In response to the free gift of salvation that God offers us and enables us to receive, Christians are called to live a life of gratitude that displays itself in good works (Eph. 2:8–10; 4:17–24). Paul paints the contours of this life in broad strokes in Ephesians 4:25–32, emphasizing the importance of truth-telling, purity in speech, restraint, kindness, and forgiveness. Today’s passage describes life in Christ even more succinctly. Simply put, we must “be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
Ephesians 5:1 is the only verse in Scripture to command us explicitly to imitate the Lord. Nevertheless, throughout the Bible we find passages from which we may deduce our Father’s desire that His people would copy His character, insofar as creatures are able. Leviticus 19:2, for example, calls us to model our holiness after the holiness of God: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus also tells us to be kind, for that is the way in which our Creator treats His creatures, even those who are ungrateful (Luke 6:35–36). Since we are made in God’s image, all human beings have the capability to imitate Him (Gen. 1:26–27). Due to the fall, however, only those who belong to Christ — the perfect representation of God (Col. 1:15) — can now put this imitation into practice.
Of course, being creatures, we cannot imitate the Creator in every way. We cannot make something out of nothing, nor are we sovereign over all. The ways in which we imitate God are primarily ethical in nature. The church father Jerome comments: “Admittedly much that God has done we humans can hardly be said to imitate. But in the way he is merciful to all and rains on good and bad, so we may pour out mercy upon all we meet” (ACCNT 8, pp. 172–173).
That our imitation of the Lord is chiefly ethical is confirmed in Ephesians 5:2, where we are commanded to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” This love was supremely demonstrated in His willingness to give Himself up for our sake, to pay the price necessary to save us. God’s love cost Him much — the death of His only begotten Son — thus, costly love is what pleases Him most. Imitating our Creator means that we will pay a price — that in love we will have to surrender our own well-being at times in order to advance the good of others.