Saints In Christ – Ephesians 1:1-2

Saints in Christ

Nick Esch, 2/3/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

I entitled this series The Church and the Glory of Christ because that’s what this whole letter is about. Paul begins by going deep into theology and the things of God, and really giving us a beautiful look at the gospel in the first three chapters. And then, after laying out the beauty and the depths of the gospel Paul then lays out some of the implications of the gospel—how the church is called to live in light of the gospel, in the last three chapters. So it goes from Christian doctrine to Christian duty; from Christian faith to the Christian life… The common theme woven through all six chapters is that God, in His sovereign grace, has chosen a people—the church—who are the bride of Christ and are called to live for the glory of Christ, hence my title: The Church and the Glory of Christ. So needless to say, I’m excited about what the Lord has in store for us as we make our way through this great book.

Now, Paul doesn’t waste any time or any words for that matter; there are glorious riches in this book from the very beginning. So today we’re going to look at the introductory greeting of Ephesians, but what we’ll find here is a glimpse of what is to come in the rest of Ephesians. The themes of grace and peace in and through Christ, and being in Christ are everywhere in this book; and that’s exactly where Paul starts. So, with that in mind, look with me at our text, starting in the first part of verse 1.

Ephesians 1:1-2

There we read, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” Beloved, I can’t encourage you enough to slow down in your Bible reading, and really take in what you’re reading. We’re so prone to skip over or rush through passages like this, but if you do you are robbing yourself of great riches. I mean, look at what all is being said here. Paul the apostle is of course Saul the persecutor; that is, before Jesus turned his life upside down. And that’s partly what he’s pointing out here. Paul is an apostle, not because he simply decided to be one, but because God made him one. It’s by God’s will that Paul is an apostle, that is, His will of decree that cannot be broken. Sometimes we refer to the things in God’s Word as His will, such as His commands…  And they are; they’re known as God’s will of command. But this will can be broken. We break it all of the time… We’re sinners who break God’s rules. But God has another will that cannot be broken. As Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 1:11, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will…” As Job tells the Lord, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” What both Paul and Job are talking about here is God’s will of decree, His will that can never be broken. And it’s that same will—the sovereign will of God—that made Paul an apostle.

Again, Paul was a great persecutor of the church; he participated in the imprisoning and even killing of Christians; he hated Jesus and everyone who followed him. But one day, while he was on his way to imprison even more Christians, he was stopped in his tracks by Jesus Himself. In Acts 26:13-18, Paul recounts what happened, saying, “At midday . . . . I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Paul to do anything, He simply gives him Kingly commands; He says things like, “rise and stand upon your feet.” That’s how a King talks… And that’s because He is indeed the King of the universe. And the King of the universe willed, not merely with commands, but with His will of decree, that Paul be a Christian and an apostle to the Gentiles. That’s how Paul understood what happened; he understood this to be God’s sovereign will… In Galatians 1:15-16, Paul speaks of how he was a zealous Jew until, “he who had set [him] apart (God) before [he] was born, and who called [him] by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to [him]…” Because He chose him and set him apart before he was born, before the very foundation of the world, God in His sovereignty opened Paul’s eyes, turned him from darkness to light, granted him forgiveness and set him apart for Himself as a Christian, and as an apostle to the Gentiles. And He did this for Paul’s good, but also for His glory: so that Paul would preach Jesus among the Gentiles, so that the Gentiles would have the same experience of being brought out of darkness into the light as Paul did…

So here we see a few things. First we see that Paul was a Christian and an apostle by the sovereign will of God. And secondly we see that this sovereign act of God was an act of sovereign grace. Paul was an enemy of Jesus and His people; he wanted nothing to do with Jesus, but Jesus, in His grace, saved him and appointed him as an apostle anyway. All Paul deserved was wrath, yet he got grace and peace in Christ; he got the joy of salvation… Not because of anything in him; Paul wasn’t chosen because of anything good in him, but only because of God’s good grace… This great salvation flowed from God’s graciousness, not from Paul’s goodness—for he had none… So we see some great and amazing grace here… But thirdly, here we see that Jesus is God. Paul was saved by the will of God and appointed to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, but it was in and through Jesus that all of this happened. God’s sovereign will of decree happened in and through Christ… This is showing us oneness and equality between Jesus and the Father here; indeed it’s showing us that Jesus is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, the King of the universe. That’s why Paul knows that he is an apostle of Jesus, meaning that he belongs, body and soul, to the Lord Jesus Christ…

Now, with that said, it’s important that we understand what an apostle is. The word apostle means messenger, representative, or sent one. It’s a word that’s sometimes used in the New Testament much the same way we use the word missionary. Sometimes the word refers to a missionary, evangelist, church planter type who’s taking the gospel to the unreached; but typically it refers to those who saw the risen Lord, and who Jesus specifically chose and appointed to establish and govern His church, who had authority to speak and write the very words of God… This is why we don’t use the word to refer to missionaries and the like today; it’s a word that we dedicate to those who Jesus called to establish the early church and write the New Testament. So beware of those who call themselves apostles today… There’s a whole movement out there of such people, and it is heresy; they are false teachers teaching deadly false doctrine; so stay away… The days of the apostles have already come and gone… No man today has the authority that the apostles had in the 1stcentury… And Paul doesn’t even throw around his authority, but roots his authority in Jesus. Again, Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus by the will of God; he’s stressing that his message is authoritative, but not because of him… Just as he belongs to Jesus, so does his message… So may we read it that way…

Well, now we’ve seen who’s writing the letter, so let’s look at who the letter is to. In the rest of verse one we read that this letter is, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus…” The Greek word for saints is ἁγίοις; it means to be holy, to be set apart by God, for God. Unfortunately this word is often misused today… When we make a mistake we say things like, “Well, I’m no saint…” And when we use the word that way we’re using it the same way Catholics do. Catholics believe that in order for someone to become a saint they have to have some sort of miraculous work tied to their life, they have to have earned some sort of righteousness of their own, they have to have died, and they must be in heaven now… But, that’s not a biblical understanding of what a saint is…

Paul is not referring to some ethereal people in heaven… Notice, these saints are still in Ephesus. Actually, some scholars think that this letter was more of a circular letter, rather than just a letter to the Ephesians; so it would’ve went to the Colossians, the Philippians, and the Ephesians, among others… They believe it was meant to be past to all the churches. Now, whether that’s true or not we don’t know for sure, but we do know for sure that the principal is true: that this applies to all true Christians, to all true churches everywhere, regardless of geography… The Christians in Ephesus are saints, not because of some miracles they’ve done, or because they’ve somehow earned their own righteousness… They are saints first and foremost because of what God has done. The word saint was originally used to refer to ancient Israel—the faithful Jews under the Old Covenant. They were holy; they were set apart by God, for God… And that’s what God did by His sovereign will with Paul; He set him apart… And now Paul uses that same language to refer to every Christian—even us—to both Jews and Gentiles in Christ. And that’s how the Ephesians become saints. Our text says that the Christians in Ephesus are saints because they are faithful in Christ… That’s true for them, and that’s true for us… But what exactly does that mean? What’s it mean to be faithful in Christ?…

Well, the word faithful in the Greek is the word for believing, and that’s what it means. It means that they have believed and are believing in the gospel; they have repented and believed the gospel, and they are continuing to repent and believe the gospel. So the idea behind the term is both belief and fidelity, it means that they have faith and that they are living by faith. They have placed their faith in Christ, and now they themselves are in Christ, meaning that they are in a personal relationship with Jesus, they are united to Him, and they are in His love and covered by His righteousness. Actually what it means to be in Christ is infinitely rich…

We’re going to see more and more of what it means to be in Christ as we work through this book together. But, the next verse helps us understand this concept a bit more; so look at verse 2… There Paul says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now on the one hand, this is just a greeting. Grace was a typical Roman greeting, and peace was a typical Jewish greeting; and Paul has simply combined the two to make his own Christian greeting. But there’s more here than just a greeting… It’s interesting here that he says grace and peace come from both God the Father and Jesus, instead of just one or the other… But that’s for a reason. God the Father is the divine initiator of our salvation; as I’ve alluded to and as we’ll see more in the weeks ahead, God decides to shower His grace upon us, electing and predestining us to be in His family. In His divine goodness He sets His great love upon us, and though He knows we will go astray, and will rightfully deserve His wrath, instead He decides to give us grace. So grace here is the undeserved favor of God upon sinners.

The reason we often find ourselves saying things like, “I’m no saint,” is because we know that we are sinners… Like Paul, in and of ourselves we were rebels against God; we were His enemies… But God is gracious to His people… He is our loving Father… Well, that is, if we’re in His grace… God is the Creator of all, but He is not the Father of all… If we are in our sin He is a judge to us, not a loving Father. But in His grace, before the very foundation of the world, He sets His Fatherly and redeeming love on sinners like you and me… And though His grace starts in eternity past, it comes to us in and through Christ. So grace is actually more than the undeserved favor of God; it’s not just what we don’t deserve or could never earn, it’s the very opposite extreme of what we deserve. We see this in what Paul says here; it’s not just grace that comes to God’s people, but grace and peace; and again, that comes in and through Christ… As 1 Peter 3:18 says, Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God… That is, so that He might bring us into right relationship with God, that He might make peace between us and God, and give us the very peace of God.

I wonder, can you define the word peace without simply stating what it isn’t? Typically when we think of peace we simply think of the absence of war, or trouble, or turmoil… And that’s certainly true in a sense. But at its root the word peace means to be in union with, to be in right relationship with… This is why Paul says later in Ephesians 2:14, that Jesus is our peace; that’s why he calls the gospel the gospel of peace in Ephesians 6:15. Grace and peace all come through the person and work of Jesus Christ… Indeed, to have the peace that Paul is speaking of here is to be in Christ… If peace is being in union or in a right relationship, than that’s what this gospel peace is: being in Christ, being in right relationship with God through a personal relationship with Christ, being united to Jesus… This peace is only possible through Jesus, and being in Him by faith…

Jesus, who is God, who is perfect in every way, came to earth and took on flesh and lived the life that we have failed to live. He truly was holy and faithful in every way. And after living the perfect life He died a sacrificial wrath-absorbing death in our place. Because He showed Himself to be the perfect man, and because He is the perfect Son of God, because He is God in the flesh He was a suitable substitute and a sufficient sacrifice for His people. Though Jesus has never done anything wrong, or ever done anything to earn pain or judgment from anyone, He endured both the wrath of man and the wrath of God that we deserve for our sin—He took it all upon Himself. He went to the cross and took our punishment and died our death. But, because He is God the Son, He is a perfect Savior who was able to satisfy God’s wrath for God’s people, and then get up from the grave on the third day. Rising He showed Himself to truly be God in the flesh, to be the true sovereign King of the universe—sovereign even over death… He showed Himself to be the all sufficient Savior; rising He justified, and made peace for all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him, all who will repent and believe in this gospel, all who will place their faith in this good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Through the cross Jesus has made peace between God and His people. So now we see what’s behind grace and peace, and that helps us see what’s meant by in Christ. Again I say, grace is not simply the undeserved favor of God towards sinners, but it’s the very opposite of what we deserve. If we are in Christ we are covered in His righteousness, we are fellow heirs of the universe with Christ, we are children of God just as Jesus is the Son of God… In other words, because Jesus took everything that we deserve upon Himself (death and eternal wrath), we get the things that He deserves (the favor of God, eternal joy and peace, the very kingdom of heaven, Jesus Himself)… By grace through faith in Christ, we get the opposite of what we deserve… We get grace and peace; we get Jesus who is the grace and peace of God incarnate.

Being in Christ means we get the greatest treasure in existence, Jesus Himself… He is the grace and peace of God; He’s actually what makes heaven heaven for us… He is the joy and delight of heaven; and we get to be with Him and enjoy Him forever… Actually, if we’re in Christ, in a sense it’s like we’re already there. Paul says in Ephesians 2:3-6, that though we were once dead in our sins, and deserving of wrath, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace [we] have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” In other words, our salvation is so secure and so certain, and we are so wrapped up in and united to Christ, that it’s like we are already in heaven with Him…

We deserve hell, yet in Christ we get heaven. When we place our faith in Christ, heaven, Christ, in Christ becomes our home. But, like the saints who were in Ephesus and in Christ, we too find ourselves in this world, yet in Christ. We’re citizens of heaven, but we reside in this broken world in desperate need of God’s grace in Christ. We have two zip codes, as it were: here and heaven… We have dual citizenship as it were, and we must be loving citizens of both… But we must not get confused about which one is truly our home; focusing on the right one makes us better at the other, whereas focusing on the wrong one makes us worse at the other. When we live as though this world is our home we will find that we are falling from faithfulness; we’ll find that we are going deeper and deeper into sin, and are thus no good for this world or for the world to come… But, when we keep our eyes on Christ, knowing that heaven is our home, that where Jesus is is our home, we’ll find faithfulness comes all the more naturally and we’ll find that there is great joy in the Christian life. And that joy will spread out from us into this world. Some people say that to be heavenly minded is to be of no earthly good, but God’s Word says just the opposite… Only when our minds and our hearts are focused on Christ are we of any true good, for this world and the glory of Christ… So though we live here for now, let us not forget that our true home is in Christ.

Being in Christ changes everything for us… Though we are not yet home, we are in Christ even now if we are Christians. Who we are in the core of our identity is in Christ. Our whole lives as Christians are to be in Christ. Like a limb to a body, or the body to the head, we are in Christ. And that’s another major aspect of what it means to be in Christ. If we are in union with Christ, the head, than we are necessarily also connected to His body, the church; meaning the company of saints in all places throughout all time—the universal church… But that reality is to play out in the local church. If we are in Christ we are in His body, and are therefore to be committed to His body, because neglecting the church is neglecting Jesus. So we are to be committed members of a local church where we give ourselves to the mission of the church: proclaiming, preserving, adorning, and advancing the gospel; making disciples and magnifying the glory of Christ. I mean, there are over 50 commands of how we as Christians, as those in Christ are called to care for one another… We are to love one another, build one another up, hold one another accountable, and help one another follow Christ and grow in Christlikeness; but that only happens if we know who one another are and we are committed to one another in church membership… I’ve been asked before if I think you have to go to church or be a member of a church in order to be a Christian; and the answer is no… But, you do have to be a member of a church if you’re going to be a healthy, faithful Christian. So, if you’re here and you are not an active member of a local church, be it here or elsewhere, you are likely in sin… So I encourage you, repent and join a Bible believing, gospel preaching church, be it here or elsewhere… And give yourself to serving there… Don’t stay in sin…

If we are in Christ we must not carry on in sin; we must fight sin and pursue holiness. Yes, if we are Christians we are saints, we are holy; but even though we are holy in Christ we are called to be holy—practically—in this world as well… As Paul said, saints are to be faithful in Christ. We are to believe the gospel, and to practice and ongoing belief in the gospel by seeking to follow Christ and grow in Christlikeness each and every day. And this goes right along with what Paul says in verse 2. When he speaks of grace and peace he isn’t merely speaking of what we already have in Christ, but what we need each and every day. Notice he says, “Grace to you…” To you, as in ongoing… Again, he’s speaking to saints who are already in Christ, in God’s grace; but they and we still need God’s grace each and every day… For it’s only by God’s grace that we can walk in faithfulness… So we need grace all day, each and every day…. And that’s what Paul is asking the Lord to grant the Ephesians, and that’s what we should be praying that He would grant us today, and every day.

Friend, you should long for more of God’s grace and peace, not only because you want more of Christ, but because you want to live more faithfully for Christ in this world—for the glory of Christ and the good of this world. If you have no desire to grow, if you have no desire to be more faithful and holy, if you have no desire to share the gospel, if you have no desire to see others come to know Christ through your witness, if you have no desire to help others grow in Christ, the most obvious reason for that is that you are probably not in Christ yourself; you are probably not saved… I mean that in no way to judge you, but to lead you towards salvation… To be in Christ is to be made righteous, but it’s also (as we recited earlier) to hunger and thirst for righteousness… True Christians always long for growth, always long for more of Jesus and to live more faithfully for His glory… So do you long for this? This is what Paul wants for the Ephesians, and this is what I want for us… Grace and peace to you… I want us to be saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus…

Conclusion

Beloved, everything we are as Christians is because we are in Christ. I mean, that’s why we are saints. We have been made holy in Christ. He took our sin and guilt upon Himself and He gave us His holiness and righteousness… He gave us His relationship with the Father. Once God was just our Creator and our judge, but now because of Christ God is our loving Father… I heard a story once of a boy who built a toy boat himself; he poured himself into this boat with loving labor. And one day when it began to rain he decided to try his boat out, and see how it floated on the water that was flowing down his street. To his joy the boat sped across the water; but soon it got away from him, and before he knew it his boat was lost. He thought he’d never see it again… But then one day he was walking past the window of a hobby shop and there he saw his boat in the storefront. With joy he went in and explained to the owner what had happened, and that the boat was his. But the owner explained to the boy that he had bought this boat from someone else, and that if he wanted it it was going to cost him. So the boy worked and saved his money, and when he had gotten up enough he went and bought the boat with great joy. And as he left the store he said to his boat, now you’re twice mine; once because I made you, and twice because I bought you…

Beloved that’s how it is with us and God now. As His creation we belonged to Him. But now, in Christ, we have been purchased by Him and now He is our Father. We are twice His. We have grace and peace… In Christ we are saints… But, as saints we are called to be faithful, we are called to live for the glory of Christ; and by God’s grace we can. So look at this text and see who God is, see who Jesus is, see who Paul is, see who the Ephesians are, and make sure you also see who you are… If you are a Christian, you are in Christ. So don’t waste your life living for lesser things, but live for the glory of Christ, because in Him you have more than you could ever fathom.