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Tuesday
Jun142011

Imitators of God

One of the joys of fatherhood is watching one of your very young children trying to imitate your work or habits as a respectful homage to something they admire. Boys will put on their dads shoes and waddle around, or dress up and pretend to do their father’s job. Little girls cannot wait to get at the makeup table, to play house with their dollies, or subject their little brothers to imaginary tea parties. They grow out of this stage all too quickly, however, and by the time they are teenagers, their chief goal seems to be finding the precise opposite of their parents and pursuing that. Christians can get caught in between those two extremes, but we are urged to be imitators of our Father in Heaven, never allowing ourselves to reflect the darker reality that lurks in the mind of the tempter. It is the difference between being beloved children or sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:1-21). 

Discussion

I. Beloved Children

A. Holiness

1. holiness seems like an impossible ambition to many Bible observers, and God’s flawless holiness certainly proves to be, but human holiness is attainable, if only because God does not bother commanding the impossible (First Peter 1:13-16)

2. human holiness makes room for the forgiveness of sins, but not their tolerance; it is not synonymous with sinless perfection, but the blamelessness that results from assiduous effort, personal growth, timely remorse, and renewed dedication

3. God demands that we imitate him and not fall prey to the influence of the wicked world that surrounds us

a. he told the Exodus pilgrims, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:2-5).

b. likewise, he instructs the disciples of Christ, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” and “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (First John 2:15, Romans 12:2).

4. by pursuing personal holiness – increasingly anticipating and resisting temptation, diligently repenting when we fall short – we “may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (Second Peter 1:4).

B. Self-Sacrifice

1. beloved children must make sacrifices, especially in regard to their own self-will that sometimes interferes with the instruction of their parents; “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20).

2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now,” and a bit of self-sacrifice is in order, whenever it becomes apparent that our will is in conflict with his

3. as Christ went to the cross in an unparalleled act of self-sacrifice, we are put on the spot by a tempter who does not believe we can consistently do likewise in our own way; “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (First John 5:2-4).

4. we might not always understand why God’s will is what it is – why he urges things we would rather not do, or condemns things that we find harmless – but true childlike reverence guides us toward obedience, knowing that his will is always for our own good and never to our harm (Colossians 3:8-10)

 

C. Fruit of Light

1. beloved children produce something called the “fruit of light,” a strange turn of phrase that seems to combine two very different and incompatible metaphors in a way that makes sense anyway

2. the fruit of light is simply the results of walking according to the will of God, compared to spiritual illumination and just as necessary as the sun is to growing healthy crops

3. the fruit of the light provides a way of judging the faithfulness of one’s discipleship, its progress, and is parallel to the more famous fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

4. as unlikely as you are to venture down a dark alley on the seedy side of town at night, you should be that averse to walking out of the light and into temptation; “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).

 

D. Making the Most of Your Time

1. children can be notorious procrastinators, putting off odious duties like brushing their teeth or cleaning their rooms in the quixotic hope that the problems will go away instead of growing worse; likewise, the disciples of Christ will have to learn to make the most of their time

2. delaying moral reformation until some mythical later date only deepens one’s apostasy and makes restoration less likely

3. ignoring opportunities to share, to serve, to surge forward in commitment is a sin of omission that is not easily correctible; “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

4. beloved children bring glory to their father, but sons and daughters of disobedience promote nothing but unrest and disappointment

 

II. Sons of Disobedience

A. Sexual Immorality

1. the Holy Spirit identified sexual immorality as a symptom of disobedience nearly two thousand years ago, but an age of sexting and California Gurls would surely have shocked even him

2. sex outside of marriage is sinful, wrong, and self-destructive, no matter how many times you see it on television or hear about its pleasures on the radio, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (Second Timothy 2:22).

3. Paul wrote, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. … Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (First Corinthians 6:13, 18-20).

B. Greed and Selfishness

1. another of the issues that troubled people in that age is nothing strange to us today, either – greed or selfishness, that was tantamount to idolatry

2. greed shows up in many ambitions and diversions common to people, things like overwork, gambling, stealing, hoarding, and gluttony

3. in fact, much of the New Testament is framed as an indictment of people who live in luxury while others suffer in need; Jesus and his followers warned that it is impossible to serve God properly when driven above all else to be rich (First Timothy 6:6-10)

4. sons of disobedience are unlikely to share, but will usually take advantage of people or look the other way when a need is presented (First Timothy 6:17-19)

5. the prolific psalmist wrote, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:36-37).

 

C. Filthy Language

1. children of disobedience will sometimes try to prove their maturity by adopting what they believe to be adult language, using words that shock and horrify to assert that they are grown up enough to use them, even if they do not always understand them

2. actually, there is no distinction between grown up words and childish words, but there is a difference between edifying speech and filthy language

3. sons of disobedience will gossip and slander, will berate and demonize, will lie and deceive

4. children of disobedience will surely use profane words, the ones in every language that are shameless and filthy, but not the beloved children of God; “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:29-30).

 

D. Substance Abuse

1. lastly, Paul makes an interesting contrast between being filled with the Holy Spirit and being filled with intoxicating wine

2. it is doubtful to me that many modern young people are bothering with wine and the intoxicants of Bible times were much milder than any available today anyway, but the principle applies to any addictive or mind-altering substance that enslaves its user, lowers his inhibitions against sin, and makes him useless to his Father

3. beer, hard liquor, marijuana, and other illegal drugs rob the spirit of its focus and commitment, not just for the duration of the intoxication, but by evicting the Holy Spirit from the heart; “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (First Peter 4:3).

 

Conclusion

The difference is between being a child of God and one of disobedience. The difference is in attitude and action. The difference is, ultimately, between heaven and hell.

Questions for Review

  1. How does holiness differ from perfectionism?
  2. What is involved in imitating God as a child imitates a parent?
  3. What attitudes and strengths are necessary to sacrifice self-will?
  4. What is “fruit of light”?
  5. What is the human body for?
  6. Give some examples of greediness.
  7. What kinds of language constitute filthy language?

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