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shadow

The Impossible Command of God

Paul tells us we are to be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1). The word for “imitate” (mimetai) literally means to “mimic” or to “shadow.” This means we are to do exactly what we see God doing, nothing more and nothing less, just like our shadow does exactly what we do. We are to imitate God’s every move, just as Jesus did.

Paul then fleshes out what this mimicking looks like in the following verse: “Live in love … as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” We are to love others just as Christ loved us, dying for us on Calvary while we were yet sinners. The call of Jesus followers is to ascribe unsurpassable worth to all others, at cost to ourselves, the way God ascribes unsurpassable worth to us, at cost to himself.

Notice that Paul says we’re to “live” in this love. Manifesting Christlike love isn’t something we can choose to do sometimes but not others. It’s to characterize our life moment-by-moment. There is to be no “off” button. Jesus tells us we’re to love others the way God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall—indiscriminately (Matt 5:44-45).

This love fulfills the whole law (Rom 13:10). If we live in this love, everything else we’re supposed to do will be done. But if we fail to live in this love, it doesn’t matter what else we manage to do; it was, from a Kingdom perspective, worthless.

This may sound too basic, even boring. Perhaps on some level you suspect your time might be better spent if we were discussing hot topics like the end times, gay marriage, abortion, open theism, church growth strategies, or something of the sort. Our addiction to information inclines us toward mentally stimulating material that requires no sacrifice of our life and makes us restless with the profoundly simple topic of love that requires everything.

This costly command to love is not only difficult to obey, it’s impossible—if we’re trying to obey it on our own power. If we’re not operating out of the fullness of life that comes from God, everything we do—including our noblest attempts to love—is inevitably motivated by a desire to acquire life for self. If this is our motivation, we can’t help but “love” those who feed our sense of worth, significance, and security and despise those who threaten our sense of worth, significance, and security. Operating out of our inner emptiness we invariably love our friends but hate our enemies.

The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved. And as with everything else about our lives, this can be done only as we experience the presence of Christ in each moment.

The quality of our life as followers of Christ isn’t determined by how much we know or don’t know. Nor is it determined by what we did or did not do in the past. Nor is it affected by what we may or may not do in the future. It’s determined by our awareness of the love of Christ for us in this moment.

Will we open ourselves up to God’s ever-present love? Will we allow our thoughts, attitudes, and actions to be ruled by this love? Will we allow this moment to be a sacred Kingdom moment, or will it become just another “ordinary” moment, conformed to the pattern of the world?

—Adapted from Present Perfect, pages 102-109

Image by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr

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