Tag Archives: ephesians

What Does the Bible Say About the Eternal Destination of a Person Who Never Hears of Jesus?

This question has in mind the eternal destination of an individual who never gets a chance to hear about Jesus Christ or the gospel. Hypothetically, you might think of a person completely alone on an island. In reality, you might think of persons in an indigenous tribe where the message of the gospel has not yet arrived. The question assumes that God may treat such an individual differently because they never had a chance to believe in the gospel because they never heard it. How could God hold a person accountable for what he doesn’t know? Wouldn’t it be unfair for God to send such a person to hell?

Well, there are several logical and theological problems with the assumption that any person would be treated differently than any other sinner. The question itself is flawed from its false assumption. But remarkably, even though this question is flawed, the Bible gives a very clear answer. The Bible’s answer is this: all sinners everywhere are justly condemned by God for willfully rejecting His rule and His laws. A sinner is not exempt from condemnation just because he doesn’t hear the gospel, and a sinner does not become liable to judgment once he does hear the gospel. For the individual who never hears the gospel, he is liable to the judgment just like a person who does hear the gospel. We can arrive at such an answer because of several things that the Scripture clearly teaches.

First, the Bible clearly teaches that God has revealed Himself generally through the beauty and order of creation. That is, every person on the planet has some level of knowledge about God – even the person who’s never heard of Jesus. The apostle Paul states this in Romans 1:18-20, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (emphasis mine). Paul states in that passage that God has given general revelation to all of mankind. That is, God can be generally known through creation. That being said, knowledge of God from creation is limited. You cannot know things about God from creation like the fact that He is Triune, loving, or omnipresent. But God’s existence, His power, and some perception of His divine nature can be known through creation alone. Paul says that God has revealed Himself through the creation of the world and because of this, all men are “without excuse.” Because of the evidence of God in creation, mankind should know that God exists – he has no excuse and he cannot claim that God didn’t give him sufficient evidence for His existence. Paul also states that sinners have suppressed this knowledge. Because mankind is unrighteous, he suppresses the truth that God exists. So then, because God has made Himself known in creation, all of mankind have knowledge that God exists, whether they be in North America or some undiscovered tribe. The problem is not that they have no knowledge of God at all, the problem is that they have suppressed the knowledge of God that they already have.

Second, the Bible teaches that all of mankind have a sense of what God requires. All mankind have some sense of morality, an understanding of right and wrong. Even the person who never hears of Jesus or the gospel understands right and wrong. He will therefore be held accountable to God for doing what is wrong and failing to do what is right, since he knows what he should and shouldn’t do. Now, as with general revelation, this does not mean that mankind has an exhaustive knowledge of right and wrong, but that he has a general one. Again we turn to Romans to find this truth revealed where Paul says, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16). Paul is dealing with the nature of man in this passage. Even though a man may not have “the law,” that is, the law of Moses, they are a “law to themselves.” Paul says that all man has knowledge of moral law written on his heart, and it is enough moral knowledge for him to have conflict in his conscience. So again, man has general knowledge of God and general knowledge of morality – the person who never hears of Jesus is therefore not innocent or exempt from being accountable to God. Although he doesn’t know the Bible or all the specifics, he doesn’t seek the God he knows exists and he doesn’t obey the moral law written on his heart. People are responsible to God for what God has already revealed to them.

Third, the Bible clearly teaches that you must hear the gospel in order to believe it and thereby be saved. A person who never hears of Jesus cannot believe in Him. How can you believe in something you’ve never heard of? Scripture teaches that a prerequisite for salvation is hearing the message of the gospel. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul describes something of the process of conversion, and notice what he says comes before belief: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). Hearing the “word of truth,” the gospel, comes before belief. Furthermore, Paul states this truth even clearer in Romans 10, where he explains how a person arrives at believing in Christ for salvation. Notice the progression and simple logic in the passage: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (vv. 14-17, emphasis mine). Paul states that belief in Christ is necessary for calling on Him, and hearing about Christ is necessary for believing in Him. He even summarizes that truth in the last verse of the passage, saying that faith (for believing unto salvation) comes from hearing the word of Christ, the gospel.

The question assumes the possibility that a person is not liable to judgment until he hears the gospel. But hearing the gospel doesn’t make you liable to judgment, being a sinner makes you liable to the judgment. Hearing the gospel is only the prerequisite for coming to Christ in repentance and faith. If hearing the gospel was what made a person liable to judgment, then you should avoid evangelism at all costs! Why would you take the gospel to the nations if they were innocent before hearing the gospel and condemned after hearing it? The apostle Peter says something to this effect: “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). If people who never hear the gospel are already saved, then we should make sure no one ever hears the gospel. The worst thing we could do would be to share the gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. Why run the risk of people possibly rejecting the gospel and condemning themselves when they were previously saved because they had never heard the gospel?

Fourth, the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is only by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Just because a person never hears of Jesus doesn’t mean he can take a different way of salvation. If he doesn’t receive salvation by grace through faith, “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36) and he goes to hell. If this were not the case, then you would have to explain how salvation comes to a person differently than what is clearly prescribed in the Bible – and there is no other way. And what would it say about the justice of God and the work of Christ if a person could be saved apart from faith in Christ? The Bible is clear that a person must come to Father through Jesus (John 14:6), and that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).

Fifth and finally, we are not in a position to judge whether or not God’s actions are fair or just. We are not ultimately in a position to judge God’s actions as fair or unfair. Some think it is unfair for Him to express judgment on sinners who have never heard of Jesus. What’s more, some people would consider it unfair that they were “force-fed” Christianity their whole lives. If you consider it unfair for God to condemn those who have never heard, your opinion doesn’t matter. God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), He does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), and He always does what is good and glorifying to Himself.

So what does the Bible say about the eternal destination of a person who never hears of Jesus? Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, he will go to hell. Just because he didn’t have a chance to hear the gospel doesn’t mean he was innocent. He has knowledge about God and some sense of what God requires, and because he doesn’t seek God or do what God requires, he is condemned like the rest of mankind. If he doesn’t hear the gospel, he cannot believe it, and the only way to be saved is through hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. And instead of judging the fairness of such, we should be more fervent to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15) so that they can come to Jesus Christ.

What Does the Bible Say? is a question and answer series which seeks biblical answers to pressing questions.

26219980_2002699353334045_1898487006197556984_n.jpgBrandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with free Christian resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their dog, Susie.

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Denying God’s Love (Malachi 1:2-5)

The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky on the 20th day of May 2018, during the evening service. 

Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Oneness (4:1-6)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:

Conforming

When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.

It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Prisoner for the Lord (Again)

First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.

This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.

But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?

We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!

Walk Worthy

So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.

There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

The Believer’s Calling

This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?

How to Live Worthy

Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:

Humility

Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.

But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.

Gentleness

If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.

Patience

I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.

Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?

Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”

Forbearing Love

The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).

To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?

The Unity of the Spirit

We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.

Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis

Oneness

So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).

Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.

So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.

One Body

Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.

There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.

One Spirit

I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.

One Hope

There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.

One Lord

There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.

One Faith

This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Baptism

There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Father

We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?

We Must Live in Oneness

We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.


1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).

 

Ephesians: Start Your Engines (3:14-21)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on March 16, 2014:

Introduction

While studying this text, I have asked why would Paul need to pray here? He’s already prayed in 1:15-23, why would he need to pray again? I discovered why when I began to note the literary differences in 1:1-2:22 and 4:1-6:24. Ephesians 1-2 is all about who you are in Christ and what God is like in salvation—one of the most crucial types of knowledge about God that you can have. These chapters consist of information, doctrine, and statements.

Notice: Ephesians 1:3-14, you are: elected (1:4), holy and blameless before Him (1:4), predestined (1:5), adopted (1:5), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7), sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13). Didn’t find any commands there.

Ephesians 2:1-22, you are: no longer dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), no longer following the course of this world (2:2), no longer following Satan (2:2), no longer living in the passions of your flesh (2:3), no longer children of wrath (2:3), loved by God’s great love (2:4), given new spiritual life (2:5), seated with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6), saved by grace through faith (2:8), God’s workmanship—created in Christ Jesus for good works (2:10), brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13), united in one body through the cross (2:14-17), no longer strangers and aliens (2:19), fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (2:19), a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:22).

Even in Ephesians 3, you are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6).

But look at the difference in language in the latter chapters of Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:1-32—live in unity and live as a new person.

Ephesians 5:1-33—walk in love, wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.

Ephesians 6:1-20—children obey your parents, slaves obey your masters, put on the whole armor of God.

So Ephesians 1-2 explains what you are, and Ephesians 4-6 tells you what to do. But just knowing isn’t enough—they always say knowing is half the battle. But it is only half. You need the strength and resources to carry out those commands—the power to live out Ephesians 4-6. That is exactly why Paul prays here—that his readers would have the strength to carry out those commands. Imagine that you as a Christian are an engine. Paul has described all the parts of that engine in the first two chapters, and in the latter chapters that engine is running and working and doing. Somewhere in between you have to get that engine started. So then, the prayer that follows is sort of like Paul saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

The Text

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PRAYER (3:14-15)

Verse 14 reads, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father. . .” Remember 3:1 where Paul says the same thing? “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus. . .” Remember that he interrupted his prayer and explained the nature of his apostleship and the different aspects of his ministry. Here in v. 14 is where he picks up again on that prayer. Again, like with the last time we studied this, he states “For this reason” which points back to the salvation and privileges that belong to his readers through Christ. Just read chapters 1-2. That’s the reason Paul “bows [his] knees before the Father.

The Father

The Father has been central to what Paul is saying here in Ephesians. Paul indicates here, like the rest of the Scriptures that every member of the Trinity is necessary for salvation. (You just read about it throughout this letter). In the Bible, God is always seen as acting as a tri-personal team. The Father plans your salvation, the Son carries out your salvation by dying on the cross, and the Spirit of God applies your salvation by giving you new spiritual life and sustaining you till the end.

So Paul prays here to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (v. 15). All those in heaven (angels and peoples alike) have their origin from the Father, and all living beings (families of people, families of insects, families of animals, etc. every family) have their origin from the Father.

It’s true that when someone or something is named, it provides a description of what that thing is or who that person is, but also for someone to give a “name” to something must mean that they possess some type of authority to do so. You name your children because your children belong to you and you have the right to name them. Same principle here. For God to give creatures a name isn’t simply to provide them with a label. But it signifies that God has authority over them and every right to give them names. All things depend on God for their existence.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PRAYER (3:16-19)

The reason Paul points to God’s authority here is because of what he is about to say in the description of his prayer. Paul is going to focus mainly on God’s power in the body of his prayer. Think about it: God’s authority points to His sovereignty and His sovereignty points to His power.

Paul’s First Prayer Request

So we will look at Paul’s first prayer request for God’s power in v. 16: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

First he says “that according to the riches of his glory” He may do this for you. Notice that Paul doesn’t say “out of his riches.” There’s a difference—a big difference. If God gives “out of his riches” then He would give a portion from the amount that He has. But if God gives “according to the riches of his glory” (like the Bible says He does) then He would give in some accordance with what He has. If you go to a rich man and say, “I need $500.” The rich man gives you $4. He gives out of his riches. If you go to that rich man and say, “I need $500” and he gives you $1000, that is giving according to the riches that he has.

God always gives in accordance with what He has. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

And Paul prays here that God would give according to His riches, in accordance with what He has, that these Ephesians would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being.”

Let’s break down this prayer:

Paul’s prayer: That they would be “strengthened with power.”

How it happens: through the Holy Spirit.

Where it happens: in your inner being.

The Inner Being—Strengthened Through the Spirit

It will not happen any other way—if out “inner beings” are to be strengthened, they will only be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the only way to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit is to yield yourself to Him, and fill your mind and heart with the Bible—because the Bible is the Spirit’s thoughts on paper and we need to allow the Spirit to fill our mind with His thoughts and that only happens through considerable time with His Book.

The Holy Spirit can’t call to your mind any Scripture that you haven’t read before. What about when you are tempted? Do you know that the Scriptures say that God provides a way of rescue (1 Cor. 10:13)? What about when you are joyful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4)? What about when you are sorrowful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to “lift up your soul to the LORD (Psalm 25:1)? If you aren’t filling your mind with the book that the Holy Spirit inspired, then He cannot bring these passages to your mind when you are faced with situations that would compromise your fellowship with God.

You will not remain in a neutral state—there will be something that will take place of the thoughts of God if the thoughts of God (in the Bible) are not filling your mind! We need to write these things on the tablets of our hearts (Deut. 11:18), and meditate on these things day and night (Psalm 1:2) so that we can think the thoughts of God in our inner beings, and the Spirit can dominate our thought pattern.

If you wonder why your always thinking about things that you shouldn’t be thinking, then you need to back up a little and start immersing yourself in the Word of God. Because, when you are yielding yourself to the Spirit of God, being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), allowing Him to control your mind, actions, walk, and influence everything about you—then you will be strengthened in the “inner being,” that is the inside part of you. That’s what Satan is targeting when you are tempted. That’s what sin affects when you are weak. And it’s a daily Christian struggle. Paul expresses this in Romans 7. He says that he wants to do right, but he finds himself always doing what he doesn’t want to do: “21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).

But where does Paul find the solution? “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We need to pray as Paul did here, that God would strengthen us with power through His Spirit in our inner being. And we need to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God with each passing moment.

Paul’s Second Prayer Request

Paul bows his knees before the Father (v. 14) and prays first that his readers would be strengthened with power in their inner beings through the Spirit (v. 16) Now we read his second prayer request: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v. 17a).

Paul prays “so that” Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. That makes all the difference because in order for Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, something previous would need to have taken place—that is, being strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit, then Christ cannot dwell in your heart through faith. That’s what Paul is saying here.

Katoikeo

I want us to look for a moment at the word “dwell” here. I’m going to give you a Bible study tool for free tonight. 1) The NT was penned in Greek. That was the language used at that time. 2) The Greek language is complex. Many of the characters in Greek consist of what looks like our letter X and O (Maybe God was writing a love letter when He inspired the New Testament). 3) Often times the same English word is used for different Greek words. John 21 is a prime example. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. The first two times He asks Peter, the word love is agapao which means a “God-like love.” In other words, “Do you love me the way I love you?” The third time, the word love is phileo, which means “to appreciate.” And we read that Peter wept because Jesus asked him that the third time.

Well, the Greek word for “dwell” here is katoikeo. It’s more complex than meets the eye. Split that term in half and katoi means to dwell or to reside in. And keo means to be at home—or to be comfortable in a home. Put those two terms together and you have “to dwell comfortably in a home.” Now read it that way: “So that Christ may ‘dwell comfortably in your hearts’ through faith. . .” Makes a huge difference.

Your Heart—Christ’s Home

This is Paul’s prayer that Christ may dwell comfortably in their hearts but not before they are strengthened with power through the Spirit. Would you say that Christ is not comfortable in the hearts of His people sometimes? Of course. I know that to be true in my case. Often times, in the hearts of His people, Christ goes where He would never choose to go. And listen to me, Christ can’t settle down and be at home in our hearts because He’s always up cleaning the place up all the time because it’s such a mess!

But if our “inner beings” are being strengthened with power through the Spirit and we are allowing God to do with us as He pleases and we are giving Him all the room He needs to work in our lives, and we are opening up every door to Him, then Christ will finally be able to settle down and be at home in our hearts. But He must have full access to every part of your life.

So you get saved and Christ comes to dwell in your heart (now picture your heart like a house as the Greek here would imply). He goes into the library—the control room where all the thoughts are stored. Jesus says, “Alright we’ve got to get these books out of here—too many bad ideas here and lustful thoughts and such. We’re going to burn up these books, and replace them with My Book.” You say alright, Jesus you’re right. He goes into the living room—where you have fellowship. That’s where you leave Jesus when you neglect Him. Jesus says, “Hey you maybe want to sit down and spend some time together? We need to talk.” You say alright Jesus, you’re right. He goes into the dining room—that’s where your appetites are. He says, “Oh I see, this is what you hunger for—pride, prestige, lust, money. . .” Jesus about has the place cleaned up when this terrible odor comes from inside your closet. Because the cleaner the house, the worse it smells. He says, “Hey what’s in that closet?” You say, “Really Jesus? I’ve given you everything, that’s my only closet! You can’t want that—its’ 2×4 at the most!” You see that’s the room in your life where you keep thing from God. You think they’re secrets—but God knows them anyway. These are the things you really don’t want to reveal to God.

That’s the way Paul is relating here: Christ can’t settle down and be at home in your life until the garbage is cleaned out of it, and that will only happen when the Spirit of God has strengthened you in the inner man to give you victory over sin. We must give God access to all the rooms of our life if Christ is to settle down and be at home in our lives. The Spirit of God will do the cleaning—that’s what God does after you’re saved right? He cleans you up. Conversion is only the beginning.

Where in your life is the Spirit of God stifled or hindered? What areas in your life do you need to open up to the Spirit of God?

Paul’s Third Prayer Request

Paul has prayed that the Ephesians would be “strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit,” and he has prayed that Christ would be able to be comfortably at home in the hearts of these Ephesian believers. And in the latter part of v. 17 he says “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” Paul is assuming that they are already “rooted and grounded in love.” Like it’s something that has already happened because Christ is at home in their hearts. Let’s read this text where Paul names his third prayer request: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. . .” (vv. 17-19)

Knowing the Surpassing Love of Christ

Here we have Paul’s third prayer request: that they may know the love of Christ. Paul prays that they may have strength to comprehend what is the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. That’s a wordy phrase there. Paul simply is pointing to the fact that the love of Christ is far-reaching. He is evoking a sense of immensity and greatness of the love of Christ. And even every type of measurement—like is named here, cannot comprehend the love of Christ.

You know, people say, “I wish I had more love for somebody. I wish I had more love for the Lord. I wish I loved more the things of God and hated the things of the world. I wish my love was properly directed.” It’s just not that simple, people. It’s not enough to have a desire to do that. You need strength for that. Back up! Is Christ really at home in your life? He isn’t unless you’ve been strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man. If you don’t love, Christ is not at home in your life because you are not strong in the inner man, because you are not yielded to the filling of the Holy Spirit. Start at the beginning, and love will be the byproduct.

In v. 19, the Greek for “know” here, is kata lombono. Which means to “seize and make your own.” They always say that you will never know love until you experience love. That’s the idea here. You’ll be able to seize the very love of Christ and make it your own. You will know the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”

You ever see two young people in love? Man everything is just bliss. They’re holding hands, love is just everything—and that’s true. Love is everything when you experience love. Now if human love can do that, imagine what divine love would look like in our lives.

The Fullness of God

Paul has prayed here that the Ephesians would 1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, 2) Have Christ at home in their hearts, 3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge. Now all that must take place for the end of v. 19 to make any sense. All this must happen for you to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19b).

This doesn’t mean that you become God or God becomes you. It just means that God’s very essence flows through you and permeates your very being. You see, because if the Spirit is strengthening your inner being, Christ is at home in your heart and He’s not having to be up cleaning it up all the time, and you are really grasping and experiencing the love of Christ in your life—then God can do whatever He wants through you and you will be filled with all the fullness of God!

That’s the only way that vv. 20-21 make any sense. Often times people favorite these verses because they promise that God is able—but there is more to this text than just “God is able.” Now, God is able. God is able to do far more. Far more abundantly. Far more abundantly that all that we ask or think according to this passage of Scripture.

Underestimating God

Now often times we underestimate the fact that God is able. That’s bad enough. We underestimate God and think He isn’t hearing our prayers—when we know that He tells us “call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things” (Jer. 33:3). We underestimate God and think that He doesn’t have forgiveness for our many sins—when we know He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We underestimate God and think that He isn’t sovereign over our lives and circumstances—when we know that He says, “[He] works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

But you know what is absolutely bone-chilling for me? When God asks us a question. When God asks the questions in the Bible, something really stirs in me. When we underestimate God, He asks, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:37).

God is Able—Through Us

Now it’s bad enough that we underestimate God’s power as it is . . .but read the rest of this verse . . . “according to the power at work within us.” The Bible doesn’t just say here that God is able—it says that God is able through us. If we underestimate God’s power as it is, how much more will we underestimate His power through us?

That power will not be at work within you—and God will not be free to do what He wants through you until you have first experienced what Paul has talked about above:

1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man,

2) Have Christ at home in their hearts

3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge.

THE DOXOLOGY (3:20-21)

So you’ve got all these things—and God is at work in your life “according to the power at work within you.” You’re a real spiritual big-shot. It’s all going well for you.

But Paul says something in the end of this prayer that keeps you from being prideful: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever” (v. 21). Who gets the glory? Man gets it? No. God gets it. The purpose of God in salvation is to give you Himself—in turn He gets the glory. You enjoy God, He gets glorified—God’s passion if for His glory.

Paul writes to these Ephesians—that’s great if all these things happen for you—just remember that God gets the glory in both the church and in Christ Jesus.

And this will happen for “all generations forever and ever.”

Conclusion

Are we praying this prayer? Are we allowing the Spirit to strengthen us in our inner being? Are we allowing Christ to settle down and be at home in our lives? Are we allowing God to give us the strength to comprehend His love? Are we being filled with all the fullness of God?

You’ve Got Questions: What’s the Problem with Cursing/Cussing?

You’ve Got Questions: What’s the Problem With Cussing?

The Scriptures explicitly command against swearing, cursing (cussing), or even unwholesome language. It is definitely a sin—the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Similarly, Peter writes, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10, Peter quoting from Psalm 34:12-16). James 3:9-12 summarizes the issue: “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (emphasis mine).

James makes it clear that the lives of Christians should not be characterized by evil speech. By making the analogy of both salt water and fresh water coming from the same spring (which is uncharacteristic of springs), he makes the point that it is uncharacteristic for a believer to have both praise and cursing come from his/her mouth. Nor is it characteristic for us to praise God on one hand and curse our brothers on the other. This, too, is uncharacteristic of a true believer.

Similarly, Jesus explained that what comes out of our mouths is that which fills our hearts. Sooner or later, the evil in the heart comes out through the mouth in curses and swearing. But when our hearts are filled with the goodness of God, praise for Him and love for others will pour forth. Our speech will always indicate what is in our hearts. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Why is it a sin to swear/curse? Sin is a condition of the heart, the mind, and “the inner man” (Romans 7:22), which is manifested in our thoughts, actions and words. When we swear and curse, we are giving evidence of the polluting sin in our hearts that must be confessed and repented of. Thankfully, our great God is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When this happens, we receive a new nature from God (2 Corinthians 5:17), our hearts are transformed, and even our speech reflects the new nature God has created within us.

Ephesians: The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed (3:1-13)

Introduction

Often times when we read an account like this, we tend to run over it, believing that it is not relevant for us today and we read on to the next passage. But the Bible says different: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This means that every portion is relevant for our lives. I don’t have to make the Word of God relevant; it is already relevant.

The Text

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

Paul, the Prisoner for Christ

First Paul writes, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. . .” (3:1)
For what reason? Well, look at Ephesians chapter 2. What is that chapter all about? The gospel that gives life and includes the Gentiles. This is the guiding purpose in all Paul does. So he writes, “For this reason [for the reason of this great gospel] I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing this letter (You can read about that in Acts 28). Paul was a prisoner in Rome because he had been preaching the gospel. And Paul writes that he is a “prisoner for Christ Jesus” here in this passage. That is interesting to note, because he could have said “a prisoner, held captive by these filthy Romans.” It’s interesting because he doesn’t once place blame on anyone for his being held captive. Paul views his imprisonment positively. His imprisonment was definitely a hardship. His imprisonment was an embarrassment. But to our surprise, he gives little focus to his difficulty. He doesn’t blame the Romans, he doesn’t blame God, but you can almost hear a tone of honor in his voice as he says, “I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s theology of hardship never focuses on the hardship itself, but on the Christ, His gospel, and His people. We know this all too well from the pen of Paul to the Philippians: “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:12-14). Yes, Paul is aware of something much larger than his own circumstances. He is aware of something of infinite worth. Something on which no value can be placed. Something worth giving up everything for. Something that is worth losing everything for—and that something is Someone, and He is Jesus. Was Paul’s imprisonment life-threatening? Of course. But Paul’s imprisonment did not define who he was. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ defined who he was.

The Gospel is What Defines

Let me clarify: Paul wasn’t talking about suffering as a result of sin and evil in this world. There are different types of suffering—death, sickness, and disease, but the kind of suffering he was talking about was suffering for Christ. And so we unearth a foundational truth of the Christian life: The gospel will cost you something. The gospel always costs you something. What matters is where your heart is when you lose things for the gospel. And when we will lose things for Christ’s gospel, Jesus asks us if our heart is in the right place when we suffer on His behalf. When we lose things for the gospel. And it’s in a very strange passage of Scripture: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). What Jesus is saying here is that following Him will cost you dearly. You know your dad won’t approve. He’ll roll his eyes and mumble something about you getting carried away with your religion. Your brother or sister won’t know what to make of your decision to lose everything for Jesus. Your friends may distance themselves from you. There’s a good chance your husband or wife will criticize you for losing everything for Jesus. And Jesus is saying, “Yep, that may be part of it. And if you’re not willing to choose me over your family (and over everything, knowing that you may lose it in this life), then you are not ready to follow, and maybe it’s time for you to go on home.”

If you lost everything for the gospel would it still be worth it?

Ephesians says yes. Because when you lose things for the gospel you are not really losing anything—but you are gaining that which is of infinite worth and that is God. Nothing on this earth can compare to God—not the greatest amount of wealth and possessions, not the most power, not popularity from anyone and everyone, not conquest, not great achievement—nothing ever will and ever can compare with the infinite worth of God. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

And nothing can ever take Him away from you. No force, no power, no nothing can every take you away from God if you belong to Him through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). So what if you lose something for the sake of Christ and the spread of His gospel? That’s the attitude that Paul had here. Paul rejoiced in his suffering and counted it as an honor to be called a “prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And so asked his readers: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (v. 13).

Value the Treasure

Paul didn’t allow his circumstances to define who he was. He let the gospel do that. He was a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And we need to remember that the gospel defines who we are. Folks, the gospel is all we have. It’s all we need—but it’s all we have. This gospel is the good news that even though we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him(Rom. 3:11)—that God had a plan from eternity to save us (Eph. 1:4) and that salvation was accomplished through Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8) and is available to all who would turn away from sin and have faith in Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.

If you are a believer, no sin defines who you are, no past shame defines who you are, no difficulty in life defines who you are, not even death defines who you are—but only the gospel of Jesus Christ defines who you are and that gospel says that you are God’s forever, to enjoy Him forever and make Him your infinite delight.

Paul’s Apostleship

“Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (vv. 2-3). Paul stops his prayer here and doesn’t come back to it until 3:14. He stops here to explain the nature of his apostleship and his ministry. Paul’s readers would have heard of God’s entrusting of His grace to Paul if they had only read the above chapters. That’s all it would take. In fact he states in the next verse: “when you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). He says that he was steward of God’s grace. And he tells his readers that the mystery of the gospel was made known to him by revelation and he was written about it briefly. Paul viewed himself as a manager of grace. Why? Well he had a specific task given to him. In Acts 22, Paul says that Jesus commanded him: ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, emphasis mine). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was unique, and God used Paul to write Holy Spirit inspired letters—and while we can never duplicate Paul in exactly every way, Paul’s theology of grace here really teaches us something that I think we often forget.

Grace Enlists

Grace enlists. Grace commissions. Grace always brings responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of works, but it is a religion of action. If we think that God’s grace is limited to the gift of salvation, and it stops there—then we are deceiving ourselves. This text forces us to reflect on the fact that grace enlists. We are all managers of grace. If we have received the grace of God, we are told to extend it to others: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). In fact, you may disagree, but I would go as far as to say that if grace is not being worked out in your life, then you never had grace to begin with and are not saved. Grace always brings responsibility and forces us to take action folks. If we are not taking action in our Christian lives today, then did we have grace to begin with? Paul even says later in this passage, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7).

But let me clarify two things:

1) Grace doesn’t just enlist clergy. Grace doesn’t just enlist pastors, Sunday school teachers, and crazy youth pastors. All believers are called to extend God’s grace to others and to live in a way that draws people’s attention to Him. We are all ministers folks. In fact if you want the Bible’s specific definition of how we are all ministers, here you go: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).

2) Ministry is God’s gift to you. It’s not your gift to Him. Often times we think we are doing God a favor when we engage in some spiritual project. But what is really happening is this: God is inviting you through obedience to glorify Him. God delights in that, but really it is a gift to us because we are enjoying God as we are glorifying Him. That’s the cool thing about our relationship to God. Our full joy in Him does not compromise His being glorified and uplifted. Those two things go hand in hand. For example, in the Westminster Catechism the first question asks: “What is the chief aim of man?” The answer there is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” It doesn’t say ends. We glorify God by enjoying Him. And we will enjoy Him as we extend His grace to others by doing things that will draw people’s attention to Him.

The Mystery Revealed

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv. 4-5) Paul says that when his readers read this, they can perceive into his insight into the mystery of Christ. This is a conditional statement. They will not understand the mystery without reading his letter. And Paul says that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. And it wasn’t. This “mystery of Christ” was not known to human beings in earlier generations. However, he insists that the Law and the Prophets (who in past generations attested to the gospel): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Rom. 3:21). Moses and the prophets had written of Christ and his coming salvation, and God even promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3), but the full realization of who Christ was and the great extent of His salvation that would come to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit. That’s how Paul says that this mystery was revealed: “by the Spirit.” The Bible attests elsewhere: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21, emphasis mine).

What is the ‘Mystery of Christ?’

Paul has made mention of this mystery a few times already and now he explains what that mystery is: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 6). Here’s the mystery Paul says: These people who were separated from Israel and her God, (like we’ve seen before in Eph. 2) are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. How are they made into these things? “Through the gospel” (v. 6 b). What Paul is demonstrating here is a theology of unity. Paul has fought so strenuously for establishing the doctrine of unity between Jew and Gentile. In fact, that has been an aspect of our study in Ephesians since we started. Paul has a real concern for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ. Paul is expounding the mystery of Christ and says that the Gentiles belong, and they are on the same footing as Jewish Christians and receive the same benefits. Their unity is not grounded in the similarity of skin color, their unity is not grounded in following the law, their unity is not grounded in anything else but the Lord Jesus Christ.

If being in Christ unites Jews and Gentiles into one body (members of the same body), does it not do the same for us with all other believers who are in Christ? That’s the theme we draw from Paul’s usage of language of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile that we have observed so much.

Unity: Are We Living It?

We are unified in Christ. Regardless of our differences. Regardless of our past. Regardless of any barrier that may make us different from any other person. If we are in Christ, we are unified in one body—Christ’s body. The question is not, Are we unified? The question is, are we living unified? We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them, but we are to recognize and to put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits. When we realize that we are all “fellow heirs,” “members of the same body,” and “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus,” we will view our brothers and sisters in Christ in a biblical way. We will see each other on the same level. We will encourage one another because we know that we all struggle with one ultimate problem: sin. We will worship as a family. And all sorts of other benefits.

Here’s where disunity starts to get damnable: if we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world. The message of the gospel is a message of unity and a message of peace. And if our church life is characterized by divisions, strivings, and arguments, then we are putting our light under a basket, when we should be “letting [our] light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Unity is a lifestyle that we need to put time and effort into folks. We live in a day when people come to church to see what they can get. Some people come to church to fit their preferences and if they don’t get what they want, often times they leave. Or someone will have a petty disagreement with somebody or a wrestling with someone and they leave the fellowship. There are right reasons to leave certain fellowships and there are wrong reasons to leave certain fellowships. And if you’re someone who breaks from a fellowship because you didn’t get your way—that is a wrong, unscriptural reason to leave the fellowship.

Folks, when we meet together as a body—a great protest takes place. That’s right, a protest. When we fellowship together as a family, worship as fellow heirs, see each other as members of the same body, our presence together is a bold protest against division. We meet together as a body to protest divisions and to hold up our picket signs against divisions—and those picket signs have painted on them, “We are one in Christ!”

I Am the Very Least

After Paul describes what this mystery is, he goes on to say, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7). Again, Paul talks about the “grace-enlisting” that we discussed earlier. He tells his readers that he was made a minister of this great, triumphant gospel. How was he made a minister? “according to God’s gift of grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” Again, grace enlists. Grace enlists.

Verse 8 reads, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. .” Paul maintains such humility here and says basically, “I of all people, was given this grace to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” But what else was he given this grace for? “. . . and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (vv. 9-10).

Paul has said that this plan of the mystery was not revealed to “the sons of men in other generations” (v. 5), and the plan of this mystery (as he says here) was hidden for ages in God who created all things. Paul attests to God creating all things to imply that God doesn’t need a creator. That is the only rational explanation for the existence of the universe. Something (we know Someone) outside our realm of existence would have to supernaturally create the universe as we know it. And this something would have to have never had a beginning. Something that doesn’t depend on something else for its existence. This something is Someone and that’s God.

And Paul says that this plan of the mystery was hidden in this eternal God. If God is eternal, then He didn’t need a creator and this plan of the mystery was hidden “for ages” in the limitless, eternal God. Which is why Paul says in the next verse, “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). Paul also says that God gave him grace to bring to light for everyone this mystery for a special kind of testimony: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v. 10). Didn’t see that coming. Have you ever read that in the Bible? This means that our testimony provides evil angelic powers with a reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that all things are subject to Christ.

Thus you have a triumphant testimony of the gospel’s power: No power of hell, no scheme of the devil, and no influence of a demon can hinder the advance of the gospel to Gentiles or their inclusion into the church. And that goes for everyone who would trust in Jesus Christ. The living, breathing Church of God testifies to even demonic powers that we have been unified by Christ and are in subject to Christ.

Boldness and Access With Confidence

Paul says of this Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (v. 12). Paul says that through Christ we have these things.You know, it’s strange that Paul was not frequently discouraged with the failures of his churches. He did criticize the sexual immorality of the church in Corinth, he did exhort the believers in Galatia to stop getting away from the true gospel, but he was convinced that things would work out. So Paul was eager for his readers to share his confidence rather than be discouraged—and once again the gospel is what sustains that: Paul says that in Christ he has “boldness and access with confidence,” through his faith in him.

We have something that the rest of the world doesn’t: access to God. Not only that, we have access to God with confidence. However, “boldness and access with confidence” (v. 12) does not mean that:

1) We have freedom to do whatever we want boldly before God. He sees anyway so I will do sin all the more.

2) We should feel superior to others because we have access to God; Boldness and humility go hand in hand.

3) It also doesn’t mean that we should be passive. It doesn’t mean that confidence in God should result in not taking action.

We know that life is difficult, we have suffering, evil and death all around us. Often times we can make a mistake and deny that these suffering are really impacting us. Listen to me, denial of the struggles in your life is not the solution. Paul knew the difficulties and was still confident. He looked his struggles straight in the eye but said, “I have access with confidence to God.” When we are aware of the fact that we do not go through hardships alone, when we are aware of the fact that we have a Savior who was “in every respect . . tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), then we have a great comfort. We as believers even have confidence over death as part of belonging to God.

Conclusion

So Paul concludes by asking his readers, “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” Why? “it is their glory.” Paul’s suffering was worth it because he knew that he wasn’t really losing anything—but gaining that which is of immeasurable worth: God.

May God develop within all of us an attitude like Paul’s here.

Ephesians: Not a Brick Temple—Never That Simple

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 28th DAY OF January 2014:

Introduction—Inevitable Union

There are certain consequences to becoming a believer. One of those consequences is that you become a part of the universal church of God. This is something that happens inevitably—you cannot prevent it from happening. You cannot become a believer and be alone in your walk with God. You cannot have a relationship with God and then sever your relationship with other believers. The Christian life, then, consists of two dimensions—horizontal and vertical.

1) The Christian’s life is vertical because of God.
2) The Christian’s life is horizontal because of God’s people.

These two dimensions interact with each other, and in fact, define each other. Every move you make towards God will affect other believers. Every move you make away from God will affect other believers. You can’t even budge without creating a butterfly effect on the church.

The Text

“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Strangers and Aliens

In the first verse, Paul says, “So then,” meaning he is getting ready to tell his Gentile readers about the results/implications of Christ’s reconciling work (2:14-18). As a result of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, so then this is what happens: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19). Paul’s Gentile readers had been strangers and aliens in relation to God’s people: “. . at one time you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (vv. 11-12). But now, their position has changed dramatically. They have a privileged place in God’s new community.

They are no longer strangers and aliens. Now there are some of you out there who are Sci-Fi fanatics, and when you read this you immediately said, “Oh ho! Aliens do exist!” Now even though cosmic aliens do not exist, maybe understanding why we call those green guys aliens in the first place will aid our understanding of what Paul means here. Aliens are those outside earth, according to those with superstitions. And the term is used often times to describe those who come into the United States from an unknown country—illegal aliens. Interestingly enough, the Greek term for aliens here is paroikos, meaning “foreigners.”

For the case of these Gentiles, they were strangers and aliens because they were separate from Israel and her God. But because of Christ’s work on the cross by dying for both of them, these Gentiles would not be transformed into a Jew, and those Jews would not be transformed into Gentiles, but these sinners are transformed into a new being—which makes a new community—the church. What’s more is this: they are not even second-class in this new community, but they are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” That is, with all believers. And even more they are “members of the household of God.”

You are Not What You Once Were—But So Much More

Here’s the way the logic works: You are not what you once were; you are so much more. You are no longer something, but you are now something else. Paul in this chapter has always coupled those two ideas together. He doesn’t ever tell us what we were without telling us what we are now. And he never tells us what we are now without telling us what we were. Throughout this chapter we see this pattern:

1) In Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . [But because of God’s great love, He gave us new life and] made us alive together with Christ.”

2) In Ephesians 2:12-13, “You were . . . alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

3) Also in Ephesians 2:14-18, you were two separate peoples (Jew and Gentile) but now through Christ’s death, he has “[reconciled] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (v. 16).

4) And here: “You were foreigners to God’s people, but now you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v. 19).

From this verse (and the theme taught in this chapter), we draw out one of the beautiful mysteries of the Christian life—we are not what we once were, but we are so much more. In salvation, God doesn’t just make you good. God doesn’t just make you a better person. God doesn’t even just do a few touch ups. He completely replaces what you were—He transforms you, then piles more on top of that. But as Paul teaches here, it is more than that. With that transformation, a baptizing happens that is unavoidable—you may have not wanted it to happen, but it is inescapable. You may have not even been taken through the baptistery yet, but this baptism happens at conversion: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). You do not become a new person and remain as an individual—as a “lone-ranger” Christian, but you indeed are now “citizens in God’s heavenly kingdom, and children in His household.

We Belong

Throughout our lives, let’s face it: We have all felt times when we didn’t belong. We felt unaccepted and inferior. At some point in our lives, we just develop some drive to identify with somebody, some group, or some important cause—even if it is only a sports team. I remember when I was in high school, we would sit in the gym before breakfast—and you could best see the different groups during that particular time. Everyone wanted a place to belong—you had your “All A Students” sitting together with their top dollar clothes. You had your tough guy group who would boast about how much they lift in the gym. You have your gothics, listening to their blaring heavy metal with headphones and wearing dark clothes. And you had your gossip girls. Boy they were a lot of fun to hear in the morning: “Oh no she didn’t girl!” or “I know she was not looking at me!”

But that drive for a sense of belonging is enormous. Why? Because when we identify ourselves with a group, it makes us feel important. Like we are a part of something important. Our text tonight tells us that we do belong. And nobody, and I mean nobody, should feel like an outsider in the church. Like they don’t belong. The people need to know that they do belong. We belong with God’s family. We live in God’s household as members of His family—yet at the same time, we as a body are a house in which God lives and dwells (v. 22). Everyone in this house are family with us.

The Church as a Family of Faith

The church as a family of faith should have the feel of family. What do families do? They care for each other, they are committed to each other, they confront each other, and they sustain each other. “As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body—the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us” (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist). A sense of family should shape everything about our church life. A sense of family should shape our worship. Worship should not be like a production we watch; rather it should be like a family experience—because that is what it is. The people of God in the worship of God for the glory of God.

Worship—Let Go and Boogey

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to let loose in our worship. In the Old Testament, we read that David’s first wife, Michal, despised him because he was “leaping and dancing before the LORD” (2 Samuel 6:16). She was embarrassed because of his bold expression. They were married and she was embarrassed about his expression of worship—we are brothers and sisters in Christ, so how much more should we feel comfortable expressing our true selves in worship? I don’t know about you, but I am comfortable around my family. I can do anything around them. Laugh and cry. And we shouldn’t feel closed in when we worship God together, we are worshiping Him as a family—and a worldwide family too. There are secret churches who are meeting underground right now, who are worshipping the Lord in another language and tribe. So don’t feel embarrassed to let loose when you praise your Lord. Still, our worship should be orderly and well done because even the angels are observing our worship (1 Cor. 4:9). But we should be comfortable together.

A Sustained Household

If because of Christ’s reconciling work, strangers and aliens are made into citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, then how is that household sustained? It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (v. 20). Paul has been painting an image for his Gentile readers. First of a people—“citizens” and “members of God’s household.” Now here, as being built on a foundation. As logic would follow, this ‘household’ would need to be built on some type of foundation.

The Apostles and Prophets

What does that foundation consist of? “The apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” There is some debate about what “apostles and prophets” means here. But Paul doesn’t mean here Old Testament prophets. He is talking about those who have received God’s revelation of Christ. Old Testament prophets prophesied about the coming Messiah, but He wasn’t revealed to them personally—like the apostles and prophets who walked with Jesus. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5). The prophets of the New Testament were very similar to the apostles. But the point Paul is making here is this: You Gentiles are built on the right foundation. You are built on the foundation of God’s revelation. God’s revealing to them of the mysteries of Christ is the source of their foundation.

The Right Foundation

When you are constructing a building, you usually start with the foundation. But as you know, it’s not good enough to just have any old foundation—you have to have the right foundation. You can’t build a brick house on some weak, thin timbers. And the church of God is built on the right foundation—the Word of the living God. Paul was referring here to the revelation that was given to these apostles and prophets—and we have that completed revelation, consisting of 66 books right here in our hands: the Bible.

Revelation: General vs. Special

You see, the only way we could ever know God is if He made Himself known—and He did. He would have to do it that way. There is no other way we could figure Him out. There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to the world:

1) Generally. Creation—it tells us that God is, but it doesn’t tell us anything about His Triunity, or compassion, etc. (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20)

2) Specially. God has also revealed Himself in a personal way—through the Bible. Also through Jesus, as Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word (John 1:1). But if it weren’t for the Bible, we wouldn’t have the accounts of the gospels to tell us about Jesus.

The Church is Built on the Foundation of the Word of God

The church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. It is where we go for instruction, it is where we go for training, it is where we go for rebuke, it is where we go for guidance (2 Tim. 3:16). Equally important, is obeying that Word of God as we read it. If the church doesn’t embrace the Word of God and obedience to that Word of God as its foundation, then that church will crumble faster than a stale cookie. Jesus talks about how important it is to hear His words, but to do them too: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Christ is the Cornerstone

In the latter part of this verse, Paul also assures his Gentile readers that the foundation is held together by Christ because He is the cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 reads, “therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” This reflected current building practice in which the laying of the cornerstone marked the beginning of the foundation. But not only the beginning of the foundation. Here, Paul doesn’t just say, “You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.” It’s interesting that Paul says it this way instead: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul not including ‘and’ right here indicates that it’s obvious that this foundation and this community would crumble to pieces if it weren’t for Christ being the cornerstone that holds all of it together. That’s what “cornerstone” means in the Greek here: akrogonianios. It holds together.

The Church is Centered on Christ

Christ holds the church together. Some communities can exist for a variety of reasons, but the Christian church community exists because of Christ and His work and purposes. What distinguishes Christianity apart from other religions is that it is centered on the death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. Centered on the only man in any religion who ever claimed to be God. So everything we do in church life—our rituals and traditions—are to draw attention to Jesus Christ. We observe the Lord’s Supper to exalt Jesus. We baptize to exalt Jesus. We tithe to exalt Jesus. Let’s make sure that everything we do in our church life is done in a way that draws attention to God’s mighty Christ. If it’s not done to exalt Christ, it will not last. It will waste away with this perishing earth—“Only one life twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Being Joined Together

The components of this image Paul is painting that we have now: 1) People and a household consisting of those people (v. 19). 2) A foundation, with a cornerstone holding it together (v. 20). 3) And now a structure, as v. 21 reads, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul is telling his Gentile readers here that through Christ, when all of these elements are “being joined together,” it grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You see, Paul doesn’t say that it “has been joined together,” or “when it was joined together.” But when it is joined together, it grows.

Paul doesn’t just mean here when the living stones (the people) are joined together that it grows—He has already dealt with how Jew and Gentile were reconciled/joined together through Christ’s reconciling death (Eph. 2:14-18). Why would he need to restate that? He means that when there is union of all of these elements, it grows. What’s more, Paul says it “grows.” Not “has grown,” or “when it was grown.” This means that this new community is always growing—it is a continuing process. Paul uses the same language later in this letter: “5 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).

The Church Grows

When you are working on a building project of some kind and you have all the components—the concrete for foundation, the plywood and studs for the walls, the insulation, and the roof material, etc. A building is not completed if all of those components just sit there without being joined together. And when all of these elements are joined together in union, where the people of God realize that they belong to the household of God, and build their lives on the revelation of God, and center their lives on the Son of God, then there will be growth—no doubt.

The church grows in two main ways—in faith and in number. There needs to balance between the both of them—but this growth will not always happen right in front of your eyes. God often times works “behind the scenes.” Probably because when we finally see what God has been up to, we are weak at the knees with humbleness and adoration. But still, God calls us to be obedient to Him even when we are not sure of the results or we cannot see the result.

Dwelling Place for God

Paul has built up tension to reveal this climax. It’s like the high-point of the energy for this text. You are no longer strangers and aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Alright that’s awesome. I’m now who I once was but I am a member of the kindred of God. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. Okay we’re getting closer here. The energy is increasing—so not only am I not what I once was, but I am built on a firm foundation—the right foundation and it is held together by Christ. In whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. We’ve almost made it to the top and Paul crowns this chapter: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22). Paul tops off this chapter by telling his readers they are being built into this place where God lives by His Spirit. The Greek term for “dwelling place” means habitation. Dwelling place here means the same thing as “holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).

What is ironic about this passage of Scripture is this: The imagery Paul has been using here, pertains to constructing a physical building with all of its components—but what Paul is saying is just the opposite—the church is not a building. It’s not a brick temple. It’s not pews, walls, and lights—it’s the people of God where God dwells by His Spirit.

A Lady Who Despised Church

I was in an Agriculture class one day in high school, and I was talking with one of the substitute teachers about the Christian faith. We soon got on a discussion about church. And I’ll never forget what she said: “I don’t believe in organized religion. That’s why I don’t go to church.” I thought, ‘Lady, the church is an organism!” And that organism has needs, desires, and that organism has pains and sufferings—but that organism is made up of the body of Christ—the people of God.

Don’t you know somebody like that? Don’t you know that there are people who refuse to come to church because they lack an understanding that the church is the people of God? Let’s show them who we belong to. Let’s show them that we are indeed the “dwelling place for God by His Spirit.”

Closing

Let us heed to the Word of God to us tonight. If we are hearers of the Word and not doers—“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24). Let no one be deceived, take this Word from God and obey it.

Ephesians: He Himself is Our Peace (2:14-18)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:

The Design of the Death of Christ

If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.

The Text

“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

He Himself Is Our Peace

“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”

Made Us Both One

“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).

How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.

Barriers

If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”

If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Abolishing the Law

The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.

Reconcile Us Both to God

If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.

Is God Distant?

Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)

Christ the Preacher

Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).

Commanded and Commissioned

If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).

Access in One Spirit to the Father

To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.

Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.

Ephesians: Therefore Remember

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 27th day of October 2013:

Introduction

Memory is a wonderful gift from God that enables life; without it true living is virtually impossible. Remembering structures our minds to live for God. It frames our identity and sets us on course for life in Christ. We need to remember sin, because part of sin’s delusion is that it keeps us unaware of sin. And that is the Word of God to us tonight, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles. . . were separated from Christ. . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11, 12). This is a command, not a suggestion. It is not something that the apostle Paul found the people doing, and then said, “Stop doing that.” It is part of the Christian walk. It is important. It is not to be leapfrogged over so that you only begin reading at verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That kind of leapfrogging is extremely dangerous.

The Text

“11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Therefore Remember

The passages up until now, are long elegant sentences in the original Greek (1:3-14; 2:1-10), and in this first verse is the first time Paul says “Therefore” in this entire letter. You know what that tells us? That what Paul is about to say is really important. By Paul saying this, he is indicating that what he is about to say is his very reason for saying what he has already said in this letter. He says “Therefore” in light of the glorious change that God has effected (2:1-10), and the completely unmerited blessings God has imparted to them (1:3-14), these Gentile readers are to “remember” their pre-Christian past from another standpoint.

Recall in the passage above (2:1-3) that Paul was reminding his readers of their pre-Christian past to draw attention to God’s mighty acts in Christ. Now here in verse 11, Paul gives the command to “remember” not because his readers have forgotten what they were, but that the privileges they now enjoy would be appreciated all the more if they remembered the spiritual condition from which they had been rescued. So Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision. . .” You will notice that there are two camps that come into play in this passage of Scripture: the Jews and the Gentiles. And to be called “uncircumcised” was a Jewish term of ridicule, and it signified that someone was a Gentile, outside the covenant people of God. For the Jews, circumcision, which had been given by God to Abraham (Genesis 17) was the physical sign of their covenant with the Lord, the God of all the earth. It pointed to the special relationship that Israel had with the God of that covenant. The “uncircumcision” of Gentiles was evidence of their separation from God.

Five Deficiencies

After this lengthy description of his Gentile readers, Paul returns to his main point of urging them to remember (v. 12) the deficiencies of their pre-Christian past so that they might appreciate more fully the many spiritual blessings of who they are now in Christ. Five of these deficiencies are explicitly stated and I would like to point them out to you:

1) “separated from Christ.” A more natural reading of the Greek here is to understand separated from Christ as the first of the Gentile’s former disadvantages. In other words, “you were, at that time, apart from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” What you need to make note of is that Paul is using things pertaining to Israel, God’s chosen people, to prove a point of importance. Paul is building on a powerful argument by using things pertaining to Israel. If that is the case, then how does “separated from Christ” relate to Israel? Well, we know that Jesus’s last name is not Christ. Christ is a title and it is given to Jesus meaning “Messiah” or “chosen one.” The Messiah, according to the Bible, is the first and foremost king of Israel through whom God’s saving purposes are accomplished. So, although unbelieving Jews may have been separated from Christ, they were not separated from the knowledge of the promises of what the Messiah would do. Paul says in Romans 3:2, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”, and these oracles spoke of the Messiah.

2) Secondly, Paul commands the Gentiles to remember that they were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” If you were separated from the chosen people of Israel, then you were at a serious disadvantage; being separated from Israel meant being outside of any covenant relationship with Him.

3) So if that is the case, that these Gentile readers were separated from the chosen people, then it makes sense too that they also were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” The Gentile’s separation from the community of God’s people meant that they had no share, no access to the covenants which promised the Messiah and what He would do.

4) Now the Gentiles’ serious condition comes to a tragic climax: they had been without hope. That is serious business. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t have plans or hopes for the future, but rather that they were outside the sphere of God’s people and His promises. So they did not share in the hope of Israel in the promised Messiah and the salvation He would bring.

5) Finally, their being “without God in the world” signifies that they had no real relationship with the true God, the God of Israel.

Remember That God Was Once Not Your God

Paul’s command here for the Gentiles to remember their former plight is just as urgent for us as it was for them; especially since we are the Gentiles! When Paul says “Remember that you were without God,” he didn’t just mean, “Remember that you once lacked some knowledge about God.” He meant, “Remember that God was once not your God,” and if He was not our God, then He was not for us, but against us; He was not our justifier, but our condemner; not eternal life, but eternal damnation lay before us. And it’s just this that Paul wants us to remember. Remember that apart from Christ, Almighty God would be against us; apart from Christ, we would be storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:4, 5; Ephesians 2:3); apart from the free and unmerited mercy of Christ, we would go away into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Concerning your plight before Christ, Paul means “Let it grip you.” Let the memory seize you and move you. Feel the memory. Feel the plight you have been saved from. An intellectual recollection of facts will be of no spiritual benefit if it does not move the heart. Any Christian can list what they have been saved from if you ask them. But they don’t feel it. It does not move them. It’s not real to them. John Piper gives us a memorable illustration of this fact:

“It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (Remember That You Were Hopeless, Dec. 27, 1981).

And so it is true of many Christians: if they remember their plight without Christ at all, they remember it like a fake threat. They have never begun to imagine the horror of the reality from which they have been saved! But when Paul says, “Remember that you were without hope,” he does not mean, “Treat your plight without Christ like a fake threat.” He means, “Know it, feel it, be gripped by it.”

But Now in Christ Jesus

We do need to remember our former selves, but we need also to remember who we are in Christ. Paul lists a number of things concerning who we are in Christ over in Ephesians 1, but he names the greatest of these in v. 13. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He says that a dramatic change has occurred. In contrast to their former position as deprived Gentiles who were separated from Israel and her God, Paul’s readers have now been brought near to God through the sacrificial death of Christ. The Gentiles who had no part in ‘Christ,’ the Messiah through whom God’s saving purposes were being worked out, had actually come to know Christ Jesus.

Did you know that that the highest, most supreme good of the gospel is not heaven? It is not forgiven sins, it is not a clear conscience, it is not a sanctified life, it is not inclusion into the church of God, and it is not escaping from hell. The highest, most supreme good of the gospel, and of reconciliation is God! God is what makes heaven good. The ultimate aim of everything that happened on the cross of Calvary was to bring us near to God! Whenever you think of propitiation or redemption or justification or substitutionary atonement or reconciliation (v. 13), the ultimate aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God Himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest about this: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” And verse 13 is the second clearest statement of that truth: “But now in Christ Jesus. . . you have been brought near to God.” God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself. If God is enjoyed as the highest and greatest good of the gospel, then all His other gifts will be enjoyed accordingly.

Why is all of this important to know? I think the Presbyterian minister, Matthew Henry, tells us why very well: “Every believing sinner owes their closeness to God to the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians: Salvation By Grace Through Faith

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 8th day of September 2013:

What God is Like in Salvation

Let me just say this: the more you know God, the more you want to know God. The more you feast on His fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion.

And the truth is, that clear knowledge of God from the Word of God is the kindling that sustains fires of affection for God. This is a great reason our love for God sometimes grows cold, because we’re not immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. And probably the most crucial kind of knowledge you can have is the knowledge of what God is like in salvation. And that’s where Ephesians 2 comes in. Let’s look at it together.

Introduction

Paul wrote Ephesians to the churches around Ephesus. He had a very close relationship with the Ephesians (and you can read about that in Acts 19, 20). We read of Paul’s last encounter with them in Acts 20 where Paul says to the Ephesian elders that “the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He then gives them careful exhortations to take care of the church and then we read that “when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all. . . they embraced Paul. . . [and were] sorrowful most of all because. . . they would not see his face again” (vv. 23, 36-38). So he had a close relationship with them. He wrote this letter during his imprisonment in Rome, and what makes this letter different than many of his others (Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians) is that there is no specific problem that seemed to have inspired this letter. Unlike the “problem churches” of Galatia (O foolish Galatians!) or the sexually immoral church at Corinth.

The Text

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What Has Brought Us to This Place in Ephesians?

Paul has just prayed that his Christian readers might know the greatness of God’s power towards them, and then praised God for exercising that same mighty power in raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to be head over all things for the church. Now we come to our text which can be divided into three sections.

Dead In Transgressions and Sins (2:1-3)

Following this prayer, he now concentrates on his readers in a special way. He is describing their pre-Christian past in terms of their being “dead in the transgressions and sins” (v. 1). Concerning “dead in trespasses and sins,” Paul was telling the Ephesians, “Hey, dead is dead.” He was telling them that they were dead in trespasses and sins, they were totally unresponsive to God. They were dead.That they had no natural tendency to desire or want God, and they as human beings, being sons and daughters of Adam, enter the world spiritually dead. Now what did God say of Adam if he were to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). This is exactly what has taken place. Paul teaches elsewhere that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) Paul teaches in Romans 5 that we have been set in the mold of Adam’s sin. And what we have inherited from Adam is guilt, shame, and yes death. The “trespasses and sins” refer to offenses against God in thought, word, or deed.

Dead is Dead

This passage is describing all of humanity and that includes us! Dead is dead and apart from the grace of God, we too are “dead in our trespasses and sins!” Every one of us have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the Scripture says “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Before Christ, before God transformed us through His Spirit, before He made us a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), before God justified us (in one moment), before God grafted us into the family of God (the universal church), before we were reconciled to God, before we were ever “born again” we were dead in our trespasses and sins We have been born of the seed of Adam, and we have absolutely nothing good in us! Nothing. We have no natural tendency to want God, “there is none that seeks God” (Romans 3:11).

Paul also says that the Ephesians followed the “course of this world” that they looked, thought, and acted like the world. In the same way, we too were following the course of this world right through the gate that is “wide and the way [that is] easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). In addition, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) The apostle also says that they followed the “prince of the power of air” which is a reference to Satan himself. And as has been well said before “Satan’s not concerned about the lost; he already has them in his grips. It’s Christians he is trying to tear down.” And how true is that. Those without Christ are in his grips.

Recalling The Past for Magnification of God’s Mighty Action in Christ

What I want you to notice is that Paul is recalling their pre-Christian past, not to humiliate or depress them, but to draw attention to God’s mighty action in Christ! That what happened on the cross was the blazing center of the glory of God and the greatest outpouring of His grace and compassion that the world has ever seen. The fact that the God who is “rich in mercy” has acted on their behalf when they were totally depraved, totally undeserving, totally unresponsive, totally separated and in fact dead is what makes the good news Good News indeed! Have you ever heard of what the most popular Bible verse is? “God helps those who help themselves.” You’re eyebrows are raised justly, because you know as well as I do that it’s not in Scripture. The Ancient Greeks came up with the phrase “God helps those who help themselves,” and Paul is saying the exact opposite: God helps the helpless. What’s more is God helps His enemies who have transgressed His holy law!

Bankrupt Without Jesus

How are we to see the cross as Good News if we don’t first understand the weight of our sin? How can we see Christ as the greatest treasure if we don’t realize that we are totally bankrupt without Him? How can we know we need eternal life if we don’t first realize that we are dead, hostile to God, and enemies of God? If you don’t realize you’re a sinner, you won’t recognize your need for a Savior. Certainly, one of the most humbling things for us as believers is realizing how undeserving we are of what God has done for us through the cross.

Because of His Great Love and Mercy God Made Us Alive With Christ (2:4-7)

Paul then tells the Ephesians what mighty acts God has done for them through Christ. This is the total opposite of what Paul has already said about the sinful state of man. Just when things seem hopeless, Paul utters the greatest phrase in the history of the universe: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us. . .” (v. 4). It is essentially important to understand that Paul is saying here that God’s “great love” flows completely from God’s own heart, not from anything good foreseen in us and not anything we have done to deserve it.

In v. 5, Paul resumes his thought from earlier by saying “even when you were dead. . .” And he is saying that the Ephesians have experienced the same power of God that was effective at Christ’s resurrection! The Bible says that the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in us and has given us life (Rom. 8:11). Furthermore, he is talking about the amazing miracle of salvation. That all in one moment everything changes. God gives you spiritual life at conversion based on nothing that you had done. In v. 6 Paul says that because of Christ’s resurrection, those who believe in Him are given new life at conversion and will be given renewed physical bodies when Christ returns. Of course, “seated us with him in the heavenly places” is a reference to heaven.

Heaven: Everlasting Enjoyment of Jesus

There aren’t many things more comforting and overwhelming than to know that because of God’s immeasurable grace, that we will spend eternity with Him forever! Just to know that we will forever be in the presence of Almighty God in never-ceasing worship! Everlasting enjoyment of Jesus! Listen to what Revelation says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). Read that again. And again. What grace is this! Hallelujah! He isn’t saying that we will be receiving the worship, but He is describing an intimate, everlasting love that we will experience forever. I don’t know about you, but all I want to do is to be on that throne with Him.

No more disease or sickness is great. The greatest family reunion you’ve ever experienced will surely be pleasant. No more sorrow, pain, death or sin is eradicated. Mansions, streets of gold, a place prepared for us, and walls of jasper will be great. . . But what makes heaven good? We don’t ask ourselves this question often enough. The supreme good of heaven is the fact that God is there and we will finally see and savor God Himself! What makes heaven good is the everlasting presence of Almighty God and how we will never, ever be separated from Him! Glory to God. Thus, you have the beauty of God’s mercy and grace that Paul talks about: That the gospel is the story of how God did everything necessary, most painfully in the death of Jesus, His Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying: God Himself!

And before we move to the next section, Paul tells us God’s further purpose of why He lavished His grace upon us when we were undeserving: “so that in the coming ages. . .” (v. 7). That God saving us was a demonstration of His grace for all eternity. So that we will forever marvel at the great mystery of God’s love and grace for a humanity who are fully deserving of capital punishment.

God’s New Creation (2:8-10)

Now we come to one of the most favorite sections in the Bible. This salvation which met the dreadful needs of the human predicament involved delivery from death, wrath, and slavery, described in vv. 1-3. This entire passage implies that everything about salvation is a gift. Here’s why it must all be about grace: If there were one iota in this entire salvation process where credit could be given to you, then you would get the glory. But because salvation is something God directs, carries out, and sustains, He gets all the glory. God’s passion is for His glory and anything that wounds that glory is sin. Concerning v. 8, the point being made, then, is that the response of faith does not come from any human source but is God’s gift. Paul teaches here that salvation in every aspect is not your own doing.

God’s Workmanship

Now Paul talks about how we are “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10). Paul is saying that salvation is God’s workmanship from first to last! God initiates salvation. He directs our salvation (Romans 9:11; Ephesians 1:4-6), He carries out our salvation (by sending Christ to absorb our punishment; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32), and sustains our salvation (those God saves are eternally secure; John 10:27-29; Romans 8:29-30). Let me say again: God loved us before time (before the foundation of the world He chose us as a people for His own possession, Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9), He carried out our salvation by sending Christ to atone for our sin and to die in our place (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24), and He sent us His Spirit to indwell us with His life and give us the power we need to live the Christian life (Romans 8; Ephesians 6:18-20), and He sustains and keeps us to the end. Paul attests to the perseverance of the saved to the Philippians : “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8).

Good Works Are the Consequence

Good works are the results of a changed life and this is in direct contrast to what Paul said we previously walked in. Now he says to “walk” in good works (v. 10) Of course we know, just by the facts stated in this text that salvation is “not a result of works” (v. 9); however, as we know the Scriptures teach that good works are the results of a life changed by the grace of God: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). Salvation is not based on works, but the good works Christians do are the result and consequence of God’s new creation work in us. Some argue here that there is a contradiction in Paul’s teaching on good works and James’ teaching on good works. However, Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation; and James is emphasizing the results of faith in Christ: a changed life. There is no contradiction. This truth can even be discovered without bringing James into the picture. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works. . .” (v. 10)

Faith or a Delusion?

Faith is more than a feeling. As we see in Hebrews 11, faith should have a story attached to it. Recently I was reading an article about a psychiatrist and his wacky patients. In the article he addressed the beliefs of his patients that had no basis in reality. A patient may sincerely believe he could fly—but  that didn’t mean anything because there was nothing to back that up. The patient might be an abusive husband that sincerely believes abuse is wrong—but he doesn’t really believe that because his stated belief is contradicted by reality. The psychiatrist didn’t call these things “beliefs” that his patients had. He called them “delusions.” And folks, a belief, no matter how sincere, if it’s not reflected in reality, it is not a belief; it’s a delusion. What’s more, is if you think you’re on the right road because of what you have done, then you’re wrong! We are saved, as our text says, because of the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”(v. 7).

For example, if someone asks you “Are you a Christian?”. . .and your mind immediately goes to the fact that you teach a Sun. School class, you go to church, you put some money in the plate, you volunteer from time to time. . . then we need to get our perspective in a different place!

Because do you really want to take credit for your salvation when you stand before God at judgment (Heb. 9:27)? No you don’t! You want to say “By grace I was brought to faith! By Your immeasurable love and grace!” It was that grace that triumphed over your resistance to God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I ask you this morning, What will you say at the judgment?

The Bible says in the gospel of John, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God” (1:12). Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?  He will not turn away anyone who wants to come to Him. I plea to you that you would run to the cross for the “immeasurable riches of His grace.”