Holy to the Lord

On September 14, 2014, Pastor Darin started our new series in Ephesians “Before there was time: God’s Designs and the Destiny of all Things” with a sermon from Eph 1:1-2 3 entitled Holy to the Lord.” Ephesus was a major city in Asian Minor (http://bibleatlas.org/full/ephesus.htm). It was a bustling city that, as one commentary says, bore the title of “the first and greatest metropolis of Asia.”  It was also distinguished for the Temple of Artemis, a pagan shrine that was one of the 7 wonders of the world. Acts Chapters 18-19 speak of Paul’s visits to the city and the establishment of the church there (54 AD).


Now, in 62 AD, Paul writes to the church from prison in Rome (Acts 28) about the Gospel and the benefits we have in Christ, and how we are to live in light of who we are in Christ. As commentators note, chapters 1-3 focus on who we are in Christ. Paul takes us from God’s electing purpose in Christ before time, then to how Christ accomplishes and the Holy Spirit applies the salvation of the elect in time. Chapters 4-6 focus on how that salvation—the Gospel—is to impact the way we live in the world.


But commentators have trouble nailing down the overarching purpose of the letter. Eph 1:9-10a may be a helpful way to think about this: “9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10  as a plan for the fullness of time…” It is all centered around God’s purpose in the universe conceived of before time.  Thus the ethical teachings found in Ephesians can only be understood in the context of God’s purpose centered upon redemption in Christ. This first sermon unpacks that purpose a little: by God’s grace, in Christ we are holy and blameless, and that grace toward us in Christ leads us and empowers us to live the way God wants us to. Three points to see:


1. We are holy and blameless in Christ:

           a. In verse 1, Paul refers to his readers as “saints.” This word does not refer to super elite Christians. The word for saint in Greek (hagios) simply means “holy.”


                       1) Holy in this context does not refer to ethical behavior, but to those God has set apart as His treasure. This comes into view in verses 4-6, where Paul says that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be “4 holy and blameless before him…6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Deut 7:6 may be in the background here: "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession...” So, “holy” here refers to the status of those God has chosen to be represented as holy and blameless in His sight.


                       2) How are we holy and blameless in His sight? Because we are in the Beloved (Christ), the truly holy and blameless One. Our status as holy and blameless is not based on our performance, but God’s grace, which we receive through faith in Christ alone. Dig deeper: God requires perfect holiness to stand in His presence. How do we get that holiness? By trusting in Christ alone. When we do, Christ’s righteousness (His holiness/blamelessness) is credited to our account. This is how God sees you every day! Rejoice!

                        3) Who we are in Christ—our status in Christ and the mercy we have in Him—is what leads and empowers us to live ethically holy lives (as spelled out in chapters 4 – 6). Dig deeper: How do we live this way? The same way we were saved is the same we are to live: by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone. You never outgrow the Gospel because you never outgrow your need for Christ. He is our identity.


           b. What happens if we get this wrong?

                       1) Profound insecurity: we will never have assurance with God, trying to base our standing with Him on our own performance. Dig deeper: are you, even now as a believer, relating to God on the basis of your own good works, or what God says about you in Christ? Rest in Christ’s perfect work on your behalf, not the filthy rags of your own righteousness.


                       2) Arrogance: Some get puffed up in their performance and think they don’t need people, and that they don’t need grace. Dig Deeper: You need to come to grips the depth of your sin. Even as a believer, we fall far short of God’s glory.


                       3) In both cases, we need to remember the ilengths God has gone to save us from our sin. Dig Deeper: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!


           c. Take hold of your identity in Christ: your sins are forgiven!  Dig deeper: preach the Gospel to yourself everyday: the gospel creates a hunger for God and love for others.


2. We are in the world to impact the world:

           a. Paul says they are the saints “in Ephesus.” As noted earlier, Ephesus was a bustling city steeped in pagan worship and deep moral depravity, particular in the area of sex.  But when God saves us, He doesn’t remove from the world, but leaves us here on purpose so that we can impact it with the Gospel. Dig deeper: a huge part of going to church and home groups, etc., is that we can be equipped to live where God has us for the good of our neighbors. Do you faithfully attend church and other things in the church so that you can grow in Christ, and be better prepared to influence the world around you with the Gospel?


           c. How can we impact the world? Paul says in verse 2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  It all comes back to our identity in Christ, and taking hold of what God says about you in Christ. Despite our failures, God’s grace and peace in Christ are multiplied to us! Dig deeper: How do access that grace and peace? Through the simple means of prayer, God’s Word, the fellowship of believers, and faith in Christ.  


Conclusion: Where are you at with your identity? Are you resting in your performance? We are blameless because of Christ and in Christ. He made all this possible by His perfect life of obedience and sacrifice on the cross for our sins, where He received God’s displeasure so that all our sins could be forgiven. He was sent away from God’s sight so that we could be brought near to Him and be His treasure! Let us turn to Him today and every day, rejoicing in His work toward us, and resting in Him as we seek to impact the place He has now.