August 23, 2009: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Faith

Let us pray: Dear Savior, equip us today to follow Your blessed example of how to live a blessed life. Fill us with a deep knowledge and empathy for the Spirit. Empower us not to turn His heart to grief, but to joy. Do this by holding Your blessed example of coping with life before our eyes every single day. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR PERFECT SAVIOR

TEXT: Ephesians 4: 30-5:2

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

The psychologists are basically split into two groups: those who believe in nature and those who believe in nurture. The nature group holds that people, especially children, are born a certain way with certain set traits that are literally impossible to change. The nurture group believes that a person’s environment and social setting is the determining factor in how they live their life. So, what am I? I’m a hybrid of both camps! Yes, people are born a certain way—or as the confession of sins says: “I’m by nature a poor, miserable sinner.” But, how one is raised certainly influences how they handle problems, troubles, and heartache. Personally, I believe that such a view is totally Scriptural. If it wasn’t, the concept of repentance and the truth of Christian education would be superfluous. If you’re a “naturist” you can never truly change your behavior and never have to take responsibility for your actions. If you’re a “nurturist” you can always blame bad behavior on others and how they have influenced you and again, also never taking personal responsibility for your failings. The fact is: people are not robots; they have a will, a personality, and yes, a temper, too.

This nature/nurture debate can be found in our text today. Paul is writing to Christians who have had their natures changed, transformed, and cleansed by the blood of Christ. He is writing to former heathens whose natures have been changed from evil to good. But, how can they retain that goodness and grow in it? Well, that’s simple.—By nurturing the seed of faith within and hanging out with others who also nurture it. Most importantly of all, we need a perfect example to follow in this nurturing process, one who will never lead us astray. And that brings us to our point:

IMITATION IS THE SINCERIST FORM OF FAITH

I

St. Paul was a smart man. He had the best education of his time—literally Harvard, MIT, and Princeton all rolled into one. And that “one” was Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the times. Paul knew human psychology. He knew how people thought and reacted to life situations. He also knew the vileness of the human heart. After all, it took the Greatest Teacher of all time: God’s Son, to change his while Paul was traveling to Damascus. It took the love and forgiveness of Jesus to change Paul’s hateful heart to a nurturing nature.

Paul was not an “ivory tower” kind of guy. He was more a boots on the ground type. I’d call him the ultimate human practical theologian. And so he addresses the Ephesians in very realistic terms: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Right here, and elsewhere in the Bible, God is said to have an emotional side—just like us. Grief is an emotion. One that you and I can cause the Holy Spirit to have. Elsewhere we recall how “Jesus wept.” That’s an emotion, too. Or how about those passages where God the Father gets angry over sin? Of course, unlike us, God’s emotions are not tainted by sin or evil. They are a pure expression of His perfect heart. So, now that Jesus has sealed your eternal future by buying your soul back from evil and paying for it with His blood, act accordingly!

Act accordingly by resisting and tossing aside the bad human emotions you were born with and which this sinful world has fostered within you. Paul knew bitterness. And he also knew that although we tasted sour to God, Jesus consumed us anyway with His love. Paul knew rage and anger. He had been filled with it when he persecuted Christians and sent them to death early in his life. It’s really a counter-productive emotion that breeds upon itself. And it took Christ on that Damascus road to show him how destructive it is. Next, Paul includes slander on his list. Slander is half-truths and downright lies. It is thinking the worst of another, even when you don’t have all the facts. Could it be that you’re negative about someone else because you’d act in a nasty way if you were in their shoes? Transferring our inner failings to another via slander is arrogance. And when it comes to fellow believers, it is really our attempt to play God and read our own evil into their hearts. And then, Paul also includes: every form of malice. That really is a catch-all for what he’s already written. Malice is another word for evil. Thinking evil of another benefits no one and mocks the power of Christ’s forgiving, transformational love.

Imitating Christ is ultimately the sincerest form of faith. It’s always a positive and never a negative. And its foundation stones include being kind and compassionate to each other. Or as Dr. Luther said in his explanation to the 8th commandment: put the best construction on everything. And the chief foundation stone of imitating Christ is: forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Yes, forgiveness is genuine love in action, isn’t it? It’s unconditional, too. We are to forgive because God has forgiven us in Christ before we even asked for it!

II

The truth of our lesson on how to live a blessed life is really encapsulated in Paul’s concluding words: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The Greek word for “imitator” is: mimic. That is, study Jesus’ actions and put them into perfect practice in how you live and how you treat others. In other words, mimic in love for lost souls. Mimic in a way that denies your inherent nasty nature and instead imitates Christ’s loving heart.

Folks that’s a tall order! What human can attain it? None, without the help and strength of Christ! None, without His forgiving love covering over our many failings. But, cover them Christ does! His blood has obliterated all sin. His sacrifice on the cross continually links us to His kind heart and insures that His mercy will cover our failures. So, if you truly want to imitate Christ and thereby show your faith, take an honest look at your life, confess your failings, and plead for His mercy daily! It is only then that our lives, our faith, will be fragrant and sweet-smelling to His nostrils! Yes, imitation is the sincerest form of faith! And such imitation makes God Almighty smile—upon you. Amen