|INTRODUCTION TO GRACE
Series: A Letter of Grace and Life - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 16, 2020
This morning we’re beginning a study of Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesus. The big picture of Ephesians comes in two parts - grace and life. So - big picture: Ephesians is... “a letter of grace and life.”
Which we need today. We need more grace in the places were we do life - more kindness - more mercy and love - undeserved as that may be. Looking around - grace is hugely lacking. Yes?
God’s grace being what we all need.
And we need real life. Not virtual life. Or life that’s all about us and having our needs met and respected. Which seems to be where most people are at these days.
We all need life coming from God. What is a fullness of life with meaning and purpose and dignity and value. Life with God now and forever.
Ephesians is a letter of grace and life - who we are in Christ by God’s grace and what that life of grace - what living out God’s grace to us - what that looks like in the day to day of our lives.
So this morning we are beginning our unpacking of Ephesians. If you are able, I invite you to stand with me as we come together before God and His word - standing to respect and honor God - and would join with me as we read together beginning at Ephesians 1:1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.
In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1 - starting at verse 1 - begins with Paul’s greeting: - which we’re going to break down into 3 parts.
First: Where Paul is at. As He’s writing this letter.
Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. Paul didn’t come to believe the truth of the gospel by hearing it from someone else. He heard it straight from Jesus Himself - out on the road to Damascus.
Paul writes that he’s commissioned “by the will of God.”
Notice that Paul leaves out his usual list of credentials. His Hebrew background. His training and education as a Pharisee. His being from Tarsus. His Roman citizenship.
It was the sovereign God - who by His grace - grabbed Paul on the road to Damascus - picked Him up and set Him down in a completely different course of life. Paul - the great missionary apostle - even to the Gentiles.
As Paul is writing this letter it is about AD 62. Paul is under arrest in Rome - a prisoner of the Roman Empire. His apostleship isn’t over. His commission hasn’t been revoked. At present he’s a guest of the Roman government. But in reality he’s a prisoner because of Jesus Christ - serving Jesus in Rome.
Hold on to this - where Paul is at. Paul is in jail. Serving God. By the will of… God.
Ephesus is on the coast of what’s now western Turkey.
It was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia. There were about 250,000 people living in Ephesus. This is a big - important - wealthy city. It was mostly made of marble. Even the public toilets were made of polished marble. It shined with self-important arrogance.
It had a harbor - theaters - a library. It was a major market place with trade from all over the world. It was the gateway to the interior of Asia. It was tourist mecca. A major religious center for pagan and demonic religions. By the time of Paul - Ephesus was melting pot - a cauldron of competing beliefs and philosophies.
The Church in Ephesus was in the middle of all this. A group of believers that Paul addresses as “saints.”
Not because they were so high and mighty “holy” people walking around with halos on their heads. But because of God’s grace - they were people called by God to serve God - distinctly set aside by God for His purposes.
Paul calls them “faithful.” The Ephesian church had gone out and lived for Jesus. Determined - faithful - enduring hardship. They’d stood up against the odds. Not for themselves. But for Jesus’ sake.
Expanding that. Something our English translations don’t quite pick up on. In some of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts the words “in Ephesus” are not there. Scholars think they were added later - maybe for clarification or because they fit Paul’s pattern of writing.
Meaning that this letter was intended by Paul to be read and personally received not only by the faithful Ephesian saints in Christ - but also by a larger number of other “saints” and other “faithful” believers. Ephesians was a letter Paul intended to follow the lines of commerce and communication outward from Ephesus to the larger body of saints.
Point being: The teaching and encouragement of Ephesians is intended by God - through Paul - to apply to us as well.
The Ephesians were people like us - with all the struggles and difficulties we face. Issues at home and work and school and probably every place else. With similar temptations to compromise with the wealth and lifestyle and culture cauldron of beliefs of what’s around us. With the challenge to faithfully serve God - according to His will - in the same kind of messed up world we live in.
We are saints - like they were saints - people called by the God who is gracious to us - called by God to faithfully serve Him. Distinctly set aside by a direct act of God’s will for His purposes
So grab this: Who is Paul writing to? Ephesian Christians - and us. Serving God here in Merced. By who’s will? God’s.
Third, notice why Paul is writing.
Paul writes “grace to you and peace from God.”
Grace is a word that wraps up all of what God offers us in Jesus Christ. What is undeserved and unexpected. But freely given to us.
Peace is freedom from worry and fear and anxiety. Not the absence of the crud of this world - but what comes to us as we trust God in the midst of all that crud.
Paul is writing to help us grab onto the reality of God’s grace and peace in the midst of where we live our lives - even in a prison cell - even in Merced.
Don’t you love how deep the apostles go in their greetings? This is not some trite “howdy.”
Paul - in this short greeting - reminds us that - the sovereign God has by His grace called us to serve Him according to His will. As we faithfully serve Him - doggedly trust God - even in the midst of this shattered world - it is possible for each of us to know God’s grace and peace in our lives.
Coming to verses 3 to 14 - Paul’s first section of his letter - Paul is writing about how the sovereign God of grace and peace has touched our lives - specifically how God has blessed us.
In verse 3 Paul introduces us to that blessing.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
Notice two things.
First - It is God Himself who has blessed us. - the God and Father of Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Greek the verb “has blessed” has the idea of continuous action. Which means that God is continually blessing us. Blessing happens. It’s happened. It’s happening. It will happen.
God’s blessing doesn’t come to us because we deserve it - or earn it. We can resist His blessing - even reject it. God pouring down showers of blessings and it’s like we’re standing there with an open umbrella trying to stay dry. But that doesn’t change God’s continually blessing us.
God wills to bless us. To bestow His favor on us. To be gracious to us. For each of us to be the benefactors of His goodness.
Second - notice that God’s blessings are spiritual. Every spiritual blessing in the... heavenly places in Christ.
Remember Elisha and his servant in the city of Dothan? One morning they woke up the city was surrounded by the Aramean army - chariots and horses and soldiers - oh my. The whole purpose of the Aramean army being there was to get Elisha.
Elisha’s servant looks out on this huge army and in fear turns to Elisha and says, “It’s hopeless. We’re toast. What are we going to do?”
Elisha tells him, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
Elisha prays, “Lord open his eyes.”
God opens this servant’s eyes and he sees all around them - protecting them - the horses and chariots of fire of God - God’s army of angels. (2 Kings 6:8-19)
Let’s be careful. Every day we experience physical blessings that come from God. Most of us don’t go to bed hungry at night. We have a bed to sleep on - a roof over our heads - clothing to wear. Those are physical blessings. We’re together on what physical blessings are? Yes?
What Paul writes about are spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. That’s different.
Heavenlies isn’t the idea of some place way out in space - planets and stars and cosmic stuff. Heavenlies is what’s unseen - the invisible spiritual reality around us - the battle behind the scenes of what we do see. The very real things that we can’t see or touch right now but effect us every day of our lives.
The most important things in our lives are not things that we can see. We don’t see love. But we experience love as it’s demonstrated - as it happens and effects our lives.
Paul writes that God has blessed us - those who are in Christ - with every spiritual blessing. How many? Every spiritual blessing. That’s lots. No one but God knows how many.
It’s not like the program gets installed on our operating system and its there and happens when we desperately we need to use it - to rely on it working - even before we knew we were going to need it.
With God’s continual flow of blessings on us we already have everything we need to do life.
Who is getting blessed by God? Us. By who’s will? God’s. God who graciously just keeps pouring it on.
Which is huge for us to hang onto. God - right now - even in the midst of whatever circumstance you’re in - is continually pouring out on you - everything you need to do life - no matter what this life throws up against you.
That’s huge. Isn’t it?
Going on to verse 4 Paul is going to unpack God’s incredible blessings. There are a ton of blessings here. We’re going to focus on six.
First blessing - in verse 4 - God has chosen us.
Before the foundation of the world - God chose us - you - me. That’s a mind stretcher isn’t it?
Before anything in this universe was a universe God chose you to be His. To send Jesus to the cross for you. For you to have a relationship with Him - even - as Paul writes - that we should be holy and blameless before Him.
“Holy” has the idea of purity and being set apart for God’s use. The idea of being restored to be who God has created us to be. Made pure and able to serve God according to His purposes. Our sin messes us up. God restores us to being holy.
“Blameless” in the Greek has the idea of unblemished. Like a lamb being brought to the Temple as a sacrifice had to be faultless - unblemished - totally perfect.
Which most of us are not. We’re messed up by our sin. Except that in Christ - because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf - in Christ we are made to be holy and without blemish - blameless.
So, blameless is not sinless. But “blameless” does mean that we’ve dealt honestly with our sin - owned up to it - confesses it - and in Jesus Christ its been forgiven and set behind us.
Reality check: You and I are not second class citizens in God’s creation. We’re not accidental members of Jesus’ church. Perpetual losers who somehow got lucky.
We have the privilege of being chosen by the sovereign God of creation before creation was creation - to be His - to be made right before Him and useful - to live out God’s great purposes for each one of us.
Second blessing: God has predestined us.
Picking up at the end of verse 4: In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.
“predestined” ties back to the idea of God’s choosing us. Before creation was creation God in His sovereign - no one can make Him change what He wills to do - God determined to adopt us.
The Greek word - here in verse 5 - for adoption is “uiothesis.” Which has the idea of placing someone into the position of a son.
The Greek and the Roman understanding of “adoption” was much more that just a legality - placing a child into a home. To the people Paul is writing to “adoption” means that you are made to be a son - without any distinction from those who are natural born sons.
Hold on to that: God has determined that you and I should be His children.
The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she’s going to be the mother of Jesus. Mary asks, “How? I’m a virgin.”
Gabriel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-35).
Notice the term. Jesus is the natural born Son of God - the only begotten Son of God - conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus told Nicodemus - to enter the kingdom of God you have to be born again. Which confused Nicodemus. Confuses a lot of people. Nicodemus asked, “How can someone who’s already been born reenter his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus’ answer? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:1-6)
We’re born once - physically. Born into flesh and sin and slavery - into fear. When we come to salvation in Jesus - the same Holy Spirit present at the conception of Jesus - natural born Son of God - enters into us - giving us a new birth - a spiritual birth - as a child of God.
Physically it’s impossible to be born into a human family as an adopted child. Just doesn’t work that way. But spiritually - God makes it possible for us to be born - by the Spirit - into God’s family - adopted yes - but not in the legal sense - adopted in the spiritual sense - which is as if we were natural born children of God.
Hang on to that. Because God - our Heavenly Father loves us - is gracious to us - even though we don’t deserve it - weren’t even looking for it - God has determined that you and I should be his child. Isn’t that incredible?
Third blessing: God has redeemed us.
Verse 7: In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us
The image of being “redeemed” is of a Roman slave market - humans - like cattle - being offered for sale to be used or abused to fulfill the purposes of whoever is willing to pay the price. Redeemed has the idea of being set free - liberated.
Us - in our natural human condition - bound by sin - living lives far from what God has created us for - dragged here and there at the whim of Satan. Living in emptiness and fear and guilt - pursuing what never satisfies.
Purchased out of the slavery of our sin through the work of Christ on the cross.
“Trespasses” literally means to blunder. All those things that we’ve been doing - stumbling around with - trying to free ourselves - that actually lead us farther from God. Our trespasses are forgiven - pardoned - no longer held against us.
God - because He’s rich in Grace - lavishes - meaning God is over the top with His grace - God graciously sets aside our blunders.
Jesus comes - into that slave market - and with His death on the cross paying the price for our lives - purchasing us - redeeming us - liberating us - freeing us to live in God’s great purposes for us.
Do you ever see yourself that way? Not as a blunderer - a failure. But as someone set free. Liberated by God to serve within in His great purposes.
Blessing number 4 - God has made known to us.
Going on in verse 8: in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Scripture - a mystery is something that only God knows and only God understands. We can take all the theology classes - earn umpteen degrees - philosophize and analyze and look crosswise - and yet we’ll never figure out what God knows unless God reveals to us what He knows.
Paul writes that God has willed - chosen - to made known to us - His people - God has made known to us His wisdom - His perspective on life - and His insight. How God’s wisdom applies to the circumstance of our lives. How life works and where God is going in life. All of which is a mystery to those who don’t know God.
Shakespeare wrote, “Life is....a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (1) No purpose. No hope.
The world we live in seems like it’s spinning out of control - coming apart a the seams - hopelessly broken. Maybe even our lives feel like that sometimes. Probably lots.
But as a believer we know that God is putting things together in Christ.
History is “His-story” - right? - Jesus’ story. God at work through history to bring together all the things in the heavens - what is unseen - with the things on earth - what is seen - to bring all that together in Jesus.
We may not know all the details but we do know that there’s purpose behind what’s happening. Put another way if we’ve got Christ we get life.
Hang on to that. Whatever’s going on in Washington or the Middle East or if some virus from China is out of control. Whatever evil is being unleashed in our community - whatever - whatever - we know - because God has revealed it to us - that God is sovereign over all of it and we do not need to fear anything.
Blessing number 5 - God inherits us.
Verse 11: In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.
Let’s be clear. Our inheritance - heaven and being in the presence of God forever - heaven isn’t about sitting on clouds and playing harps - waiting for bells to ring so angels can get their wings. What God has inherited us with is way more astounding.
John writes in Revelation that when we get to heaven there’ll be no pain - no sorrow - no crying - no death. Whatever is empty - unfilled - lacking within us now - God will take care of the stuff deep within us. But heaven is even more than just freedom from aches and pains and death. (Revelation 21:1-4)
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 - that one day the perishable will put on the imperishable - mortal will put on immortality. We - God’s adopted children - will live forever in the presence of God - our Father.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-58)
Our inheritance is about being set free to live life as God created life to be lived. To live out God’s great purposes for us as His children. To forever and ever go deeper and deeper in our relationship with God and knowing God.
Hang on to that. God has promised you a future incomparable to what we see today - an unimaginable eternity with Him. With Jesus - we’re heirs of the riches of the kingdom of God - which is all about God and what God has for us.
Verse 13: In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.
Think a parchment document with a wax seal stamped with the king’s signet ring.
When we come to salvation in Jesus - hearing the gospel and responding to the gospel - rejecting and turning from our sin - by faith trusting in Jesus as our Savior - God the Holy Spirit places a seal on us.
Two realities of what that means.
First: Ownership. That seal means that we’re owned by God. We belong to Him. We have His mark on our lives.
Second: Preservation. The sealed document gets to its destination without anyone messing with the contents.
Break the seal - mess with the document - and you have to answer to the owner - God. God is going to preserve us and we will make it to heaven.
Hang on to that. In Christ, you belong to God. Trust God and God will get you to heaven. Guaranteed.
First: In these 14 verse Paul mentions Jesus Christ at least 15 times. That’s not an accident.
All these blessings. We deserve none of them. Who we are in Christ is because of what God - by His grace - has done for us through Christ’s work on the cross.
There is no way to experience the spiritual blessings of God apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul’s introduction to grace rests on our coming to Jesus as our Savior.
Bottom line: If you haven’t come to Jesus in repentance from your sin and trusting in Him alone as your Savior and Lord - none of these blessings apply. If you don’t know Jesus, you need to.
But, if you have - they do. By grace - these blessings are yours.
Second - remember this guy? Alfred E. Neuman. And his famous phrase... “What, me worry?”
If God has blessed us so incredibly why are we loosing sleep over the stuff of life? These are incredible blessings. Yes? And that’s just 6.
The sovereign God by His grace has blessed us - continues to bless us - will bless us - with everything we need to do life. Not just physical stuff - but the deep stuff that we need deep down - to reassure us - to give us confidence - to strengthen us - to heal us - to preserve us - whatever we need - God has and is and will supply. Now and forever. That’s an astounding game changer.
We need to hang on to the blessings and stop stressings.
Third - three times Paul writes that all this is to the praise of His glory. To the glory of God.
Like Paul - like the Ephesians - we’re here because God by His grace wills us to be here. All these blessings. All we have is because of Him. All our confidence is because of Him. All we hope for is because of Him.
God’s outpouring of His undeserved favor. God’s grace. It’s all about God.
Which is the great opportunity that God gives to us. In every situation and circumstance, with all that He’s blessed us with, to live for His glory.
To God alone be the glory - for what He has done - is doing - and will do in us and through us.
1. Shakespeare - Macbeth, Act V, Scene IV (Hamlet)
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.