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On Love and Holiness -- What it means to be an imitator of God

When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a weird form of apnea. I do not actually stop breathing in my sleep, but when I am tired or distract, my breathing will slow down or become so shallow that, as a reflex, I will hiccup in an attempt to bring in more oxygen. This is usually enough to remind me to take deeper breaths and focus on my breathing so rarely will you hear me hiccup more than once during the span of several minutes or even hours. If I am focused in on my breathing, I am able to prevent them. But occasionally, a hiccup will surface that sounds more like a pterodactyl trying to break through the time continuum than a woman gasping for more oxygen—and when those surface, I will usually face some good-natured teasing and occasionally someone will try to mimic me as a joke. One day, in particular, makes me laugh every time I remember it. I was rocking Emrys to sleep and I started getting tired myself. You guessed it, she was about to fall asleep and suddenly *SQUAWK*… out came one of my pterodactyl hiccups. Emrys was startled awake, but then quickly smiled and tried to copy my hiccup.

I love thinking of that day because it shows me very plainly that my daughter loves me. That was the first time that it was very clear that she wanted to copy everything I do. She has become my shadow. When I study, she takes a book and “studies.” When I drink coffee, she is not satisfied unless she has coffee too. Whatever I eat, she has to eat too. She wants to imitate me because she loves me, and although she is still a very different person than me, if someone who did not know me personally spent any time with Emrys, it would not take them long to figure out what her mother is like.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved Children, and walk in love as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”

Just as Emrys imitates me—the mother she loves and who loves her—we must be imitators of God. That seems like a pretty straight forward thing. How do we imitate God? By doing the “right” things—correct? We go to church. We read our Bibles. We pray. We don’t go out a party. We dress the right way. We don’t do drugs. We listen to the right music. We watch the right shows. That is how we imitate God—right?

Actually, the most important thing is missing in that list of “must dos” – and rules that whole list as ineffective without it.

In John 3, a Pharisee name Nicodemus (one of the high-up pharisee’s at that) came to Jesus. Now. A key thing to note is that this man, Nicodemus, was a “holy man”. He followed all the laws—practically had the ten commandments tattooed on his brain. His whole identity was about doing the right things. He followed the Sabbath (no working, grocery shopping, or restaurant visits on days of worship for him). He only dressed according to what the laws expected—only pure fabrics for him—no unholy synthetic materials were on his body. He was groomed according to the laws and customs of the time. He was the epitome of what was thought to be “holiness” and yet, he knew something was missing—so he sought out Jesus—in the middle of the night—to figure out why this nomad (who did not honor the sabbath, did not wash his feet, did not hang out with the right crowd) was clearly being used by God. Why was God using this guy and not him?

Jesus drops a bombshell on Nicodemus by stating that, “unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus is clearly confused—as many Christians are today—about what Jesus meant by that. But Jesus clarifies and states that “Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit…”
Jesus’s words were stating that there is something seriously wrong with the way we were born the first time. The world was corrupted in the fall—sin entered and selfishness took over. Flesh gave birth the flesh—and the selfish “me” nature took over humanity. Jesus’s statement was that the Spirit must give birth to spirit—and allow holiness to take effect. What is holiness? Well, holiness is Godlikeness. It is reflecting the image of God—being an imitator of God. But clearly, it was not about the rules—or Nicodemus wouldn’t have been missing that.

So what does it mean to be an imitator of God. For that, we will focus on verses 16 and 17

For God love the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life – John 3:16

Being an imitator of God means that we must love the world—unconditionally and sacrificially. It is that simple—and yet, we complicate it.

We take 1 John 2:15 as the way we must live—that we must not love the world—but there is a difference in these two passages. In John chapter three “the world” is referring to people—it is referring to the masterpiece in the creation of God—the part of creation literally containing the breath of God. In 1 John 2, “the world” is in reference to financial comforts, sinful habits, and traditions.

We must love the World (the people) and not love the world (our financial comforts, sinful habits, and traditions)

That is holiness. Loving God and loving people.

That is being an imitator of God.

But what if they are drug users? What if they dress immodestly? What if the break the sabbath? What if they cuss? What if they are pro-choice? What if they are a bit of a floosy?

Folks—I have searched in my Bible and I have found no asterisk notation stating that “The World” that we are supposed to love excludes these people—and you won’t find it either.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
– John 3:17

I don’t know where we get off thinking that it is okay to pick and choose who we love. See, the fact is that God has commanded (not suggested) COMMANDED that we love the people of this world. Guess what! That means that God has commanded that we love the drug addict cutting in front of us in line at the ER in an attempt to get a fix off of pain medication. God has commanded that we love the pro-abortion advocates. God has commanded that we love the transgender athlete. God has commanded that we love the corrupt politician.

“Yea, well, they’re sinful”

I have news for you. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world—and he didn’t send you to condemn the world either. The world does not need your condemnation, and your condemning attitude will save NO ONE!

John 3:18 says that the one who does not believe is already condemned. They do not need your help to be condemned. They need you to love them—relentlessly and sacrificially—the way Jesus does. They need to experience the love of God. And if we are to be imitators of God, we are NOT going to wait until they have their lives together before we show the that love. Instead, we will flood them with it RIGHT NOW!.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, I ask you, what makes us think that it is okay—even Christlike—to alienate someone who has a lifestyle different than our own—even a sinful one. The fact is that God loves them right where they are, and if we are to be accurate representations of Christ in this world, we need to love them right now too.

So, I ask you this. Are you loving the world the way Christ did?

God came down from heaven into our mucky sin-riddled world to love us right where we are and to give his life for us. Are you loving the way Christ did? Are you going into the muck and loving the people there sacrificially?

Jesus defended the woman of ill-repute against the scorn of the Pharisee, Simon. So, are you love the way Christ did? Are you defending and protecting those who the rest of the world looks down upon?
Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery—instead he turned his eyes away from her (you do realize she was probably naked as she was caught in the ACT of adultery) and shielded her from further shame—and then reminded those set on condemning her that they were not free of sin either. So, are you loving the way Christ did? Do you guard others against public humiliation and shame and protect them against injustice?

Jesus came and died for us—showing us the path to total reconciliation with God. So, are you loving like Jesus? 
Do you invite people to church?
Do you share the gospel with them? 
Do you reach out to the lost, the lonely, the broken, and try to introduce them to the ultimate Shephard, friend, and healer?

Do YOU make you church a welcome environment for anyone who would walk through those doors? Do YOU make an effort to invite people into the fellowship of believers to learn about God and fall in love with him? Do YOU do your part to love them they way that Christ loved you? Because, honestly, if you’re not doing that—it doesn’t matter how much you invite people, they won’t come. If you’re not loving like Jesus, it doesn’t matter how welcome we make people once they are here, they won’t come because they know that once they leave this building, they won’t be loved.

Our first goal must be to LOVE LIKE JESUS—everything else must come secondary.

1 Corinithians 13 states that without love, all the gifts of the spirit, all the “religious acts,” all the knowledge in the world—they mean absolutely nothing. They are worthless. But why?

Because without love,
there is no Holiness

Let’s look again at Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. This man knew the scriptures. He followed the rules—to the letter. This man would not get caught dead walking to far on the Sabbath, eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothing, or associating with the wrong people (why do you think he came to visit Jesus at night?). This man was the epitome of legalism.

But he was not holy.

Yes, he followed all the rules—and he was a “good” guy because he knew God’s words and followed the law.

But he was not holy. He was not an imitator of God.

He was not holy because he was not born of the Spirit.

How do we know if someone is born of the Spirit? They bear the fruit of the Spirit—Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control.

Nicodemus followed the rules, but he lacked what really mattered.

So, what can we learn from Nicodemus? That it is not by following strict traditional guidelines that we are made holy. It is not our attire. It is not our music. It is not even through attending Church or reading the Bible (although those are extremely important in keeping up with your spiritual health). 

Holiness cannot be bought through being a good tither or from going to Africa on a short-term missions trip. 

Holiness cannot be obtained by wearing floor-length dresses or head coverings. 

Holiness is not received through the singing of the old-time hymns.


Holiness is only obtained through the surrender to the Holy Spirit—And Holiness is witnessed not through adhering to 613 laws of the Old Testament, it is witnessed through the fruit of the Spirit—the Love, the Joy, the peace, the patience, the kindness, the goodness, the gentleness, the faithfulness, and the self-control.

A very interesting thing though, if you look again at 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll notice that the entirety of the fruit of the Spirit is found in the description of Love.

So really, what is the fruit of the spirit? It is love!

So, Holiness is not witnessed through obedience to the law… holiness is witnessed through unconditional and sacrificial love.

It is through Love, not legalism, that we become imitators of God. It is through love, not condemnation, that those in the world are saved. It is through love, not shame, that repentance happens. It is through love that the Gospel is preached.

Holiness is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit coming into our hearts and transforming it, along with our minds, into a reflection of Him. I want to ask each and every one of us—have we been producing the Fruit of the Spirit? Have we really been loving those around us—even those the religious elite would say are “unclean”? If it is by our fruit that we are recognized, what kind of fruit have we been bearing? Have we been producing judgment? Or have we been producing love? Have we been producing condemnation? Or have we been producing grace?

If we have not been producing love, grace, and mercy—then we have been severely lacking in the Spirit in our lives.

So, I pray for a fresh anointing upon The Church today! I pray that those of us who profess to love God will surrender our own wills to that of our Father’s and will seek to love those he loves. I pray that, as we are enveloped in the Holy Spirit, we reflect the loving image of God to those around us—and that they know we are Christians by our love.


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