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.
There’s a pattern we see in the New Testament. It is not an ethic or a way of life or a set of principles for living. The pattern is a person. I bet you can guess his name. Yep! Jesus.
We have talked about the pattern of descent and ascent we see in Jesus. Today’s text alludes to this new pattern but only gives us one component of it. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
The pattern consists of three movements. The middle movement, the linchpin of the three, is imitation. It’s our favorite. Why? Because it’s practical. It seems doable. You know, WWJD. What would Jesus do? It’s the essence of ethics, right? And it’s a good theory until we seriously try it. Imitating the ways of Jesus without the power of Jesus leads in one of two directions: the deception of self-righteous pride (false humility) or the despair of self-condemning shame (humiliation). It is holiness without the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying dead legalism. If we can keep our imitation out of these ditches of deception and despair we will find that imitation is the essence of true discipleship.
It brings us to the first part of the pattern: inspiration. True discipleship is built on the foundation of inspiration. I don’t mean inspiration as in Chicken Soup for the Soul inspiration. I mean inspiration as in “filled by the Holy Spirit” inspiration. Inspiration means to be filled with breath. Many of you are making the leap backward to Genesis where God breathed into Adam, the breath of life. As E. Stanley Jones said (and I am fond of quoting), “Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.” Inspiration is the foundation.
A powerful scene of inspiration in the life of Jesus occurred at his baptism. Matthew wrote, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16–17 niv).
Because of charismania (an overdeveloped and exaggerated emphasis on the Holy Spirit), many Christians today have Spirit-phobia. Where we find fanaticism we also find fearmongering. What we need is a profoundly human, robustly supernatural, thoroughgoing Trinitarian theology of the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. awakening DNA).
It brings us to the third part of the pattern: impartation. To impart something means to give it to another. Impartation is all about mission.
Paul said to the Romans, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” (Rom. 1:11 niv). Remember that scene after the resurrection at the end of John’s Gospel when Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”? (20:22). That was impartation. If inspiration is breathing in, impartation is breathing out.
We see this movement of impartation all over the book of Acts. I love the time when Peter and John were going into the temple courts and they encountered a beggar who was lame from birth in their path. Peter addressed the man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6 niv).
The more you attune yourself to this pattern, the more you will see it throughout the Bible. As image-bearers of the Triune God, we are meant to live this graced pattern of life together for the sake of each other and the world.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
The key to imitation, of course, comes in verse 2.
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Imitating God means following Jesus. Following Jesus means walking in love. Walking in love means giving ourselves up to God for others’ sake. We can spend years in the ditches of deception and despair, but when we awaken to the way of holy love it brings us to the end of ourselves and into the gift of our desperate need for the Holy Spirit.
Despite all of this biblical and theological reflection, until the pattern becomes a person it will remain a puzzle. The same is true of us. Until the pattern becomes real in a person, the watching world will remain puzzled.
Inspiration. Imitation. Impartation.
Foundation. Discipleship. Mission.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who shows us this way of inspiration, imitation, and impartation. Teach us this holy way in a human way that we might live it out in a supernatural way. Lord, I want to walk in love as you have loved me. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Considering that these three elements of the pattern cannot be separated and isolated, which of the three most challenges you at this time?
Do you struggle (or have you) with a way of imitating Jesus that is born of self-righteous pride or born of self-shaming condemnation? What is that like? How would you help someone escape these pitfalls?
Do you aspire to move more and more into the realm of impartation? Why? What could help you on that front?
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