Watching a toddler mimic mom or dad is humorous, but it also highlights the important role God has given parents. Imitation is a process by which the young learn and grow into adulthood, and it’s also the way Christians mature—by imitating their heavenly Father. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church, he repeatedly talked about the “walk” of believers. This was his way of describing an ongoing practice and lifestyle. After listing Christian virtues like humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love in chapter four, Paul summed it all up by saying, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2 ESV).
Christ’s Love for Us
One of the most important ways we are to imitate our heavenly Father is by walking in love. However, since our human concept of love falls far short of the Lord’s, we must seek to understand what His love looks like, as displayed in His Son.
Christ’s love is selfless. He “gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2 ESV). This began with His incarnation when He left the glories of heaven to take on human flesh and live on this fallen earth among sinful people. But His selfless love stooped even lower when He humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
Our Savior’s love offers forgiveness. Jesus gave Himself as an offering for our sin by dying in our place. Now everyone who believes in Him and trusts in His death as payment for sin receives a full pardon and a righteous standing before holy God.
Jesus’ love is sacrificial. Although salvation is a free gift offered to us by God’s grace through faith, it cost the Savior more than we can imagine. On the cross, He became a sacrifice to God by bearing His Father’s wrath until every sin was fully punished. Because Jesus was the sinless Lamb of God, divine justice was fully satisfied, and His death became a fragrant aroma to His Father, signifying that atonement was complete and forgiveness of sins was accomplished.
On the cross, Jesus became a sacrifice to God by bearing His Father’s wrath until every sin was fully punished.
Our minds cannot fathom such infinite love, yet we are told to walk in love just as Christ did. How is this even possible? We live in a fallen world, face temptations, and struggle with sin. In our humanity and self-effort, we have no ability to love like Christ. However, because we are God’s beloved children, His love can be expressed through us. He has given us a new nature (or self), which is created in His likeness in righteousness, holiness, and truth (Eph. 4:24). We also have Christ’s life flowing through us as we abide in Him (John 15:5), and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us produces the fruit of love in our heart. The entire Trinity is at work lavishing us with grace, which frees us to walk in love.
Our Love for Others
Christlike love isn’t achieved by working up emotional fervor for someone. Rather, His love for us was always manifested by action. He emptied Himself of His rights and privileges in order to give us what we desperately needed but could never achieve on our own: salvation. These same actions of selflessness, forgiveness, and sacrifice should become evident in our life as well when we walk in love.
Selfless Love. Being self-centered is part of the flesh nature we were born with, and the battle to overcome its sinful patterns continues after salvation. Our culture does us no favors because it promotes putting ourselves first and demanding our rights. However, Christlike love puts the interests and needs of others first and is willing to give up our rights. This is why Romans 14:13-15 says if we let our freedoms hurt a fellow believer, we are no longer walking according to love.
Forgiving Love. This expression of love is perhaps the most difficult because in our mind, those who wrong us deserve only justice and vengeance. Therefore, we must remember that we likewise were unworthy of God’s pardon, yet Jesus died for us so we could be forgiven. Having received such great love, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone else.
Sacrificial Love. Sometimes extending love to others is costly, especially if the person is unlovable or abrasive. This, in fact, is how we all appeared to God before salvation, yet He loved us while we were still in that condition. Christ laid down His life for us; should we not be willing to sacrifice lesser things like convenience, time, or personal preferences in our love for others?
Christlike love isn’t achieved by working up emotional fervor for someone. Rather, His love for us was always manifested by action.
Christlike love begins in our mind as we come to know and believe the love that God has for us (1 John 4:16). If He hadn’t loved us first, we’d never be able to care for others (1 John 4:19). But His love now abides in us and, as we depend on Him, flows through our life to touch those around us. Although the Lord Himself teaches us to love, we must become imitators of God and put His loving ways into practice each day until doing so becomes the habit—or walk—of our life.
Does loving others like Jesus seem too high a standard to attain? Although you will never be able to do it perfectly, that should never stop you from seeking to walk in love. Do you stop praying because you can’t do it flawlessly? If you tell a lie, do you abandon honesty and give yourself over to deceit? Of course not! Walking in Christlike love is learned through practice and dependence on the Lord. Each time you act in another person’s best interest instead of yielding to selfishness, ease, or convenience, you are imitating God and growing in love.
God’s love now abides in us and, as we depend on Him, flows through our life to touch those around us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your amazing love in sending Your Son as my Savior. Since Your love has been poured out within my heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), cause me to increase and abound in love for others in accordance with Your will (1 Thessalonians 3:12). In Jesus’ name. Amen.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
- Galatians 5:13-15
- 1 John 3:17-18
Paul explained to the Thessalonians that they were taught by God Himself to love one another; then, after commending them for practicing love toward fellow believers, he urged them “to excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). This should be our ambition as well. The first step is to recognize when we are tempted to respond selfishly, hold on to a grudge, or insist on our rights, comforts, or privileges. Once we see our shortcomings, we should ask God to empower us to forsake our selfish tendencies so His love can freely flow through us to others.