Ephesians is a rich letter from the Apostle Paul to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. Written around 60 AD, Paul gives us a beautiful look at how orthodoxy (right faith) leads to orthopraxy (right living). The operative phrase in the entire book is “in Christ” (or some formulation of that phrase). Ephesians leaves us zero doubt that sanctification (being made holy by God) and justification (being declared righteous) is only in Jesus Christ. One way to remember this is by paying attention to how many times Paul uses some form of “in Christ” in his letter. He wants the reader to never forget that it is only in the person of Jesus Christ that we have any hope for relationship with God. Our relationship with others flows from this restoration we have to the Father by Christ Jesus. There is nothing we can do, say, or think that can get us into right relationship with God. The late Adrian Rogers once said in a sermon, “I wouldn’t trust my best fifteen minutes on earth to get me into heaven.” It is only in Christ alone that we have any hope to defeat sin and death.
In. Christ. Alone.
Lutheran theologian Walter Obare Omwanza has stated that “the unity of the church is given by God and not an achievement of human beings.” Omwanza rightly identifies that Paul is proclaiming that unity of faith is only possible in Christ Jesus. No human action can create the true unity that humanity desires. Omwanza echoes the prayer of Jesus in John 17. In John 17, while in the Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for unity of the disciples. This unity was not to be for the sake of unity alone, but it has deep theological significance for the world. The unity of the followers of Christ will provide a witness to the world that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who has defeated sin and death for all time. Unity is not a wish dream nor is it an ideal. It is a reality found only in the Triune God that communicates the gospel in a mighty way.
In verses 1 and 2, Paul opens his letter by addressing the people of Ephesus as saints. Many times we do not think of ourselves as saints. We often times think that a saint is a perfect person who does most everything correctly. However, the Bible teaches us that everyone who trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even though we are imperfect, are God’s saints. These folks in Ephesus were faithful to Christ and that is the only requirement to be considered a saint. Therefore, in Christ, fallen humanity has hope and assurance that we are all saints with a purpose to glorify God.
In verses 3-14, Paul then instructs us on the all encompassing work of God in Christ
Jesus. Verse three begins with worship as Paul blesses God the Father because of the work of Jesus Christ. The Father of Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. In verse four, we learn that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Also in verse four we are implored to to be “holy and blameless” before God. This is an impossibility apart from Jesus Christ. We are clothed in Christ and when God sees us he no longer sees enemies, but rather his children. The love of God has predestined us for adoption as children of God. It is for God’s purposes alone that this is done. God has blessed us in his grace in Christ. We have redemption in Christ and forgiveness of our sins. In the person of Christ, God has lavished all wisdom, grace, and insight upon us. Christ is the assurance for all time that we have been reconciled to the Father in heaven.
Not only have we this assurance, but we also have an eternal inheritance in Christ Jesus. All these blessings we have in Christ ought to cause us to worship and serve God with faithful hearts. It is the Holy Spirit of God–the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead–that inhabits all of the children of God and creates within them the faith that leads us to Christ again and again and again.
These opening verses reveal the foundation of our lives in Christ Jesus. No matter where we are or when we are, we have reason to worship the Triune God. This is better than good news–it is the Gospel.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to address the elephant in the room–election. The concept of God choosing and predestining his people for these eternal blessings cannot be ignored. What does he election mean?
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was formed because our first ministers rejected the idea of election and double-predestination. As I see it, we cannot avoid predestination as Cumberland Presbyterians because the Bible uses those words and teaches those truths. However, we have to understand what it means for God to elect his people for salvation. Forgive the brevity and simplification of the next two paragraphs as the doctrine of election is a deeply nuanced doctrine.
One explanation of election focuses on the decree of God. Briefly, this explanation teaches that God has determined and decreed who will specifically be saved. God has predetermined his elect and it will be done.
An alternative to this view of predestination by decree is that God has predestined his people in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth tells us in his Dogmatics II.2, that Jesus Christ is both electing God and elected man. And because of this reality of Jesus, he has the final word over the fate of his creation. This makes the central question of election not “Who are God’s elect? but rather, it is the very question Jesus asks his disciples in Mark 8–“Who do people say that I am?” Election and predestination is in Christ alone. Therefore, whenever God’s elect is asked the question “Who is Jesus?”, their answer is this: The Son of the Living God; the Messiah; the Savior of the World; the Lamb who takes away the sin of the World; the image of the invisible God. Those in Christ’s flock know his voice. His is the voice of our Lord and Savior. Who do YOU say Jesus is?
These first fourteen verses prepare us for an encounter in which we can understand the truth of our God. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our being. Unless we recognize the truth of who we are in Christ, we will never find the promised rest our hearts so desire. Amen.