Well, six days into 2016 (finding it hard not to type or print 2015) and so far so good with my New Year’s resolutions. We often begin our years or end the previous ones with plans for a better life. And it certainly makes sense to do this any time of the year but certainly when the signal goes up for the ending of something past and the start of something new.
It is also makes sense to have a plan because if you didn’t have a plan…how would you know what to accomplish or when you had completed a goal. I would argue that he who does not have a plan or goal…does not have intentions to change anything.
So what are your plans for this year?
- Physical goals – lose weight, exercise more, take your vitamins, eat healthier meals
- Mental goals – take a class, read more, refine a skill, engage in deeper conversations, try something new
- Emotional / Relational goals – reconcile a relationship, talk to a counselor, communicate with others like yourself, communicate with others from a different perspective
- Financial goals – Pay off a debt, follow a budget, begin saving, look at ways to give and do it.
- Spiritual goals – Spend time meditating on the Scriptures, explore the Bible with others, encounter God, experience life together with other believers, grow in faithful practices, let go of obstacles and sin that sometimes inhibit discipleship, connect with a Bible teaching church, serve on a mission
All of these are great tasks and there are many resources and aids available to help in each area. As a pastor, one of my greatest concerns is the spiritual well-being of others. I want them to have peace with God because they have discovered His gift of Life in Christ.
Life in Christ is a gracious & blessed identity from God that leads to a divine & glorious outcome through God. In other words…true life starts in Jesus and is sustained through Jesus and sends us to serve & share through Jesus.
Our church is studying what Life in Christ looks like and we are inviting people to see a portrait of this life painted through the words of Scripture that are found in the letter of Ephesians. This week we looked at the first 4 verses of this letter which read:
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
So we can learn quite a bit from the Scriptures when we see why they were given in their original declaration and the relevance these living and active words still have today.
Paul was a follower of Christ that experienced immense life-change because of Jesus. Before encountering God, this man was quite impressive as far as worldly standards go. He had come from a rich family history that also held Roman citizenship which wasn’t cheap or belittled. He grew up being trained as a Pharisee (a very zealous task) under a very respected Rabbi of his day named Gamaliel. Because of his stature and place in society, he was entrusted by the high priest to be responsible for pursuing, prosecuting, and persecuting the followers of Jesus.
After encountering Jesus, his life was also filled with incredible accomplishments. He spent years training cross cultural disciples at the new church in Antioch. It was there he was called by God to serve on 3 major missionary journeys where he planted many new churches and trained new disciples and leaders. He was so effective and instrumental in his calling that he was arrested for his faith.
While imprisoned between A.D. 60-63, he wrote to many churches. The church at Ephesus was one that received such a letter and this circuit letter has been preserved for us today. This was a church that Paul had planted around A.D. 53 and he spent 2 years there on his third missionary journey in A.D. 55 (Acts 18 & 19). This community of faith was in a major trade city near modern day Selcuk, Turkey. It was also the home to Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). This letter speaks to having the gift of life in Christ.
So what does that mean? What does it mean to have life in Christ?
For Paul, it meant first having a gracious identity. A position that came because of the gift of grace found in Jesus. He was an apostle which meant he knew that (1) He belonged to Christ; (2) He was commissioned by Christ; (3) He had power (authority) from Christ. Discovering this identity and position in Christ is such a great need for believers today. Knowing it is He we belong to. Knowing He is the One who has dispatched us. Knowing that we live, breath, move, and are sent in His power and authority.
Paul not only declared his position that came from his Life in Christ, but he shared his purpose. He proclaimed grace (charis) which presents the charm, beauty, and attractiveness of Christ’s love, words, and deeds. He also proclaimed the charity & the undeserved generosity of Christ’s mercy and sacrifice. Paul also declared peace. This peace was not the worldly ideal which is the absence of conflict, hardship, distress, and tribulation. This shalom peace means everything which makes for a man’s highest good, everything which is calculated to make him a man in the highest sense of the term, everything which is calculated to make life worth living. This peace is sourced not through circumstances but by God’s provision of Himself.
So what does all this mean for the hearer both then and now?
It means we too have an identity and position in Christ. No longer are we called sinners…we are saints. This title does not come through miracles that we perform by our own hands (as other faiths require for being canonized as a saint)…it comes by the miracle performed by Christ’s work. The declaration is that we are saints (belonging to God) and the faithful (those living according to our calling and position in Christ…we are dispatched from Him).
The Scriptures also reveal the immense blessing that comes by His grace, through His gospel, and for His glory. The Source of this blessing is the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, infinite God of all. He is the One who is more than able to make the impossible possible. The Scope of this blessing is that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. This is huge! There is no limit to the blessings that have been bestowed upon us! When the scriptures state that “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not lack” it certainly means it. But, lest we grow conflicted and begin thinking about these blessing on our terms or in a worldly view…we must remember the Sphere of this blessing of grace. These blessings are heavenly in their origin…heavenly in their interests…heavenly in their outcome. We must not confuse them with the earthly idea of blessings…for these are much higher and greater in their hope and ability.
But what is the purpose of all this goodness? The chief aim and purpose of any believer is to become a fully devoted follower of Christ. To know that we are becoming something daily and it doesn’t happen overnight. To be fully devoted which means this life is not meant to be lived for Christ partially or only when convenient…but fully. It means that because of Christ’s gift of grace and peace…we follow Him out of gratitude and love.
When we live in Christ from His identity… our purpose and outcome becomes clearer. These blessings have a meaning. This gift has a plan and goal to be achieved in us. And what is made available from God’s gracious provision of Jesus makes us…
- Equipped for the earthly – we can be certain that what God has called us to achieve…God has provided to be accomplished.
- Eyes on the heavenly – we can be reminded that while life on this earth is important…we have an eternal secure home with our eternal God. On this earth we are on the mission of heaven.
- Exemplifying the holy – we can live as those set apart and uniquely belonging to God.
- Embracing the blameless – we can fully trust God at His Word to help us escape the pattern of sin and embrace the life of righteousness.
By His Grace. Through His Gospel. For His Glory.
To listen to the sermon audio of this message… please visit Eastgate Baptist Sermon Site
*Some thoughts are taken from the writings of Warren Wiersbe & William Barclay.