Ephesians 1: Past, Present & Future in Christ
Ephesians 1:1-14, 2:8-10
Today we are beginning a four-week sermon series on the letter to the Ephesians. In our New Testaments, the letter to the Ephesians is grouped with letters attributed to the Apostle Paul. These letters are organized in order based on their length: the longest one is first and the shortest one is last. Most scholars agree that Ephesians is a late letter, meaning that it was written after most of the others. In fact, it is so late, that it was most likely written by one of Paul’s followers after his death. This is difficult for us to understand today because, in our culture, authorship is an important designation that is legally protected. But back then, it was very common for people to write things after the death of a famous person and attribute the new document to the deceased. Scholars generally agree that Ephesians was written by one of Paul’s followers after his death.
In the letter to the Ephesians, the author begins by talking about God’s actions in the past, the present, and the future. The first reason why the letter begins with God’s actions in the past, present and future is to give us assurance and also to promote unity in the church. The second reason is to motivate us to live for God’s glory, both living holy lives and also doing good works in Jesus’ name.
Let’s first look at the assurance and unity that God’s actions in the past, present, and future give us. Sometimes we might wonder if God really cares about us. We might wonder if we really are assured of our salvation, of our relationship with God. In this first chapter in Ephesians, we see that through Jesus we have this assurance. We see in verse 3, that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” What are these spiritual blessings? We see the foundation of all spiritual blessings in verse 7: “In Jesus, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Indeed, God’s grace is better than silver and gold, better than jewels and all the money in the world. God gives us this redemption, this forgiveness, as a free gift. We read in chapter 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is a free gift given by God, intended to draw us into a deeper relationship with God that will last for eternity. And in chapter 1:11, it says that, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,” which we receive now and will last into eternity. Our inheritance is peace, hope, joy, love, healing, wholeness, salvation. When we die, through Jesus, we will go to heaven which is the presence of God in which we will live the fullness of this inheritance. But for now, while we live here, in this life, God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us live out our inheritance now. It says in verse 13, “[we] were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” The Holy Spirit lives in us and it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that enables us to experience hope, peace, joy, love, healing, wholeness, salvation through Jesus in this life now, in all circumstances.
This is all amazing, but it is even more amazing because the way that this is described in chapter one tells us that this redemption, forgiveness, receiving God’s inheritance, this possibility for a deep and eternal relationship with God, has been God’s plan for us from before the foundation of the world. In verse 4, we read, “just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” And then in verse 5, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” What we learn from this is that this has always been God’s intention for us. We didn’t have to do anything, but God planned before we were born to reconcile us to God’s self through Jesus. What was God’s motivation for this? We see at the end of verse 4 that God did it “in love” and at the end of verse 5 that God did it “according to the good pleasure of his will.” God loves us and takes pleasure in us. God felt that way from the foundation of the world and from before we were even born. There is nothing we have done to merit God’s love or the fact that God takes pleasure in us. God just does. And we know that God always will love us and take pleasure in us both now and after death and for eternity. That is some serious assurance.
As I said before, God’s actions in the past, present, and future, also promote unity. If we believe this assurance for ourselves, then we also have to believe it for others. Often this assurance of salvation in Christ has been used to divide and make distinctions between people, but in this letter, the author makes an appeal for unity across differences. Sneak-peek to next week, Jesus breaks down the dividing wall between people, no matter what it is, across the ages. It is important for us to remember that this assurance that we have is the same assurance that others have in Christ. Our salvation in Christ is a gift from God. It is so important for us to remember this in the church when we disagree about things. It is easy to walk away, but God is trying to build ONE body of Christ, the church.
Moving on to our second point, that God’s actions in the past, present, and future motivate us to live for God’s glory, both living holy lives and also doing good works in Jesus’ name. Chapter 2:8-9 are clear: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is clear that good works do not grant us salvation or God’s inheritance. God gives us those things as a free gift of grace out of God’s love for us from the foundation of the world. However, God intends for us to be ambassadors of God’s love in this world. God created us from the foundation of the world to live for the praise of God’s glory. It says in chapter 1:12 that God has given us this inheritance, and given us the Holy Spirit now in this present life “so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of His glory.” What this means is that the natural response, the natural result, the fruit of God’s free gift to us is that we live a life that praises God. While good works don’t save, they are a natural result of living a life in Christ. In fact, God created us with this in mind.
Sometimes we might wonder what we are here for. I have heard people of all ages, children, teenagers, young adults, middle adults, retired adults, oldest adults ask me, “Why am I here?” or “Why am I still here?” This is a common question, a common feeling that people have. We often feel unsatisfied, or we are suffering, or we are limited in what we can do and we are not sure what we are here for or what our purpose is. As I said, God created us knowing that good works are the natural result of a life in Christ. And God created us knowing that we would yearn for a purpose in life. With this in mind, I want to read to you chapter 2:10, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Along with the assurance of our salvation in Christ, we also have assurance that God has placed us where we are with the gifts, talents, and abilities that we have, in order to use them for the praise of God’s glory. This is true at every point in our lives. We always have something to offer, no matter how big or how small, we should never underestimate the value of our good works. God prepared beforehand for good works to be our way of life. Every opportunity that we have to do good is part of God’s gift of grace for us. Whenever we live this way, we are living a life of worship. Worship is indeed coming to church on Sunday morning, but it continues throughout the week, “for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
This is true for all of us, not just our leaders. In our sermon series, we won’t have time to talk about chapter 4, but I want to show you something in it. In verse 11 it says this, “The gifts that God gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Why? Verse 12 tells us, in order “to equip the saints for the the work of ministry.” God intends that every single person in the church will do ministry, will do good works as a way of life. The letter goes on to say in verse 12 and 13 that the purpose of everyone participating in ministry, in good works as a way of life, is to build up the body of Christ and to help us to be unified as one body of Christ, the church.
Finally, when we talk about doing good, we normally only think of helping others or doing tasks. But the good works that God created us to live by include more than that. Good works also means not sinning. Not lying, not stealing, not committing adultery, all those kinds of things. And even in chapter 4:29 it says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” The good works that we were created to do are things like helping others or doing tasks that help the church function, AND also, living holy lives, doing our best to live without sin so that in everything that we do we can share God’s free gift of grace with everyone and everything. We should never underestimate the impact that we have on the world through the way that we live our lives.
When we think about the awesome assurance that we have that God has loved us from the foundation of the world and will love us into eternity and that God has given us good things to do now to be our way of life, do we live in a way that reflects God’s good gift? When people interact with us are they encouraged? Are they built up? Do they think we are trustworthy? Do we spread salt and light? Do we live to the praise of God’s glory?
In our Psalm for this morning, Psalm 34:1, it says, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” This is what the letter to the Ephesians is encouraging us to do. We are assured of our salvation in Christ and of God’s love for us from the foundation of the world and into eternity. Right now the Holy Spirit lives in us, helping us to be united as one body of Christ, the church. Through the Holy Spirit, we can live lives to the praise of God’s glory. As it says in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” So let us bless the Lord at all times. Amen.