1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 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. – Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV
Imitate God. At this point in his letter, Paul issues a lofty and seemingly impossible call to action. And yet, that’s been the theme he has been expressing from the very beginning. what Paul has been suggesting throughout his letter. In the opening lines of chapter one, Paul reminded his readers that God had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” so that they might “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, that they might by holy as He is holy. He prayed that their hearts would be enlightened, so that they might “know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV). Paul wanted them to understand that God had a future in store for them that included their glorification. The day was coming when they would be sin-free and fully righteous. And he assured them of the security of that future by declaring, “God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 5-6 ESV).
There had been a time when they had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). They were sons and daughters of God and, as such, they were to emulate and imitate their Heavenly Father. That is why Paul so strongly stressed their new relationship with God.
…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19 ESV
As members of the body of Christ, they were being “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). It was through the mystery of the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). And Paul’s prayer was that they would understand “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT) and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).
Paul had commanded the Ephesians: “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT). According to Paul, God had identified the Ephesian believers as His own by placing His Spirit within them (Ephesians 4:30). So, they were to conduct their lives in such a way that they accurately reflected their status as God’s children. And the greatest expression of their new divine nature was a life marked by Christ-like love.
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT
Jesus had imitated His Father. In fact, Paul described Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). And yet, thought Jesus was fully God, He “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). In doing so, Jesus displayed His godly character. He obeyed the will of His Father by displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of His Father.
He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT
Jesus always did exactly what His Father commanded Him to do. He gained strength from doing His Father’s will. That’s why He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He told the Pharisees, “I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT). He declared that He had come down from heaven to do the will of the One who had sent him (John 6:38). In His humanity, Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to imitate God.
“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 ESV
God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). And Jesus laid down His life willingly, not under coercion.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT
He was the visible, tangible expression of God’s love. He imitated God by loving as God loved. And Paul calls the Ephesians to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). In a sense, Paul is stating that Christ-likeness equals godliness. To be like the Son is to be like the Father. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, because they are one.
But Paul wants his readers to know what imitating God looks like in everyday life, and he does so by listing those characteristics that display ungodliness.
Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. – Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT
People who display these kinds of qualities don’t look like God. Immorality, impurity, and greed are signs of godlessness, not godliness. They mark the lives of the unrepentant and unredeemed. They are diametrically opposed to a life of selfless, sacrificial love. Immorality involves lust – the desire to satisfy and fulfill selfish passions at the expense of others. Impurity has to do with moral and physical uncleanness. It describes the lives of the unsaved Gentiles.
Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT
And greed or covetousness is an insatiable desire for that which has been forbidden by God. In the end, it is a worship of self, which is why, in verse 5, Paul ties covetousness closely to idolatry. To covet another man’s wife is to believe that you deserve what belongs to another. Your passions and preferences take priority over the needs and desires of others. But Paul boldly and unapologetically states 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” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). Those whose lives are marked by selfishness and self-indulgence were never really redeemed by God. They fail to display the divine nature that Jesus died to make possible. And their unrepentant behavior provides proof that they are unredeemed and still living as enemies of God. And this was not the first time Paul issued this warning against the unrighteous. He wrote the very same thing in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT
And he repeated the same warning to the church in Galatia.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT
Paul is not threatening Christians with the loss of their salvation. He is simply emphasizing the expectation of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will produce tangible evidence of a salvation in the form of increasing sanctification or Christ-likeness. The true believer will experience a supernatural transformation of life that shows up actions and attitudes. Their lives will model the character of Christ and, in doing so, will imitate their Heavenly Father.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.