“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1 NKJV).
When I first started traveling in South Asia I was impressed by the many name brands available in clothing, hiking gear, and other basic equipment and the very reasonable (cheap) prices for which they were sold. It was only after I had examined a few things and found them to be of lesser quality than I expected from the name that I realized that they were counterfeit. I wasn’t all that surprised – I had been aware that such practices existed. But I had not previously seen them on such a scale.
While many of the makers and sellers of these items are obviously intending to deceive and defraud customers, that is not true of all. Some are not actually counterfeit, but rather imitations. They copy styles and colors and other features of the highly advertised originals, but usually invent a brand name that is very similar to the original, but differing in a syllable or a letter. Of course if someone does not look closely enough and thinks it is the genuine article, the seller does not object, but there is evidence of imitation if one looks well.
If it is true that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” the original brand may not even mind this practice. Their popularity is acknowledged and perhaps even enhanced by the copiers. Imitation is not always a bad thing.
In fact, imitation can be a very good thing, if what is being copied is of value and worth. Paul’s command to Ephesian Christians to imitate God is an excellent example. He is not suggesting that people of faith should claim divinity, or pretend to have power, wisdom, holiness, or other characteristics which belong only to the Creator. No deceit or fraud is involved. Rather we seek to copy the attitudes and actions of one who is perfect in every way, to the limit of our human abilities.
Jesus put it, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Ancient Israel was commanded, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
More details are revealed in the letter to Titus: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). Our effort to imitate God will lead us to lives of righteousness, holiness, and godliness. It will bring him honor (Matthew 5:16) and result in our salvation.
In the text first cited Paul describes our imitation of God as that of a little child who tries to be like his father. We have all seen a small boy stepping in his father’s footprints, or wearing his hat or shoes. It is amusing, but also very touching. The child innocently idolizes his parent, and chooses him as his role model. So does the Christian act towards his heavenly father. If we love him with all of our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) surely we will desire to be like him and to be with him always. And that is a desire which may be satisfied.