by Jesus, who "loved us and gave himself up for us."  It is this love that is the skeleton, the underlying framework, of the living Christian church.


The Christian ethic is contained in this one verse.  There is no need for an "and also..."  The subsequent descriptions of immoral conduct in Eph 5:3-7 are not additions to verse 1, but illustrations of the violation of the one "law" of love.  For example, if we say we are acting in love, but the fruits are immorality, greed, obscenity, etc., then these are sure indicators that we are off track, deceiving and self-deceived.  As Paul says,

            "Let no one deceive you with empty words" (Eph 5:6). 

            The single moral imperative for the believer is to be an "imitator" of God (Gk "mimetes," root of mime), and the other side of the coin, not to "grieve the Holy Spirit."  So now we can answer the question of how we grieve the Spirit: by failing to love according to the example of Jesus Christ.

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