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Imitators of God (Ephesians 5.1-9)

Lent III – Midweek

“Imitators of God”
Paul Norris, Seminarian   

Ephesians 5.1-9

23 March 2022


Brothers and sisters in Christ, what a great gift of love we have been given from God in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Lenten Season is a time of examining ourselves. Think of how you once looked up to your mother or father, or grandmother or grandfather when you were a child. As children grow, they will consciously and unconsciously imitate their parents. Little girls like to play with baby dolls, and little boys play with cars and use pretend tools to fix things. Just like mom and dad. Perhaps you have said this of other people’s children, “They are a chip off the old block”, or “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

These days, who are our children imitating? Often it isn’t their parents but rap musicians, internet influencers, athletes, or celebrities; the very people who have no good example to share. Celebrities who live perverse lives should not be our role models, or the ones we imitate. As Christians, who are born from above of God in Holy Baptism, we seek to imitate our Heavenly Father.

God’s love toward his unworthy children teaches and encourages us to show similar love in our own lives. Martin Luther wrote of the Christian life, “The entire outward life of the Christians should be nothing but love.” God is an example of unselfish love. God the Father with Christ Jesus is the motive and pattern of our love. So great was God’s love for us that he humbled himself and became man. Christ delivered himself up in place of us his unworthy children. Jesus is the all atoning sacrifice on the cross, who by offering up his own body on the cross took the curse and wrath of God upon himself. The act of Christ’s voluntary sacrifice for us is a sweet and fragrant scent to God. So sweet is the fragrance of his sacrifice, that there is none like it. Here is the supreme evidence of Christ’s love for us; greater love than this is impossible.

In remembrance of his great love for us, God calls us to be imitators of him. God urges Christians to exercise their Godly love towards one another. But the imitation of God excludes any uncleanliness which carries with it the stench of death and reeks of a vile odor. This is why St. Paul gives us a list of the things which the Christian should not be known for. Among the sins listed as not belonging to Christians, St. Paul lists sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness. These are all filthy desires of Old Adam and the sinful heart. These sins are so utterly at odds with God’s love and those who imitate Christ, that they should never be known among us. The Christian congregation should be so careful that not even a whiff of these sins exists among us. We should earnestly guard our honor and reputations so that not even a rumor of these sins would be heard among us. Yet, even we are guilty of all these sins.  As children of Our Heavenly Father, we should be so consumed in praise and thanksgiving that we have no time to indulge in these fleshly desires. And yet we still fail.

So that no Christian would ever underestimate the severity of these sins, St. Paul adds, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph 5:5) St. Paul names the sins that afflict us the most. Sexual immorality and impurity have plagued every generation of mankind, even now as evidenced by the present perverse world. And coveting, that is desiring something that belongs to someone else (namely God), is the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. We too are no strangers to coveting as we seek to take possession of what does not rightly belong to us and elevate ourselves and others above God and His Holy will.

These are harsh words of the Law that should penetrate any person to their core. God has no room for those who persist in these sins and remain unrepentant. God makes it exceedingly clear that those who persist in these sins will get nothing but the judgment and wrath of God raining down upon them. This is a most sincere but necessary application of the third use of the Law from our Heavenly Father who loves his children and desires to guide them in sanctified (holy) living. As Christians, we do not want our Heavenly Father to see us as “sons of disobedience”.

Recall from your learning of the Small Catechism,  “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith;” The good news is that you are not left to your own devices to obey the Law of God.

The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel to be an imitator of Christ. Our sanctification (to be made holy) is a work of the Holy Spirit with whom we participate and it is only because of Christ that we are sanctified. The unknown author of Hebrews writes,  “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb 10:14) Our sanctification is an ongoing work of God. While we remain here on earth, our sanctification will never be completed. But on the last day, your resurrected minds and bodies will be perfectly sanctified in Christ.

The mirror of the Law not only shows that we are sinners, but it also shows what God desires for us to be; sanctified in Him – the perfect image of Christ’s righteousness. St. James the Apostle writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)

St. Paul gives us a final admonition in the reading, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” Notice that St. Paul does not say you were in the darkness, he says you were darkness. We were sin, death, and all the stinky vileness that comes with it. But now, by Christ’s death and victorious resurrection, you are light in the Lord. Because you are the light in the Lord, you are his imitators and walk as children of light. The light of Christ produces in you, and you bear the good fruit of faith by sanctification through Christ. Though we struggle against Old Adam in our earthly lives, Christ has already perfected sanctification for you. Christ gives you the means to be sanctified through the Word and Sacraments. As you imitate Christ, the fruits of the Spirit allow you to bless our neighbors and to bless and serve your brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s Word not only exposes our sin and darkness but the Holy Spirit transforms and sanctifies you.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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