The goal of Christian spiritual formation is that the believer becomes more like Jesus. This does not entail an abdication of one’s own personality but rather an embracing of those Christ-like characteristics, dispositions, and habits that brought Jesus into harmony with God.
Furthermore, and paradoxically, the more like Jesus we become the more truly human we become. The new creation work of God is to recreate us in the “image” of God (Eph 4:24). This “image” language intentionally echoes the Genesis creation story where God created people in his own image. Thus, to become like God is to become truly human.
Therefore Paul invites his readers at the beginning of chapter 5:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NRSV).
Having just called for his readers to forgive like God forgives, Paul continues to call people into the deeper life of God by calling them to remove what is not truly human. There is a long list of these beastly vices: fornication, impurity, greed, vulgar talk, and drunkenness. In place of these vices should be wise living and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
In this rather lengthy call for ethical living (Eph 4:17-5:21), what stands out to me is how Paul teases his reader into the transforming work of God. Early in this text, Paul speaks of learning Christ as the way to God. This learning-Christ curriculum involved deleting the old self and wrapping yourself with the new self—“created based on the likeness of God.”
Therefore, it is not a far stretch to see the way of Jesus as the way of imitating God—much like how young children seek to imitate their parents. As God’s beloved children, Paul calls us, we are to live a live of love because Christ showed us the way. Jesus was both the demonstration of God’s love for us and a model for how we should love God.
Because of the work of Jesus, we are now “children of light” (Eph 5:8). Therefore, we live in the light and not the darkness; in fact, our lives themselves shine light on the way of darkness.
So imitating God, we say, “Let there be light!”