Have you ever been told in order to earn God’s love you have to behave a certain way, believe a certain way, imitate Him a certain way so that you can be a child of God and gain His approval?

If you have, when you read passages of Scripture like the one below, you probably walk away feeling pretty stressed out:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater,) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them (partake with them); for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.)”  — Ephesians 4:32-5:9

If you have doubts about God’s relentless love for you, that passage might really stress you out. It might cause you to wonder: Am I imitating God correctly? Do I have an inheritance? Am I one of his sons or daughters? Am I doing everything I need to do to become His beloved child?

It can sound like you don’t already have an inheritance, and so maybe you aren’t a son or daughter, and so God is not your Father.

Yet, in the very same book, right at the start in Ephesians 1 Paul wrote,

Verse 2“PEACE from God our Father.”
Verse 4 “You were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
Verse 5 “…predestined for adoption through Jesus Christ”
Verse 11 “…In him we have obtained an inheritance.”

Ephesians 3:24 says God is the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Do you see? I don’t think Paul is saying that if we don’t imitate well, we aren’t a son or daughter. I think he’s saying if we don’t imitate well, we are not claiming our inheritance…

In verse 8 he writes, “you were darkness.” That’s a “son of disobedience, a “child of wrath.” (2:3) “You WERE darkness, but NOW you are light.” That means that at one time, these Ephesians had an eternal inheritance but they were not claiming it and walking in it, in space and time.

In Ephesians 5:1 Paul writes, “Therefore… “Therefore imitate God as beloved children”

NOT: So that you COULD BE beloved children.

BUT: Imitate God AS beloved children. . .

One of my favorite stories is one Fred Craddock used to tell about an encounter he had while on vacation in Tennessee. While he and his wife were enjoying their last few hours on vacation, an old “country bumpkin” sort of fellow shuffled into the cafe. He was talking to everybody, and everybody was talking to him.

Fred was hoping the man wouldn’t interrupt the last few hours of his vacation. But sure enough, he heard shuffling and then a loud voice: “Hey, you folks on vacation?” “Yes,” replied Craddock. The questions continued until the fellow learned that Craddock was a pastor and theologian. At that, the old guy lit up, pulled up a chair, sat down, and proceeded to tell a story.

“I was born back here in these mountains. My mama wasn’t married, and I didn’t know who my daddy was. The women used to spend their time guessing who my daddy was. My mama worked a lot, and other kids weren’t allowed to play with a boy like me.

I would hide in the weeds at recess, and I ate my lunch alone. They said, ‘I wasn’t any good and I’d never amount to anything.’ Kids used to call me “Ben the Bastard Boy.” I thought Bastard Boy was my last name. (The old man started weeping, then collected himself.)

Well, anyway, there was a church in Laurel Springs; had this preacher, voice big like God. I knew church wasn’t a place for boys like me, but sometimes I’d sneak in and sit toward the back, and sneak out before the service ended. This one day, that preacher went on and on, I just got lost in what he said. Before I knew it, church was over and the aisles got jammed up.

Folks were lookin’ at me; I was makin’ for the back door quick as I could, and all at once I felt a big hand on my shoulder, and a big voice: ‘BOY…’ It was the preacher. He said, ‘BOY!’ (I froze.) He talked so loud everybody heard what he said, ‘BOY WHERE’S YOUR DADDY?’ (Like a knife in my heart.)

He said, ‘Let’s see now…why you’re a child of…goodness sakes…’ (and it seemed like forever, it felt like Judgment Day. Everyone was looking and listening,) ‘Let’s see now…I know who your Daddy is…’ (I thought, ‘Does he know who my daddy is?’) ‘I KNOW WHO YOUR DADDY IS…your daddy is…YOUR DADDY IS GOD! And I see a strikin’ resemblance.’ Then he… said, ‘Now you run along and go claim your inheritance.'”

The preacher didn’t say, “Your Daddy could be God… if only you were good enough, smart enough, and tried hard enough.”

The preacher didn’t say, “Earn your inheritance.” He said, “Claim your inheritance.”

The old guy looked at Craddock and said, “I was born that day.”

Then he got up and left.

Immediately, the waitress came scurrying over to the table. She said, “What’d he say, what’d he say?” Craddock said, “Well, he told me a story…why’d you ask?” The waitress looked at him a moment and said, “Why don’t you know who that is?…That’s Ben Hooper, Ben Hooper, the illegitimate boy, elected twice the governor of Tennessee.

Well, he couldn’t be all that “illegitimate” if his Daddy was God.

If you feel like a bastard, if you think you have to earn your inheritance, if you think you have to earn love I hope you hear today you are not an illegitimate child, no matter what you’ve done, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are a beloved son or beloved daughter of your Heavenly Father.

Just claim your inheritance (it’s already yours!) hop into all that you have in Him, walk in it, like a beloved child in a pair of their Daddy’s boots.

Do you find it difficult to believe your Daddy’s love is a free gift—that you really don’t have to earn it?

Do you struggle to believe God is that good? Do you think of your Heavenly Father as a wrathful angry god that Jesus saved you from?

Listen to what John wrote, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

And listen to what Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

Picture Him. Do you see Him . . . hanging on a cross—perfect, relentless love poured out for you? If you’ve seen Him . . . you’ve seen the Father.

I know who your Daddy is, and He’s calling you to claim your inheritance.

You are not a bastard; you are His beloved.

Let Him love you.

This devotional was prepared by Kimberly Weynen, Peter Hiett’s assistant. It is a compilation of devotional thoughts from Kimberly and excerpts from Peter’s sermon titled “How to Imitate God.” To read, watch or listen to the sermon in its entirety click here: How To Imitate God

Discussion questions are available here: 4.14.2013 Discussion Questions 

All Devotionals