For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
1 Peter 1:15-16
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
One of the most spectacular truths in Scripture is that the Holy and Righteous God of the universe looks at sinful people and commands them to join Him in holiness. This is a spectacular truth because in our sinfulness, we only exist in direct opposition to God. So how then can we whose sinful minds are enmity with God ever dream of being holy like God?
First, we must understand that God is not a cosmic bully who mockingly asks the lame to walk and shamingly commands the blind to see. Rather, when God calls for obedience from His people, He does not leave us helpless. We see the source of this help in Ephesians 3, when Paul prayed for the believers in Asia Minor that they would be strengthened by the Spirit. Specifically, he asked God to help them to be “rooted and grounded” in the Spirit so that they could be “filled with all the fullness of God” (including His holiness).
When we arrive at Ephesians 5:1, and Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “be followers of God,” (literally, “be imitators/mimickers of God”), he is not calling them to something that his impossible. Rather, he is calling them to live in ways consistent with the transforming work of the Spirit of God that has taken place in their hearts. Just as God commanded His people to be holy, and then empowered them to live in ways that were pure and separated, God commands us to be imitators of Himself and then equips us to obey that command.
But what are we to imitate? When we read Ephesians 4:25-5:21, and remove the chapter break, it becomes increasingly clear what God is telling us to imitate. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul had just finished saying, “forgive one another even as God forgave you.” He then moves on to say, “Therefore, imitate God.” What did God just do in the previous verse? Forgave us. Paul continues to explain the nature of our imitation of God in Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ” selflessly walked in love and gave himself for you.
Our imitation of the nature of God, as the children of God is directly connected to Christ’s loving sacrifice and God’s forgiveness of us. Having been transformed by the gospel through the power of the Spirit, we can love and forgive others as we have been loved and forgiven. God does not leave us helpless in the call to love and forgive, rather, He equips and empowers us to do what He has commanded. We can love others, because he has loved us. We can forgive others, because he has forgiven all of our sins. We can be imitators of God because He has given us the power to overcome our own sinful hearts of enmity. He has replaced that heart of enmity with a heart that can respond in love and forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Reflect: How can God ask sinful people to be holy and loving and forgiving, won’t we just fail at it?