Introduction to Ephesians: Identity & Grace

So my apologies to those of you who have faithfully followed my blog. I took a break because I was preparing to present two lectures on Ephesians to our church’s women’s Bible study. But I hope you’ll also be encouraged by these truths as well. Here’s week 1: introduction to Ephesians …

INTRO: The New Year is often a time for reflection, review, and resolutions. (and hey, it’s still January – so it’s not too late!) I tend to be a reflective person, and so there’s something I love about this transition. What’s often inherent in the “new year promise” is the hope of a new identity. Yes, you can have the body you’ve always wanted, and so new gyms lure you in with promises of new rates and fitness challenges – and the “January crowd” always packs it in. Finances went bad last year? This year offers new promises of sticking to your budget and paying off debt. This is the year to finally put to rest old family feuds; to finally face the “ghosts from your past”; to finally overcome that besetting habit that’s plagued you. And our resolutions reflect our desire to recreate our identities – to make over our selves into the better versions we know we could be.

I, too, enjoy this aspect of a new year. I’ve reflected on the old year; thought about how I want this new year to be different. There’s something hopeful about the freshness of the calendar year. Listen to these resolutions I came up with in 1996 (when I was a junior in high school):

1. To be more diligent in schoolwork-try very hard to complete the work the night before.

2. To go to God first about everything that happens

3. To have a more consistent walk with God – not so many ups and downs

4. To not be a part of a car accident in the next year

5. To exercise at least once a week

6. To have a daily quiet time of 5 minutes or more

7. To be rid of all jealousy

8. To have better family relationships

9. To watch for God’s hand in all that happens in my life and see the good in all situations

And apparently I was still working on some of the same things in 1997 (senior year of high school):

1. To have a daily quiet time with God greater than 15 minutes

2. To exercise 3 times a week [at least I moved up closer to what’s recommended!]

3. To give each day to God by prayer and thank him for each day in the evening

4. To cease complaining

5. To try to complete all homework before Sunday

6. To be uninvolved in a car accident this year [I was only in one, by the way, and that was Dec. ’95]

7. To live each day in full reliance upon my Lord with the hope that He has a wonderful plan for my life and “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20)

These resolutions are not bad in and of themselves. I included some good goals — yet the truth is that I’m still working on much of them! The promises of Ephesians offer something much better than our reflections and resolutions that accompany the New Year. Ephesians speaks directly to the question of identity – offering you the reality of the identity you’ve been given if you are a Christian, or the identity you’re invited into if you’re not yet a Christian.

Who needs Ephesians? All of us do! As you can tell from my new year’s resolutions, I tend to struggle with finding my identity in my own righteousness – my efforts to pray more, read the Bible more, exercise more, even love people more – and I forget grace. I first really read, studied, meditated (and even attempted to memorize) Ephesians the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. For those of you who have heard my testimony of God’s work in my life, this summer is the one I refer to as “the summer of grace.” I entered this summer an exhausted legalist, trying to perform the works God required of me in my own strength, and I left the summer an energized, free daughter of God, empowered by grace to minister in new ways to the 50 freshmen and sophomore women I was an R.A. to my junior year. I can say that I would not have gotten through that stretching year without the grace of God in Christ described so beautifully in the book of Ephesians.

Where are you?

  • Maybe you, like me, are a legalist worn out from trying to live a holy life and do good. You’ve probably focused on the last half of Ephesians and skimmed over the first half. Yet these last chapters cannot be lived apart from the grace we find in Christ – which is the focus of the first 3 chapters. You need to remember to start at the beginning!
  • Or perhaps you are a Christian who has forgotten what kind of life grace compels you to. The struggle against sin has ceased to be a struggle, because you’ve given in and now find yourself caught in habits you’re ashamed of. You know you’re “saved by grace” anyway, so what’s the big deal? Jesus comes to you through the message of Ephesians to call you into a bigger life – one of obedience and transformation motivated by grace. You’ve been rescued from darkness, so live no longer there.
  • Maybe you are unsure of Jesus and His claims. You wonder what all of this Jesus stuff is all about. You heard about the hope of a Savior to come promised and pointed to through our study in Genesis, but you wonder why you need Him. Or if you really need Him at all. The gospel message is loud and clear throughout Ephesians – describing what grace is and why all of us need it.
  • Perhaps you’re doubting who you are and you are struggling to find your identity. You’re looking in all the typical places: marriage (or independence), children, career, even good deeds, friendship, fitness & health … yet you find that each of these crumbles as soon as you seek to hold onto it and find your life here. You were made for more than this.

This is a letter written to people who also were struggling with identity and reconciliation: Gentile Christians in the region surrounding Ephesus.

  • Ephesus was the 2nd largest and 2nd most important city in the Roman Empire (2nd only to Rome!) – modern day Turkey
  • For Gentiles to be able to be in God’s family was revolutionary. Before Jesus Christ, spots in God’s family were reserved only for Jews. After Jesus, salvation is made available to all who believe, both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews weren’t too happy about that – and this left the Gentiles feeling a bit insecure of their identity.
  • PAUL wrote this letter to as a circular letter, meant for Christians in this entire region, to assure them of their identity as Gentiles in Christ. (like a group email – why there’s not as many personal references like in the parallel book of Colossians, written around the same time)
    • How was Paul qualified? What were his own identity struggles? He was a Jew who was known as “Saul” and who persecuted Christians. God interrupted him en route to Damascus and saved him, calling him now Paul. And then he experienced intense persecution for the rest of his life as he became a missionary – bringing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ’s salvation through Asia, all the way to Rome.
    • Yet he’s writing while imprisoned in Rome – for the very identity of “Christian” that he now writes and reminds them of. Imagine the impact this would have had on the first readers!

So what does Paul write? What will you find here?

  • THEMES:
    • Central message of be who you are – in contrast to who they used to be and how they used to live in the past
    • Your past before Christ, your future in Christ, and how this is to affect your present day-to-day life in Christ
    • Reconciliation: being made right with God and with others – “Only through Christ can all other division be brought to an end.”
    • Truth and beauty of the Triune God (God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit)
    • Grace
    • Challenge/call to exhibit God’s glory and grace through daily life
    • God’s action and His work
    • A high calling empowered by the Spirit
    • A love story written before the beginning of time
    • How to engage in the spiritual battle we’re in
  • STRUCTURE:
    • Intro/greeting; body of the letter; closing
    • Two halves: 1-3 – who God’s made you as a Christian; 4-6: call to live like who you really are
    • Eloquent prayers
    • Truth and promises that are gems of grace to be treasured
    • Practical exhortations
    • Household code
    • Spiritual warfare

It’s very easy with the changes of life, whatever they might include for you in this new year, to forget who you are. Or to feel like you’ve lost a part of who you are. Changes that come with moving are always hard for me and provide an opportunity for me to re-examine where I’ve really been finding my identity – is it in being known by friends, playing a crucial role in a small church plant, being a counselor with a large church counseling center, not getting lost when I drive. The most recent move for us from Philadelphia to Norfolk has been no different! And I’ll admit that although I would say this has been the best, smoothest transition I’ve ever experienced, it has still served to be a bit of an identity-shake-up for me.

And I found myself feeling a bit down in December – generally unmotivated, wondering whether I was really making a difference, missing familiar holiday celebrations with close friends, and questioning what my identity is here in Norfolk.

Yet God met me through the study of Ephesians to remind me that who I truly am has not changed at all over this year, and it won’t change for the next 10 years either. It gave me hope and motivation to pursue what God’s given me to do during this season, not having to make it my life or where I’m finding my meaning (which would make any task unbearable) – and there’s been a true sense of joy where there was a vague sense of discontentment because of the riches that are mine in Christ.

So our prayer for you as you begin to read this book, either for the first time or the 50th time, is that you will be refreshed and revitalized in seeing the beauty of who Christ is for you and who you are in Christ – and it will become a letter that you will keep close to you to return to often.

[you can hear the talk at this link]

One thought on “Introduction to Ephesians: Identity & Grace

  1. Heather! This is so good, and it makes me want to go read Ephesians tonight. It reminds me of being taught Ephesians the summer we met, of trying to ‘memorize’ it in college, and mostly of the truths that have changed our lives.

    Thank you also for sharing how these truths impacted you as recently as December as you continue to adjust to a new place.

    You inspire me in Christ.

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