Ephesians 5:1-2 The Glory of Imitating God

Written by Paul J Bucknell on July, 22, 2022

Ephesians 5:1-2 The Glory of Imitating God

Ephesians 5:1-2

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 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 (Eph 5:1-2).

The admonitions Paul gives in the following verses (5:3-14) build upon the two foundational commands given in 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God” and “walk in love.” These two commands are reminiscent of Jesus’ summary of the two greatest commandments: to love God and others as oneself (Mat 22:36-40; John 13:34-35), analogous to the Ten Commandments (Ex 20).

The theological underpinning in the first two verses deepens our attention to the power that enables us to reflect God through Christlike living. These two commands powerfully drive us to focus on God’s outstanding work in our lives and contribute to the following discussion on the importance of overcoming strong, lustful desires.

1.) Our Standard: “Be Imitators of God” (Eph 5:1)

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (Eph 5:1).

Paul surprisingly starts by calling us to imitate God. The illustration behind the charge immediately hits home. As children take after or imitate their fathers, spiritual children are to imitate their Heavenly Father. The Greek word “mimates” is similar to our English word “mimic” or “imitate.” Every child copies his parent, whether he wants or not!

This call to imitation, though natural for those born of God, needs greater consideration and so comes as an exhortation. God’s character, will, and holiness becomes our goal. God’s love born in us becomes the source of our love. God is our Father, and as His children, we imitate Him. We are not little toddlers wearing Daddy’s shoes but walking in the Spirit, powerfully reflecting God’s perfect ways (Gal 5:16).

Before continuing, let me make three applicative comments.

Religious laws use fear to intimidate action, contrasting with the open door to love.

Too Legalistic!

Some might associate these commands with religious laws. They assume the Christian life is nothing but commands, calling us to do this and not that. This command, however—when we understand it, frees us from legalism’s chain. Note that verses 1 and 2 focus on God’s person, not another law. We serve God, not the law.

These two verses can eradicate the stereotype that Christianity is just another religion. Religions typically emphasize their laws and obligations, the outward form, but ignore the inner spiritual life. Without the love of God to stir our inner desires and empower us, all these commands, including the putting off and on, can become dreadfully oppressive. This command points us to God who gives us new life and energizes us to live out His life in us.


The command to imitate God can be disconcerting because of its largeness. How can we be like God? We are, without question, not divine, so why would God call us to imitate Him? Unfortunately, some Christians push this command aside with a statement like: “God doesn’t expect us to be righteous.” They can never see themselves measuring up.

However, we are not to imitate His splendor, power, knowledge, or wisdom—truly all quite impossible! The context helps clear up any misunderstandings. He is calling us to conform to His holy ways. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat 5:48).

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

Too Powerful!

If we are not careful, however, we will gloss over the important underlying principle—we are to act like children of God because we are children of God. God’s nature has been born in us. This is not a game of force and pretense but abiding by the powerful force of life, similar to the way a seed grows into full maturity and able to bear remarkable fruit.

Christians are supernaturally born into God’s family (“born from above” John 3:3). Christ’s Spirit gives us a new nature and a new set of desires and goals. Paul calls us to imitate God because he knows genuine Christians now have this unique indwelling nature to be like their Heavenly Father. (If a person does not share the desire to love God and others, then he does not share God’s nature.) Interestingly, Paul mentioned “God” rather than Father. “God” here has to be primarily considered as God the Father, because of the term “beloved children.”

The inner heart change institutes new behaviors and ways of doing things, as explained in the following verses. Our new identity as God’s children becomes the foundation of our new lifestyle.

We desire to be like God because He has His nature born in us. Christians have life from God, being born from Him, while unbelievers are “excluded from the life of God” (Eph 4:18). So it’s the new nature, secured through our faith in Christ that is embedded in us (ie. God’s DNA) from which we replicate God’s image. The scriptures teach us to live righteous, holy lives as our Father is holy.


This command to imitate God acts as a breakthrough for the believer by opening their eyes to the full potential of being God’s children. Nothing can theoretically hold them back from reflecting on their new nature born from their Heavenly Father. We bear His image. We admit a mystical sense hovers over this image, even as the Spirit came upon Mary, but Paul uses it to teach us how God’s holy nature of love entrenches itself within us. Our ability to live above our sinful nature and desires depends on this truth.

In summary, Paul uses this to:
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 1:6).

  1. Inform us that we share the exact holy nature as God.
  2. Reinforce that it’s proper and necessary to replicate His holy nature.
  3. It reminds us that no area of our lives should remain isolated from the effects of God’s holiness.
  4. Communicate God’s power to work beyond any difficult and challenging sinful behavior we battle with.

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16).

Ephesians 5:2 clarifies the process by which the new life expresses itself.

2.) Our Example: Be Followers of Christ (Eph 5:2)

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 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 (Eph 5:1-2).

After clarifying God’s wonderful gift of a new divine nature—past tense, something given and not earned—we move on to the next significant question. “How do we carry out this holy calling?” The answer is straightforward yet profound: “Walk in love.” This is what characterizes the Christian life—not rules or laws but open-ended opportunities to care for others.

In verse 2 Paul informs us that we are to follow Christ’s example, since the same Spirit that worked in Christ (i.e., the Anointed) has anointed us (1 John 2:27; Eph 1:13-14).

The new nature spawns that natural impulse to care for others. Love is the preoccupation to attend to other people’s needs, contrary to what we will discuss starting in verse 3—our selfish, fleshly impulses.

Paul spends a short time in verse 2 describing the nature of love, the character of this love, and the delights arising from this love.

• The Nature of Love

We are, therefore, to “walk in love.” There is nothing more natural than for the Christian believer to love like Christ. The phrase “walk in love” shows that love perfectly summarizes God’s nature. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The command assumes the power. Its absence reflects our sinful bent.

• The Character of Love

Christ’s life and death manifested God’s love. “Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us.” He showed the extreme picture of this love, even under the pressure of the cross where He willingly gave up His life for others. If we follow Christ’s example, we will seek the Father’s ways of manifesting His love. His life, though an offering, becomes an example for us to follow—a willingness to make sacrifices. (The Training of a Godly Leader reflects these issues in an expository study of Isaiah 53.)

• The Delight of Love

Something more than love is happening. These acts of love, done with our lips and hands, our minds and our prayers, become glorious and desirable, delighting God and expanding His kingdom rule. They are “a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

The use of the word sacrifice goes deeper than highlighting sacrificial service. It points to the voluntary burnt sacrifices in the Old Testament, where individuals take what is precious and offer it to the Lord. Christ sacrificed Himself, gave up His body, and now we have an opportunity to replicate Christ’s love in our lives through the works of love.

We are not simply loving another, expressing a human-to-human interaction but using the same Spirit that anointed Christ to modify our preferences to care for and make sacrifices for others. These works of love become sacrifices that please God. For example, being hospitable gives up one’s financial resources, time, and energy to focus on helping and encouraging others.


These verses provide powerful insights into how Jesus’ Spirit powerfully replicates Himself in us. We walk in love like our Master. Holiness clothes itself with love.

The following verses display the necessity of putting our evil manners and desires behind us if we live out God’s majestic love.

God embeds Christ’s life within our being, which seeks ways to manifest His Love.

Study Questions on Ephesians 5:1-2

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 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. (Eph 5:1-2)

  1. What word marks the beginning of chapter five? (Remember that chapters, verses, and punctuation were later added to the scriptures.) Look at the previous verses at the end of Ephesians 4 and try to explain what the “therefore” at the beginning of chapter 5 is ‘there for’?
  2. Verse 1 says that we are to act “as beloved children.” List several ways children reflect their natural parents.
  3. What are Christians called to do in verse 1? Name at least three ways that we as Christians can imitate God.
  4. Do you think it is too idealistic to think humans can be like God? Please explain. What did Paul think?
  5. What else does the apostle tell us to do in verse 2? Does loving others seem like a joy or burden to you? Explain.
  6. How does Paul say that are we to love others (2)?
  7. What does it mean that Jesus gave Himself up for us as a sacrifice (2)? Why would this please God (i.e. fragrant aroma) and have Him offer up His Son to die for us?
  8. Read verses 5:1-2 again. Why do you think Paul wrote these verses?
  9. Share one example of how you gave up your convenience or preference and used that time, money, and effort to love someone practically.
  10. Have you considered that this display of love is not just you being nice but God’s Spirit powerfully working in you to replicate Christ’s love through you? Explain.

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