When I first moved out here to Carver, I looked at different health clubs to join. I talked to Life Time Fitness and they had a complicated membership process. They had different clubs rated good, better and best. You had to choose a level of membership that determined which of their clubs you could go to. I think it was like a silver, gold and platinum memberships. If you brought the platinum level you could go to all the clubs. But if you bought the middle level you could only go to certain clubs but not the best ones. You didn’t have all the benefits. Your benefits were restricted. And of course the more benefits you got the more you had to pay monthly. So I looked at all those options and decided I would join the Chaska Community Center. That was a cheaper and better option for me!
Today we are starting a new series in the book of Ephesians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches in the area and in the first chapter he talks of a platinum membership. Apostle Paul in one of his missionary journeys went through Ephesus and established the church there. This book of the Bible is a letter Paul wrote back to the churches in Ephesus toward the end of his life. Ephesus was an important city in modern day Turkey. It was the intersection of major trade routes and had a harbor that led to the Agean Sea. It was a critical city in the Roman Empire. In Acts 19 Paul went to Ephesus and had great success in establishing a church there. But because of the success he faced lots of opposition from the town people. I encourage you to read Acts 19 as a back drop of this book.
And what we are going to do is do a number of series throughout the book of Ephesians. Our first in series is called Identity, because Paul starts off his letter by talking about our identity in Christ. What we have in Christ. Then in the second half of the book Paul addresses how we ought to live in light of who we are. Paul wants us to understand we don’t live right to earn God’s love, we live right because of who we are in Christ. We have God’s love and he has changed us so we are just living out who we are. For Paul it is important that we know who we are in Christ before we deal with our behavior. That’s our identity in Christ.
Paul starts out the letter with a greeting that introduces himself and greets the believers in Ephesus, which is the normal way letters were written in that time. Look at verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus,[a] the faithful in Christ Jesus…”
He calls the believers there in Ephesus, God’s holy people, the faithful in Christ Jesus. He is writing to people who have put their faith in Christ. Who have come to a knowledge of Jesus, have understood what he has done for them in his death and resurrection and have put their trust and faith in Jesus. That’s what it means to be in Christ. Have you made that decision? Have you put your faith in Jesus? Many of you here today have taken that step and others probably have not done that but we are glad you are here today wherever you are. This is important to understand in Christ or in Him because I the next 14 verses of this letter Paul uses this phrase 11 times. He wants us to know the benefits of being in Christ.
So Paul attacks this next section with some of the most beautiful and assertive language he can think of. In the original writings the first 12 verses are one glorious run sentence. He wouldn’t have done well in an English composition class. As Paul dictates his letter his speech pours out of his mouth in a continuous cascade. He neither pauses for breath nor punctuates his words with full stops. And he creates this image of who we are in Christ. It is beautiful and descriptive language.
In Ephesians 1:3 it says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Paul says in this first verse that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. You see if we are in Christ we have the platinum membership. We have all the benefits. We are at the top! God the father is the source of every one of these blessing. Paul praises Him as the source of every spiritual blessing. And all these benefits are for those that are in Christ. Paul goes on this passage to list the blessings that God has given us. What are those benefits? What are those spiritual blessings that are so important to who we are in Christ? To our identity in Christ?
First, we have the blessing of being chosen in the past. Look at Ephesians 1:4, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Paul reaches back before the foundation of the world, before creation, before time began to a past eternity in which only God himself existed. In this time God formed a purpose in his mind. This purpose concerned both Jesus and us. The pronouns are important and emphatic. “He chose us in him.” He determined to make us (who didn’t exist yet) his children through the redeeming work of Christ (which hadn’t taken place yet). It was a definite decision and it came from his complete unmerited favor, since he chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight. Which meant he knew we would be unholy and blameworthy and not deserving at all of his adoption but deserving judgment instead. It was totally by his grace. His choosing us has nothing to do with our merit, our goodness or our good works. It is totally his grace, his unmerited favor.
Now wait a minute. So are you saying that he just chose us and we have no say in the matter. That we are just like puppets on a string? He is directing everything we have no say at all in the matter? Someone might say wait didn’t I choose God? Didn’t I decide for Christ? The answer is yes you did and freely by your own will, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you. This is a mystery and Scripture nowhere dispels this mystery of election. Both are true in Scripture even in a few verses later in this chapter, Paul says this in 1:13, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” You had to hear the word and take a step of faith. That is your choice and my choice. We make that decision. We are not puppets on a string that have no choice. But what is also true is that God choose us before the foundation of the world. It is a mystery but scripture clearly talks about both. And somehow in a way we don’t understand yet both are true in God’s eyes. And we should beware of any who try to systemize it too precisely or rigidly. If you take this too rigidly on one side or the other you become, in a real sense, unbiblical. Because the Bible clearly talks about both being true.
But this passage says that one of our spiritual blessings is that God was thinking of you since before the world was created and choose us. That is how important we are to him. We are not an afterthought or a postscript of a bigger drama. We are front and center. We are his beloved children. That is who we are and He wants us to live in light of that amazing truth. He wants us to uphold the family name and live out our identity.
Some of you might be thinking if that is true that he chooses us and we choose him, then is the opposite true? The people that don’t choose him, means he hasn’t chosen them either. Again, this is a mystery but in Romans 9 it would seem to indicate that is true. But in 1 Peter 3:9 it says that God is patient and doesn’t wish any to perish but all to come to a knowledge of the truth. There is much debate on this and how it works out. But what most all agree on is that it is futile to sit around and try to figure out who’s in and who’s out. But trust God, pray for the folks that don’t know God and tell your story in a gentle and loving way. If you would like to talk about that more in-depth I would love to connect with you. But we know he has chosen us.
Second, we have the blessing of being adopted in the present. Look at Ephesians 1:5-8, “In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.” God has adopted us as His sons and daughters. He has redeemed us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he bought us back. And He has forgiven our sins. Those are significant blessings. We are changed and free from the heaviness of our sin and the guilt of our conscience. He brought us so we could be his children. We are children of the king. That is who we are. That is our identity.
And we have his grace. I love that phrase, “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” That word lavished is such a good word because this is not like he just gave us a little grace. He dumped so much on us that we could never exhaust it. This word means that it is so much that it is just pouring over us. It is like this glass of water. The grace is the water and it is not that I just keep pouring the water into the glass until it is full. But even after it is full, I keep lavishing the water on the glass like this. That is his grace poured on us. Guys this is the platinum membership. Every spiritual blessing in Christ. And as believers we need God’s grace daily. We run through lots of God’s grace on a daily basis. We have to depend on God’s grace or we get confused, legalistic or feel guilty.
Do you need God’s grace today? Has your sin and wrong doings just gotten the best of you? Are you feeling guilty and broken and don’t know how you will ever get back? If you are in Christ, if you have taken the step to put your trust in him, know that he has chosen you before the world even started. And his grace is sufficient for you. In fact, it is more than sufficient. It is overflowing and as you come to him you will know his love and his concern for you. You will know his grace and goodness. It is your identity in Christ. It is part of the platinum membership. Every spiritual blessing is ours in Christ.
Next, we have the blessing of unification in the future. Look at verses 9-10, “ he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” God has done more than choose us in Christ in the past and adopt us as his sons and daughters in the present, even though there are many blessings and joys with all of that. He has also made known his purpose, his will for the future. For history is neither meaningless nor purposeless. It is moving towards a great goal. His plan is to unite all things in Christ. In the end God will bring all things under Jesus’ control. There will be no more sin or mourning or division or pain or death. God’s plan is that all things which were created through Christ and for Christ and which hold together in Christ will finally be united under Christ and he will be the head. We will be part of that. That is our future blessing.
That is Paul’s broad perspective. As he wrote this he was under house arrest in Rome. He wasn’t in a prison but still under arrest and handcuffed to a Roman soldier. Though his body was confined and his wrist chained, his heart and mind were solely focused on his and our blessings in Christ. He peered back to before the foundations of the world and forward to the fullness of time. All the while grasping hold of what we have now in Christ. That our past has been forgiven and our future secured. That’s our identity in Christ.
Our identity in Christ is so important in living for Jesus. These spiritual blessings are who we are. SO many times we try to live obedient to Christ and we fail. So we see ourselves as failures, which only causes us to fail more. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only causes us to sin more. But we are not sinners and failures. God has chosen us, he has forgiven our past and secured our future and allowed us to live in the present with peace and grace. That is who we are. That is our identity in Christ. That is why Paul says we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ. So we need to start living like who we are. So when to evil one comes to us and tells us, “you failed again, no way could God love you when you do this or think like that. You are sinner and will always be a failure in this area.” We can say, “No, those are lies. I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. That is who I am. That is my identity.” Will you do that this week? Can we focus in on who we are in Christ? Our identity and realize afresh that God has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. That’s who we are. Let’s pray.