Good morning! Welcome to worship! Our focus today is heroes. So let’s begin by honoring our Veteran’s. If you served in the army, navy, coast guard, air force, police or fire dept will you stand! Thank you! To clarify, on Veteran’s Day we honor all who served and on Memorial Day we honor those who died as heroes in the service of our country.
So who are your heroes? Who do you imitate and why? Maybe a great athlete or a musician? Anyone remember the ads “Be like Mike”. As if drinking Gatorade or wearing the right underwear would enable you to dunk the basketball like Michael Jordan!
We might roll our eyes at this kind of marketing but it works. So who’s your hero? Who do you imitate? Maybe it’s someone who is popular or rich or successful. Maybe it’s a person of great beauty or power or intellect? Who do you want to be like and why?
Let’s open our Bibles to Eph 5. Paul writes, “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.” Eph 5:1-2
The tragic shootings and fires in California this week reminded us again that there truly are heroes among us. Their heroic actions point to the reality that we are created in the image of God. And that is who God is – God is heroic. He lays down his life for those he loves.
I have to be honest with you; my first choice for a hero isn’t usually someone who lays down their life for another. I’m drawn to heroes who are rich and powerful and impressive. I want to be like Mike! I want life to be about me. But that’s not who God is, God is a true hero!
Remember, Paul is writing to people who have been delivered out of paganism to faith in Jesus. He describes their former way of life. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people…
…Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God…
… let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” Eph 5:3-6
I can imagine some of these baby Christians in Ephesus saying, Paul, lighten up! You’re trashing our heroes here! It’s still true today. The heroes of popular culture in the movies, on TV, politics, business, even in the places we work are rarely willing to lay down their lives for others. Yet these are the people popular culture tells us we should imitate as our heroes.
Paul challenges this idea. He says “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” Eph 5:8-12
Maybe we need to reevaluate those we choose to imitate as our heroes. Who do we really want to be like? Paul says, “Be imitators of God.” So what is God like? What’s the Bible say?
In Exodus 34, it says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Ex 34:6
This description is repeated again and again throughout the Bible. How different would the world be if we were merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness rather than envious, jealous, self-centered, resentful, bossy, easily offended?
If the most powerful, most loving, all-knowing, steadfast being in the universe values these things, why shouldn’t we imitate him? Why choose people whose lives glorify immorality, impurity, greed, hatred, revenge, obscenity and betrayal as our heros? Paul says, “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” Eph 5:12
But here’s the problem. We have a sinful nature that is more attracted to the sinful things of this world than it is to the things of God. In our natural self, we don’t want to imitate God; we want to imitate the world. Paul goes on to quote words that may have been from a hymn in the early church. “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” Eph 5:14
Remember what Paul wrote in Chapter 2? “When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, Christ made us alive.” When you become a believer God begins to change your heart from valuing and imitating the world, to valuing and imitating God. This something only God can do.
It’s a process. In Romans 12 Paul writes. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Rom 12:2
Are you willing for God to change your mind and heart and your whole system of values? Are you willing for him to change your heroes and the models you choose to imitate? This doesn’t happen by trying harder. A transformation needs to take place. A transformation only God can do. Jesus called it being born again. It’s not just a once and done deal.
Every day that old sinful nature is going to crawl out of its hole and try to regain control. The older Paul got, the more he longed for that transformation to be complete. So how do we transfer our loyalty from trying to imitate the things of this world to being imitator of God?
Let’s turn back to 1 John 1:5-7 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7
The first thing in imitating God is honesty about ourselves. We need to come out into his light even though it reveals how sinful we really are. Our fellowship as Christians is not in how good we pretend to be. It’s in that we are forgiven. The fellowship we hunger for happens when forgiven sinners gather together under the cross in worship and praise.
That’s why we begin every worship service with a confession of our sin and hearing again the promise of God’s forgiveness. Let’s read it together. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9
To imitate God, we begin with honesty because God is honest. We make it our aim to be authentic and transparent, because that’s who God is. That’s very different from the world.
Second, if we are going to imitate God, we must value him and love him as he has first loved us. He invites us to be his friends. He told the disciples that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit want to come and live within us and he wants us to live in him.
Do you want to be that close to God? Do you want to value what he values, hate what he hates, and give your life for what he gave his life for? That’s what it means to imitate him.
None of us are there yet. How audacious it would be to claim that we were. I don’t know about you, but I find the duplicity in my heart can be overwhelming. I say I want to imitate him, but I don’t always act it out. I find myself praying, “Lord, I know my sins are forgiven, but I fall so short of becoming like you. What am I to do?”
The Lord has given me three verses to help with this. The first is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 I choose to believe his promise that if I will delight in him, he will change my desires to match his own.
The second promise is in Philippians 1:6. Paul writes, “… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:6 I choose to believe the Lord is changing me, it’s not my work, but his work, and he will finish what he’s begun. PTL
And the third promise is this, “What God has cleansed, you must no longer call unclean.” Acts 10:15 When Satan shakes his finger in my face and points out all my failures, I have a choice to make. Either I believe his threats or God’s assurance that my sins are completely forgiven, removed, never to be remembered again because of what Jesus did for me on the cross.
So who is your hero this morning? Who are you trying to imitate? There is only One who is worthy to be your hero. His name is Jesus. Follow him, learn everything you can about him. Don’t be like Mike, be like Jesus! Make that the aim of your life and the Lord will transform you into who he created you to be.