Be Like God . . . But Not Always

By Mark D. Roberts

May 22, 2019

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2


According to Ephesians 5:1, we are to “Follow God’s example.” The Greek underlying this imperative reads more literally, “Be imitators of God.” Now that’s a tall order . . . and a wonderful one . . . and a curious one. We wonder what it really means for us to imitate God.

fog machine capturing sunlight through small windowThis isn’t the first time in Scripture that God’s people are instructed to be like God. In Leviticus 19:2, for example, God says to Israel, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” A few verses earlier in Ephesians, we learn that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Our potential to be like God is essential to who we are as human beings. In Genesis 1, God created humankind in God’s own “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Genesis shows that we are to imitate God, in part, by exercising authority over the earth, helping it to become fruitful and full (Genesis 1:28). Yet, as you may recall, we were not created to be like God in every way. In particular, we were not meant to be like God in having “the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). In Genesis 3, the serpent tempts the woman to sin with the promise that she “will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

So, we are to be like God in many ways and we are not to be like God in many ways. We are to imitate God in holiness by living in a way that is different from what is common in our fallen world. Yet we are not free as God is free to determine for ourselves what holiness should be. Or, to consider another example, we are to be like God in exercising authority over the earth. Yet we are not like God whose sovereignty is ultimate. Unlike God, we are called to obey one who is greater than we are. God obeys no one. We obey the one, true God, living our whole lives in service and submission to him.

If you have been granted a certain measure of authority over others, perhaps in your daily work or as a parent or in your church, it is right for you to exercise that authority, but only under the supreme authority of God. Moreover, like God, you are to use your authority for the good of others. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Something to Think About:

In what ways do you imitate God?

Are you ever tempted to be like God in ways that are not right, such as in trying to be Lord of your own life?

As you think about how you might be like God today, what comes to mind? How might you rightly be like God at work? In class? Among your friends? With your family? In your community?

Something to Do:

If you exercise some measure of authority in your life, take time to think about how you might use this authority in a way that imitates and honors God. In particular, consider how you can be a servant leader of others. Then, take action, exercising your authority for the good of those whom you serve.


Gracious God, once again I am astounded by the honor and overwhelmed by the challenge of being like you. I want to be like you in all the right ways. And I want to stop trying to be like you in all the wrong ways. Help me, Lord, to discern wisely how I should be like you and how I should not be like you.

In particular, today I ask you to help me exercise the authority you have given me for the good of others. Help me, Lord, to be a servant leader in imitation of you. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
The Foundational Concept of Holiness in Leviticus

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn