Children of God Live Lives of Love
Nick Esch, 11/10/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church
It’s amazing to me how much a father can impact their child… It makes no difference if its by birth or by adoption, there’s something about a father’s relationship to his child that impacts the child, for better or for worse, for their entire life. Most of us probably know that all too well. Some of us have or had godly fathers to learn from and imitate; and others of us did not. But the impact is still there nonetheless. But, whatever our relationship was or wasn’t like with our earthly father, as Christians we have something that supersedes that.
As J. I. Packer once said, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father . . . . You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.”
A Christian is someone who has been saved, redeemed, reconciled, adopted, and loved by the Father, in Christ. If we are Christians God is our Father, and that changes everything. We may not have an earthly father to look to and imitate, but we all have a heavenly Father that we can imitate, that we must imitate. And that’s what we’re going to see in God’s Word today. So with that in mind, look with me at Ephesians 5:1-2.
Live as the children of God
Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” The therefore here ties us back to the verses just before this that tell us to put off the old self and put on the new, to put sin to death and instead speak the truth, work hard and give joyfully and sacrificially, build people up and give grace, don’t grieve the Spirit but be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:17-32). But, really this therefore ties back to more than just those verses; it ties back to chapters 1-3, where Paul so beautifully laid out the mercy, grace, and love of God seen in the truth of the gospel.
In Ephesians 1:4d-6 for instance, Paul said that, “In love he (God the Father) predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” For the praise of the glory of His grace, and in His great love, the Father, before He ever created, looked through eternity upon His people in love, knowing that we would rebel against Him, and yet chose us for salvation, and to be adopted into His family through Jesus living, dying, and rising again in the place of sinners. This is what God has done… This is how He’s loved us… As Ephesians 2:3 says, we were all by nature children of wrath, but the true Beloved Child of God lived, died, and rose again so that sinners like us—children of wrath—would become beloved children of God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). And, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). We, “are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
So, therefore, in view of these great gospel truths, Paul says, “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Because of Jesus—the Beloved One—we are God’s beloved children; and Paul says, since we’ve experienced this great gospel-love, this great adopting-love… since our identity has been transformed from being a child of wrath to a child of God, who is truly loved, we must then be imitators of God. But what does that mean? What does that look like? How can we imitate so great a God?
Just here in Ephesians we see that this God truly is great. He is the God from whom all blessings flow. He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He is the God who is eternal, who is before all things, who predestines His people, and creates all things, purposes all things, and sustains all things according to the council of His will. He is sovereign over life and death; and He has the power to overrule death. He is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 1). He not only has the power to create, but to re-create (Ephesians 2:1-10). Indeed, God is omnipotent (all-powerful), God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), and God is omniscient (all-knowing). He is the self-existent, self-sufficient, eternally existing, eternally glorious great God of the universe. And it’s this great God that we exist for.
In Isaiah God says, “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7). A clear implication of this text is that in some sense everyone who has been formed and made by God—which is everyone—has been created for His glory. As we’re told in Genesis 1, humanity is made in the image of God. Why? To image Him… To display what He’s like and show His worth and value with our lives. And that’s what it means to glorify Him. But as we’re told in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all do… Though God is the Sovereign Creator of all and has divine rights over our lives, we have rebelled against Him, and fallen short of His glory, living instead to make much of ourselves and to show our worth and value, and yet here we are told to imitate Him… To be like God… Do you feel the weight of that? I mean, this is astonishing to me. We have sinned against an infinitely glorious God. We are broken sinners who deserve hell.
How can mere broken sinners imitate a holy God? Well, first we need to recognize that if we are Christians we are not merely broken sinners. If we are in Christ we are God’s beloved children. And that is what makes this possible. Just as a son is like his father, yet still clearly distinct from his father; just as a daughter is like her mother, yet still clearly distinct from her mother, so we as children of God are to be godly, yet not trying to be God. We are not to put ourselves in the place of God, but we are to strive to imitate God. The Greek word translated imitate here is the word we get the English word mimic from. And that’s the idea, God is our example in so many of His communicable attributes. In His love, His mercy, His grace, His kindness, His generosity, and the like. In all these areas and more we should strive to be godly. We are to be holy as the Lord our God is holy. And now that our identity has been transformed we can be holy… In fact, in Christ we are holy. Our status and identity have changed, and that changes us. So what Ephesians 5:1 is saying is, become who you already are in Christ. Because we are in the Beloved Child we are God’s beloved children, and therefore we should live like it. We must live like it. That’s what’s meant by imitate God. We must live as the children of God. And because we now are children of God, we can…
Love as the Child of God
But what exactly does it look like to live as children of God? What does it look like to imitate God this way? Well, verse 2 gives us some insight. There we read, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Jesus’ life and death were marked by sacrificial love. So, living as the children of God means loving as the Child of God, the true Child, the true Beloved One, Jesus Christ. But how does Jesus love? Well, the word love here is the word ἀγάπη in Greek, which typically refers to divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good; it’s gospel-love; it’s the love displayed at the cross… And that’s what we see here: Jesus loved us and gave Himself up for us. He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). It was on the cross that He fully gave Himself for us.
Jesus gave Himself up for us, meaning that His death was in our place. But it means more than just that… God the Son gave Himself up for us by coming down from heaven and humbling Himself by taking on flesh and becoming a man. He was still truly God, but now He was also truly man, making Him the perfect all-sufficient Savoir. And this Savior gave Himself over to this for our good and in order to magnify the glory of God in and through redemption as He lived the perfect life for God’s glory that we have fallen short of. He was tempted like us but never sinned. He perfectly glorified God in every way. And then after living the life that we should be living, He died the death that we deserve to die. He gave Himself over for us, taking on our cross, taking on our sin, and taking on God’s wrath due our sin. And upon that cross He satisfied God’s wrath for us and then died a sinner’s death for us. So He gave Himself both in living for us and dying for us. But He did not stay dead… Because He is truly God and truly man, His sacrificial and substitutionary work on behalf of His people was accepted by God; and we see that because God raised Him from the dead on the third day. We see that the wrath of God was satisfied for sinners like me and you, yes because Jesus lived and died, but also because Jesus is alive… Rising He justified, freely forever, all who will turn from their sin, trust in Him, and follow Him. This is how Jesus gave Himself for us.
But Jesus also gave Himself for us in the sense that His work on the cross secured us for Him. We are secured for God. He gave for us to get us. As the church we are Jesus’ blood-bought bride. But His work of redemption bought us out of slavery, and transformed us from children of wrath into children of God. Obviously there are mixed metaphors here, but what is for sure being stressed to us is that we are now a part of the family of God… We’ve been brought into His household. He gave Himself for us. We are not our own, for we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). And all of this that we see here in how Jesus gave Himself for us helps us understand how He’s loved us, and thus how we should love, live, and die…
The love of Christ is displayed in His giving, in His sacrifice, and in His bringing us to God. Jesus gave everything. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus sacrificed everything. For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous; and why did He do this? That he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He was slain, and by His blood He ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). And this great love of Christ that has done this is really the love of God; which makes sense, since Jesus is God in the flesh. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). And as Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, because we are beloved children of God in Christ, we are to be imitators of God, which means we are to love like God has in and through the person and work of Christ. This all ties together. So, we are to live as children of God, and we do that by loving as the Child of God has loved. And His love is marked by giving, by sacrifice, and by bringing people to God. But also we see here that His love is marked by pleasing God. This love that is giving, sacrificial, and brings people to God is a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That language ties back to the Old Testament, in Leviticus especially, and an offering on the altar for God. If it was acceptable to God it was said to have a pleasing aroma or it was a fragrant offering. It’s not surprising that Paul uses this language when referring to the love of God in Christ, because all of the sacrifices and offerings laid out in Leviticus 1-5 point to and have their fulfillment in Christ: the burnt offering to Christ’s perfection, the grain offering to Christ’s devotion, the peace offering to Christ reconciling God and sinner, the sin offering and the trespass offering to Christ becoming sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. And Christ did all of that not only for our good, but also for God’s glory… It was pleasing to God. Do you see that in the text? It’s for us and to God…
Ephesians 5:2 says we are to walk in this Christlike love… Love that is marked by giving, sacrifice, and bringing people to God, and ultimately always working for the glory of God. Our lives should please God. And we please God by truly loving Him, but that love shows itself by us loving others. And we love them with a love that is marked by giving and sacrifice… a love that seeks to bring them to God, and is always seeking to glorify God. That’s what ἀγάπη love does… And this isn’t something that we do occasionally… We are to walkor live in a way—all the time—that is marked by love: a love that seeks the good of others and the glory of God. And these two go hand in hand, because our giving and self-sacrificial love for people displays our love for God. We can joyfully give of our selves, of our time, of our talent, of our treasure because we are fully satisfied in God. Because God is our greatest treasure, because we love Jesus far more than our self, our stuff, or anything else, we can freely give of everything else, because no matter what we give up we still have Him and He is infinitely valuable. And that’s what our lives communicate to the world around us when we love this way: that Jesus is better. So if we are to truly glorify God we must truly live as children of God, and if we are to truly live as children of God we must truly love as the true Child of God has loved.
We’ve got to have a gospel-centered definition of love for all of this to work. When we typically think about love we think about it in a very different way than the gospel portrays it. Love for us is typically about being attracted to and desiring another individual because of who they are, what they look like, and what they have to offer. We think about love this way all of the time… We’ll see a couple in the grocery store, and one of them will be young, fit, and attractive, and the other will be old, overweight, and unattractive, and even if we don’t say it we think, that person must be in it for the money… Or, if we’re a little more sanctified we might think, that person must have an amazing personality to be in a relationship with someone who looks like that. But that’s not how God’s gospel-love works at all; that’s not how God loves His people…
Could it be that the people in that relationship simply aren’t as shallow as we think they are? I mean, what if the attractive fit person loves the unattractive overweight person, not because of what they look like, what they have to offer, or because of how good their personality is? What if they just love them because they love them? What would you think then? You see, that love might not say anything about the person they are with, but it says a lot about what kind of person they are. It doesn’t say how lovely or lovable the one is, but it does say how loving the other is. And that’s what God’s gospel-love is like. God doesn’t love us because of who we are, what we have, or what we can do; God loves us at great cost—the greatest cost—because of who He is, what He’s like, and because of what He can do and has done in Christ. His love doesn’t make much of us at all; but it most certainly makes much of Him. And that’s the kind of love that we’re called to walk in. A love that gives all, sacrifices all, to bring people to God and to make much of God; for that is exactly how God loves us in Christ. God doesn’t love us because of us, He loves us because He is love. And it is He that we are to imitate, and we do that by loving with this great gospel love. We are to love as the Child of God has loved. And we can love this way, not because of how great we are, but because of how great God is.
The love of God in Christ is both our example and our motivation. We are to look to Jesus if we want to imitate God; He shows us why, and He shows us how. This is what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 4:1 when he said, “I . . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” Our calling and our call are both tied to the gospel. We’ve been called to God in the gospel, with the greatest love in existence: the love of God in Christ. And we are called out of sin and into God’s family by the gospel, and thus called to live in step with the gospel, to live and love in a way that glorifies God, that is pleasing to Him. So, looking to Jesus in the gospel both grips our hearts and motivates our hearts; it shows us how He lived, died, and lives again for us, and it calls us to live for Him. And throughout Ephesians Paul tells us what living for God looks like practically.
We are, with all humility, gentleness, and patience, to bear with one another in love, to maintain unity, to listen to, learn from, and be equipped by our leaders in the church so that we can then embrace the work of ministry that God has called us to. And God has indeed called every Christian to ministry. We are all to embrace the ministry of being disciples of Jesus, who make disciples of Jesus, and make much of Jesus. Making disciples means opening up our lives, our hearts, and our homes to share the gospel with the lost and call them to repent and believe; and to build up those in Christ… to help them grow and attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; helping them grow in maturity until we all reach Christlikeness.
We are to put off the old self, with its corrupt desires, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness; which means we must have no part in sinful anger, stealing, corrupting talk, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander or gossip in any way. We must not grieve the Spirit of God, but instead live for the glory of God in every way. And that means caring for others and doing for others, even at great cost to ourselves. It means working hard so that we can give much and give joyfully and sacrificially to the church and to any in need. It means doing whatever, going wherever, giving whatever, saying whatever—speaking the truth in love—in order to help build up the body of Christ and make much of the glory of God in Christ.
You are to live as the children of God, because if you are turning from sin, trusting in, and following Jesus, that is who you are. You are beloved children in Christ. And we live as children of God by loving like the true Child of God. So walk in this beloved. Give yourself to this. Imitate God by marking your life out with love—with gospel love… That’s what we should be known for; that’s what we should be all about… But if that’s not you… if you are not yet doing that, if you are not yet a child of God, I implore you on behalf of Christ to repent and believe in the gospel right now. Turn from your sin, trust in Jesus, and be reconciled to God; and give yourself to following Him, to imitating Him, to loving Him and loving like Him all your days.