I want you to turn with me to the book of Ephesians please, and chapter 5. Our reading will comprise of only two verses, and the subject that I wish to speak to you upon is that of 'Copying God'. Ephesians 5 then, and verses 1 and 2.
Paul, writing to the Christians in Ephesus, says: "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour".
Perhaps we could pray for a moment: Father, we desire to see the Lord Jesus Christ - as the hymn writer put it. 'Beyond the sacred page, we seek Thee Lord; our spirit pants for Thee, Thou Living Word'. We thank You for the written word but, Lord, we long for an encounter just now with the living Christ. We pray that by His Holy Spirit, that He will be in our midst. Help us to remember, Lord, that it's not about us, but it's all about Him. We ask that He might have the preeminence - not only through the preaching, but through His Lordship in each of our lives. We need Your help, Lord. Come now, we pray, Amen.
'Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children' - that really means as sons, boys, copy their fathers. Paul is saying: 'You, as the children of God, are to copy God'. Now, if you've got any boys in your family, sons, you'll know what I'm talking about, and what Paul is talking about: how they mimic their dads - how they walk, how they talk, how they work; the good points and the bad points at times. It's a trait of sons to copy their fathers. Paul is saying: 'Now you are the dear children of God, you are in the family of God, and you are to copy God, your Father'.
Now, how do any of us copy God? A casual perusal of who God is for even a split-second will leave you in a position of feeling absolutely unable to copy God, when we consider who God is. God is holy - and of course 'holy' just means 'unique', that's what it means: He is separate from us, He is transcendent of us, He is something that is other than us. So we are dumbfounded right away: how do you copy Someone who is unique? You cannot. Then when we consider His attributes, and of course there are communicable attributes of God - things that He gives us - but forget about those for a moment, things like love, and grace, and truth, things that we can mimic in our lives. But there are the incommunicable attributes of God, things that no one else has but God: He is omnipresent, He is everywhere; He is omnipotent, He is all-powerful; He is omniscient, He is all-knowing and all-seeing; He is immutable, that means He never changes; He is infinite, He had no beginning or end of days, He is eternal. Now, how can any of us copy God?
Another obvious problem that we face when we seek to copy God is: He's invisible. It should be obvious that to follow anything, you need to see them. Paul says here: 'Be ye therefore followers', and the Greek word for 'followers' there simply means 'mimic'. You cannot mimic someone or something that you cannot see. God is invisible. Now, what we're really doing just now is hitting upon an age old problem that human beings have had as creatures trying to relate to their Creator. We're also touching upon one of the great purposes of the incarnation, that is: our Lord Jesus Christ coming from the right hand of God, being made flesh, and dwelling among us, and living the life that we read of the four Gospels. First of all, the problem that creatures have had with their Creator since time has begun is, as John put it in John 1 verse 18: 'No man has seen God at any time'. He is invisible. Men have always wanted to see God, they have wanted to touch God, and that's why idolatry has been such a scourge upon humanity throughout her history: men and women have formed God in their own image.
Now Paul tells us a little bit about that in Romans chapter 1, he says that men who once knew God - and that is the original state of mankind - they knew God in the beginning through the things that God had told them and the things that God had shown them in creation all around, and yet they 'changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things'. They made images of God, idols of God, so that they could see and touch God. Now, as any anthropologist will tell you, idolatry leads to immorality - that is exactly what happened. Paul says to the Roman empire and the Roman nation, and to every nation that starts to want to see God and touch God, and makes an idol of God: they become immoral. Romans 1:23 leads on to 24: 'Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves'.
Now the lesson there is: idols made by human hands, made in the likeness of human beings or any living thing other than God, does not make a moral demand upon its worshippers. That's why idolatry and immorality are linked: because an idol cannot speak, an idol cannot command, an idol cannot legislate. The bottom line is: all of us, whoever we are, become like what we worship. In the book of the Acts, in chapter 17, we find the apostle Paul in Athens. Athens was steeped in idolatry, and there his heart broke as he saw people with great superstition and devotion worshipping an unknown god. There there was an altar erected to that unknown god. He begins to speak to these dear people from a heart of compassion, and he talks about human beings through time groping after God, that they might find God. In Acts 17:30 and 31, concluding this whole matter, he says: 'The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead' - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, where are we going with this? John 1:18: 'No man hath seen God at any time', the great dilemma of the creature is: he cannot see or touch his Creator. But John goes on: but, 'the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared God'. How can you copy a God you can't see? How can you mimic a God who is invisible? Well, turn with me to John 14 for a moment, for we're getting nearer the answer. We're very familiar with these verses, not so familiar with the middle and the end of this portion, but let us read verse 1 - perhaps in a new light - the Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples and said: 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me'. What He is saying is: 'If you believe in the almighty, the invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immutable, infinite God; believe in Me as well!'. Then down to verse 6: 'Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?'.
You see, the God who was always invisible, now in the Person of His only Begotten Son, Christ come in human flesh: He becomes visible, He becomes tangible - so that the apostle John in his first epistle can say, 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, is the Word of life'. So now human beings, who have been in this great dilemma, can now direct their affections - and I say it very reverently - towards an Object, but an Object who is a living Personality, the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is the express image of God's Person, God manifest in flesh.
Let me illustrate it to you like this: if you could take a picture of the invisible, almighty God, a photograph of the Almighty; after you developed it, it would be a photograph of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the many great purposes of the incarnation, and there are several, but this is one. John put it like this in John 13:15: 'For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you'. In his first epistle he says in chapter 2:6: 'He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as Christ walked'. Here we have it in Ephesians 5 and verses 1 and 2, he tells us to be imitators of God. Then he goes on to expand on this in verse 2: 'Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us'.
Now, let's put all this together. God is invisible, God is intangible, and yet Christ is God walking among men. In other words, Christ is God acting as Himself - everything that God is, Christ is. So for us to copy God, for us to walk like God, we need to walk like Christ, we need to copy Christ! Now we're getting closer to the answer to this problem: 'how do you copy God?'. But though we're getting closer, it's not getting any less problematic - for it might have seemed impossible to copy God, but is it any easier for us to copy Christ?
Well, let me bring you, in a little summary, the message of the book of Ephesians - and this hopefully will help you. Ephesians is split into three sections. The first section deals with our position in Christ, and really comprises of the first three chapters. They're the doctrinal chapters of the book. Now the second and third sections of the book are primarily practical, and the second section speaks of our life as Christians in this lost world - chapter 4 verse 1, through to chapter 6 verse 9. Then the third section is just comprised of the verses of chapter 6, verse 10 to the end, and they speak to us of our attitude to the enemy. So, three sections: the first speaks of our position in Christ, doctrinal; the second, practical, our life in this world; and the third, again practical, our attitude to the enemy, the devil.
Now in each of these three sections of the book of Ephesians there is one key word that basically summarises all the ideas within it. In the first section the key word is found in chapter 2 and verse 6, look down at it with me: 'God hath raised us up together, and made us sit', there is the word 'sit', 'together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus'. Now what Paul is teaching here in this doctrinal introduction of this book is that the secret of true Christian experience is to sit with Christ in heavenly places. God has made Christ to sit down, now that He has died and rose again and ascended, He is seated in heavenly places - and the secret of Christian experience is, by faith, to rest, to sit with Him in what He has accomplished for us.
So the first word in the first section is 'sit'. The second word in the second section is found in chapter 4 and verse 1: 'I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called'. This is a section to do with our walk in this world as Christians, and it's telling us that our life in this world must be one of holy conversation and godliness that corresponds to the high calling we have from Christ, who is now seated in the heavens. The first word in the first section is 'sit', the second word in the second section is 'walk', the third word in the third section is 'stand'. It's found in chapter 6 and verse 11, you know it well: 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil'. Our attitude to the devil is not to fight against him to get victory, but to stand in the victory that Christ has already accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.
So, come with me again: in the first section the key word is 'sit' - rest in what Christ has done for you. The second key word is 'walk', your walk must correspond to the rest that you have in heavenly places in Christ. The third word is 'stand', stand in the victory that Christ has given to you. So, here's the lesson: Christianity does not begin with walking, it begins with sitting. Have you got that? Christianity does not begin with walking, it begins with sitting. Now let me show you this, turn with me to chapter 1 verse 20, speaking of the power of God the apostle says: that power was 'wrought in Christ, when he raised Christ from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places'. Now that 'set Him', could be translated 'made Him to sit at His own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come'. Now come with me to chapter 2 verse 6, the verse we have already read: 'And God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together', or 'made us sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus'. Then look at verses 8 and 9, 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast'.
Now let's put these two passages together, look at verse 20 of chapter 1: God, through His power, has made Christ to sit in heavenly places - and now, chapter 2 and verse 6, because He is seated in heavenly places, He has made us to sit in heavenly places - and it's all by grace, through faith! Are you getting the message? The Christian experience does not start by walking, it starts by sitting. It began, as Hebrews 1 verse 3 tells us, when He who was 'the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of God's person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high'. He finished the work of Calvary, He rose again, He ascended, He sat down - and because that work is finished, we can sit down in heavenly places with Christ! Our individual faith in Jesus Christ begins when we see ourselves as seated with Him, resting in the finished work that He accomplished at Calvary. Can I ask you today: are you resting in that? We have got a little saying here: 'You've got to walk before you can run' - well, as far as the gospel is concerned, you've got to sit before you can walk.
A lot of people try to live the Christian life, and they've never had the Christian experience of being born again - of, by faith, realising that because Christ died and rose again, that by faith you can be seated in heavenly places with Him upon the finished work of what He has already done. Through the cross He gives us everything, but you don't receive what He did at the cross by walking, you don't receive it by working, you receive it by resting!
'Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart'.
You see, walking, just like in the book of Ephesians, follows sitting. You've got to be sitting first. Walking is the practical outworking of your heavenly position in Christ down here on Earth. Well, how do we walk then? Well, you've got to sit down first. I don't know, there could be someone here and you're trying to live the Christian life, but you've never been born again. You need to sit down, like they did at that Golgotha scene of Calvary, sitting down they watched Him there - but you've got to do it in the spiritual sense, you've got to come to rest in the finished work of Christ and His glorious resurrection. But you know, there's a lot of Christians, and they're striving, they're trying to work. They started in the Spirit and by faith, and they're trying to go on by law, by ritual. Maybe you need to get back to the cross, and back to the resurrection - look at the power of it, it's meant to be working in us, that power in chapter 1 verse 19 that raised Christ from the dead is meant to be experienced in our lives; that we might, as chapter 2 verse 10 says, 'Do the works that God hath before ordained that we should do'. It's got nothing to do with us, it's something that Christ has done and Christ wants to do in us.
You see, it's all illustrated in the cross. The Bible says 'the life of the flesh is in the blood', and when the Lord Jesus Christ died, and He bled, His life was going out of Him. When we die at Calvary to ourselves, our life is to go out of us, our self-life, our sin-life, our flesh-life. He rose again, and Paul says in this chapter 1 that the very power that rose Him from the dead is to be in us! It's through the cross and through His resurrection that we know this power to walk, even as He walked. That's why, in chapter 5 of this book, verse 18, Paul says: 'Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be continually filled with the Holy Spirit', be controlled by the Holy Spirit - just like a drunk man is controlled by the drink, you be controlled by God's Spirit! You know when you're drunk it affects your walk, doesn't it? When you're filled with the Holy Spirit it is meant to affect your walk.
Now what does this walk look like? Well, the word 'walk' is used eight times in the book of Ephesians, and it's used figuratively to mean how you deport yourself, how you order your behaviour. So let's get this together now: Paul is saying, the Holy Spirit is saying to you today, 'You've got to walk like God walks!'. How does God walk? If you're going to copy God, if you're going to mimic God, if you're going to be a Divine impersonator, well chapter 5 that we're looking at today says: 'God walks in love', therefore we ought to walk in love, 'even as Christ loved us, and gave Himself up for us'. So we've got to walk in love, because God is love.
Then we come to chapter 5 verses 3 through to 14, we see that we are to walk as children of light, not in darkness. God is light, so we are to walk in the light. Then chapter 5 again, near the end, verses 15 to 17, we are to walk in truth. God is truth, so we are to walk in wisdom - do not walk as fools, but as wise; walk in the truth. All of this corresponds to chapter 4 and verse 1, the walk that is worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called. What does that mean? We're children of God now, now are we called to be the sons of God - does our walk correspond to where we are seated in heavenly places today?
When our children are wayward it grieves our hearts, just as when God's children are wayward it grieves the Holy Spirit, because He does not see the family likeness in our lives. What's your walk like? Are you copying God? Are you copying God in Christ? There's a lot of people in our land, and even in our churches, and it has to be said - and I'll try to be gracious in saying it, but it's hard - they walk about as if they are God! But there are very few people walking about like Christ, aren't there?
If you're going to walk like God and be imitators of God, you're going to resemble Christ. To walk like God is to walk like Christ, that's what we've seen: He is invisible, He is intangible, but He is revealed in Christ Jesus - and so, to walk like God, we walk like Christ. But we've also seen that we can only walk like Christ by the power of Christ! Are you a Christian here that's trying to live like Jesus in the power of the flesh? It's impossible! It's not like 'Simon says', Simon says 'Do this', and we 'do that' because we can't 'do this' - that's the way a lot of people approach the Christian life. 'The Bible tells me to do this', but I end up doing 'that'. That's not what walking in Christ is like, it is through the power of what Christ has done in His death and His resurrection that we live this life: walking like Christ is in the context of the whole teaching of this book, that it's something that is Spirit-enabled. But what do we know about Spirit-enabled Christ-likeness? What do you know about that?
'If of Jesus Christ their only view
May be what they see of Him in you.
My soul, what do they see?'.
What do they see? Robert C. Chapman was an early missionary pioneer, and in his own personal life he set for himself this great aim, and I quote him, he says: 'Seeing so many preach Christ, and so few live Christ, I will aim to live Christ'. John Nelson Darby, who was a colleague of his, said of Chapman: 'He lives what I teach'. He lived Christ. Robert Murray M'Cheyne was a godly man, and he was recognized to be such by people in the church and people in the world. Do you know what one man said of him? Now grasp this: 'Oh, he was the most Jesus-like man I ever knew'. He was the most Jesus-like man I ever knew!
I wonder what people say about me? I wonder what they say about you? Who do you copy? The press is always talking about role models for our young people, who are our role models? Who are we copying? You know, we are allowed to copy men, but only to the extent that their model is Christ. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 and verse 1: 'Be ye followers', it's the same word, 'Be ye imitators, mimic me, even as I mimic Christ'.
One way to imitate Christ is found in chapter 5 verse 2 of our text, it's sacrificial love: 'Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself up for us'. He loved us, and if we mimic Him, we will love also. But He loved God, not only will we be like Christ when we love others, but we will be like Christ when we display our love to God. Look at verse 2: He gave himself up, 'and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour'. He pleased God in the life that He lived! The cross and resurrection of Christ is where we sit, but do you know something? It's also the path on which we must walk. We are meant to walk in the Calvary Road of loving others, putting ourselves aside: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'. We must walk the Calvary Road in loving others, but we must walk the Calvary Road in copying God and loving God.
It was our Lord Jesus who said, calling the people together and His disciples: 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me'. Those are the conditions of walking, copying God - what's that? Deny himself, that's surrender - not self-denial, not taking salt on your chips or butter on your bread. Self-denial is leaving out things in our lives to the praise of our self, denying self is losing ourselves completely. Surrender, 'let him deny himself', that's a condition of walking. Sacrifice, 'take up his cross' - that's not saying: 'Oh, I have a terrible cross to bear', the marriage, or the illness, or the work situation - that's not a cross. A cross is the consequence of following Christ! How many of us are paying the price, counting the cost for following Christ? That is a condition of walking: surrender, sacrifice - but thirdly, submission, 'and follow me'. Denying self, taking up the cross and following, that's positive obedience - doing what Jesus says!
How are you walking today? 'God forbid', Paul said, 'that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world'. His life was an offering, and a sacrifice of sweet smell to God - that means it was pleasing to God. Even Christ, Romans says, pleased not Himself. He said: 'I do always those things that please him'. Romans says: 'So then they that live in the flesh cannot please God'. Yet God broke the heavens one day to say: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'.
Now maybe for you this morning there's a whole lot of loose ends in this message that you can't tie together, and I'm sorry about that - but let me try to tie it together just now: what the Bible is basically saying is - now catch this - the only life that pleases God is His own life. The only life that pleases God is His own life, and that was manifest in His own Son! It will only ever be manifest in your life not by copying Christ in the flesh, but being at the cross and dying with Him, and resting on what He has done in His death, and walking the Calvary Road of surrender, sacrifice and submission - and then His life will live through yours. 'I am crucified unto the world, and the world unto me; and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and give Himself up for me'.
'Your life is a book before their eyes,
They're reading it through and through;
Does it point them to the skies,
Do others see Jesus in you?'.
I read a lovely story, and with this I finish, written by R. W. DeHaan. He tells of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the mission field, was speaking to a group of pagans for the first time, a group of villagers. He was trying to present to them the good news of the gospel, and he began by describing the person of the Lord Jesus Christ to them. He referred to Him as a compassionate man, a kind, loving, caring man who went about doing good toward everyone. While he was speaking, he noticed that the crowd, they were changing in their facial expressions, they began to break into a grin. It just spoke of familiarity, as if they recognized the One who he was speaking about, and they started to nod their heads in agreement. So he stopped his message with puzzlement, and asked: 'Do you know who I'm talking about?'. One of the villagers quickly responded: 'Yes, we do, you've been talking about a man who used to come here'. Eventually he was able to decipher that they were speaking of a missionary doctor who had come to this remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life had been so Christ-like and caring that the people saw the Lord Jesus Christ in him.
Be imitators of God, even as Christ loved - how do we measure up? I know how I measure up, how do you measure up? Maybe some of us this morning need to get back to the cross. We need to sit down for a little while and watch Him there, and see what He did for us, and then get up and start walking. Maybe we're walking too much, or running ahead of God. May, this morning, we get back to that place beneath the cross of Jesus. It's not only the place to stand, it's the place to walk, and it's the only place.
Father, we recognize from Your word that Your great plan has always been incarnation, right from the beginning when You created Adam and Eve in Your likeness. We know that You've always wanted Your creatures and Your creation to reflect Your glory. O Lord, how we have sinned, how we have fallen far short of the glory of God - and yet we thank You that, perfectly displayed and manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that glory, full of grace and truth. It is only through Him, through His death and through His resurrection; and sitting, resting in the power and the wonder of that, that we can walk and display those great attributes of the divine nature to others around who might never read the Bible or come to a gospel service. Lord, we pray, may they see Jesus in me; more, more like Jesus; to be like Jesus, to be like Jesus, all I ask is to be like Him. Lord, as we wait around the Table may we be further conformed to His death and to His new life, for His glory we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Copying God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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