“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)
I know that I’ve heard it, and I’m sure most of you have as well: “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.” For the believer this is biblical hogwash, so to speak. We are called to live as we are now and not as we once were. Before coming to Christ we were lost in our trespasses and sins. Having trusted Christ for our salvation we have been made spiritually alive and have become new creations in Christ. I know that does not bring with it immediate outward change in most cases, but it does very much bring deep inward change at the core of who we are—our spirit. Once this change was made we entered into a new life of walking with God in the power of His Spirit as we seek to conform our lives to the image of the Son, Jesus Christ. This inward change is intended to affect both the way we begin to think and the way we act learn to act in response.
We surely will continue to struggle in various ways at various times, but these struggles are not to identify us. Rather, they are to point to those areas where we are called to focus on putting off the old self and putting on the new as we understand from God and His Word the difference. Sometimes the battle might be longer and the habits more deeply engrained, but they are not unsurmountable barriers to the power of God to enable us to walk as imitators of Him.
Paul reminds us that we are beloved children. This makes such a huge difference. When we have the infinitely powerful God of all creation taking us in as His beloved children, we have His heart and His energies bent towards us. One of the pictures that came to my mind as I thought of this is teaching a child to ride a bicycle. There is this time between the training wheels and them being on their own where fear might keep them from going forward. But having the hand of a father on them during the transition makes a huge difference. What was perceived as undoable becomes doable because the child trusts the father to know what he is doing and to keep him or her from great harm. The same picture can be played out over and over again in various situations where children are trusting their parents to help them into new areas of life. Our Heavenly Father loves us as His children and His strong hands will never let go. He may allow us to stumble. He may allow us to suck in a bit of water. He may even allow us to get a cut or a scrape, but He will never let us go. So, when He tells us to follow His lead or His example, He will be there to help us to see it through. What He expects of us is that we trust Him in the process and do as He instructs without shortcuts or diversions.
He loves us, and He demonstrated His love for us in the most dramatic of ways by sending His Son to pay the price for our sins. Jesus offering Himself for us pleased and glorified the Father. John MacArthur, in his study Bible wrote, Christ’s offering of Himself for fallen man pleased and glorified the Father, because it demonstrated in the most complete and perfect way God’s sovereign, perfect, unconditional, and divine kind of love. Leviticus describes 5 offerings commanded by God for Israel. The first 3 were: 1) the burnt offering (Lev. 1:1–17), depicting Christ’s perfection; 2) the grain offering (Lev. 2:1–16), depicting Christ’s total devotion to God in giving His life to please the Father; and 3) the peace offering (Lev. 3:1–17; 4:27–31), depicting His peacemaking between God and man. All 3 of these were a “soothing aroma to the Lord” (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16). The other two offerings, the sin offering (Lev. 4:1–26, 32–35) and the trespass offering (Lev. 5:1–19), were repulsive to God because, though they depicted Christ, they depicted Him as bearing sin (cf. Matt. 27:46). In the end, when redemption was accomplished, the whole work pleased God completely.
This is the example He set for us, and we are called to be imitators demonstrating our love for Him by living lives pleasing to Him as we walk in love with others. From Jesus we have learned the love of God, and now we are called to live according to that love. Living this way means a lot more than having emotional feelings toward God. It means giving ourselves fully to living the way He calls us to live, just as Jesus, being fully God, obeyed the Father to give Himself on the cross for us. He gave Himself as an offering and a sacrifice as a fragrant aroma to the Father, and we are called to live and love in that same way.