Ephesians | Your Identity in Christ (2)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 10/5/2014
Last Sunday we began a new series exploring the New Testament book of Ephesians. As I said last week, Ephesians is all about identity—specifically your identity in Christ.
I’m reminded of a pastor who visited a nursing home that had several residents with Alzheimer's in it. He went around and greeted the people who were very glad to see him. He spotted a lady who use to be a member of his church, walked up to her and asked, “Do you know who I am?” She smiled blankly then said, “No, but if you go to the Front Desk, they can tell you.”
Do you know you who are? More importantly, do you know who you are in Christ? Last Sunday we held the magnifying glass over Ephesians 1 and discovered a four-point finger print identifying those who are in Christ as predestined, God’s possession, and heirs of God’s promise that exist to praise and glorify him. But as we slide the magnifying glass over chapter two, we discover another picture of who we are.
First, Ephesians 2 identifies us as sinners by nature.
• WE ARE SINNERS
As Paul begins the second chapter of this letter, he doesn’t pull any punches. He writes, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT)
Paul announces that we are sinners by nature—disobedient to God, obedient to the devil, slaves to our own passions and dead in our transgressions—and it’s hard to argue with him. Most of us, when we’re honest with ourselves know that it’s true.
The Bible assures us of this: “There is no one righteous, no, not one… All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-23 NKJV). Some would argue with such strong words. They look around and say, “Compared to everyone else, I’m a pretty decent person.” That may be true, but the person in the pew next to you isn’t God’s standard. God, himself, is the standard. He is sinless; we are sinful.
Think you’re a good person? Then accept this challenge. For the next twenty-four hours lead a sinless life. I’m not asking for a perfect decade or year or even a perfect month. Just one perfect day. Can you do it? Can you live without sin for one day?
No? How about an hour? Can you promise that for the next sixty minutes you’ll only have good and godly thought and actions? How about five minutes? Five minutes of worry-free, anger-free, utterly unselfish living—can you be sinless for just five minutes?
Not even in your sleep. Sin is in our nature. It’s part who we are.
How many of you have heard of the San Diego Chicken? He was the very first costumed mascot. He entertains and riles up the crowd at Padres games and Clippers games. For 40 years the San Diego Chicken has been played by Ted Giannoulas. He originated the character as a college student, but Ted is getting older. At age 60, being the Chicken has been his life and his whole identity. His face is never photographed unless he is in costume. No one knows the real Ted. He has no family. At first, he loved his alter ego. "I discovered an untapped personality in that suit," he said. "It was like, now I have freedom. Now I’m no longer Ted." But there is a price to pay. Dave Raymond, who for years wore the costume of the Philly Phanatic, said, "Ted was the first and the funniest, and I have nothing but respect for him. But if you’re not careful, you can lose yourself in that suit." Ted himself says, "I have plenty of Chicken stories. I’m afraid I don’t have any Ted stories."
Sin has that same effect on us. When we’re living in sin, we lose ourselves in it. Instead of finding our identity in Christ, we find it in the bottle or the bedroom or wherever our sin takes us. Sin infects the entire person from head to toe. Not only does it contaminate every human being, it contaminates the being of every human.
The worst part is that because we are sinners, we’ve earn God’s wrath. Our sin has a price tag attached to it. Paul says it most clearly in his letter to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). Sin is a fatal disease. Sin has sentenced our souls to death.
But notice this whole passage is in the past tense. “Once you were dead because of your many sins. You used to live in sin… By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger…” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT). All of this is in the past tense because in Christ, you are no longer in sin. In Christ, you’re no longer defined by sin.
As we continue, Ephesians 2 reveals that we are saved by grace.
• WE ARE SAVED
After painting a bleak, dark picture of who we were, Paul begins to describe who we are in Christ: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT).
This is the heart of the gospel, folks.
It starts with God’s love. Even though we are sinners by nature, God still loves us. He loves you. He loves me. And because he loves, he gives. He gave his only Son on the cross to serve the sentence that rightfully belonged to us. He died so that we could live. And when he rose from the grave, he made it possible for all of us to do the same.
You are saved by grace. Paul reiterates the point a couple of verses later: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 8 NIV). Grace. It’s an occasionally over-used and often misunderstood word. “The bank gives us a grace period. The corrupt politician falls from grace. We describe the hostess as gracious and the dancer as graceful. We even say grace before our meals. But do we really understand grace?
Max Lucado writes, “Grace is simply another word for God’s tumbling, rumbling reservoir of strength and protection [love and mercy]. It comes at us not occasionally or miserly, but constantly and aggressively… He has enough grace to pardon every sin, solve every problem, and answer every question. It’s more than we deserve and greater than we imagine.”
Last Friday night Ashley and I went to see Matthew West in concert. And he tells the story of another concert he gave inside a maximum security prison. When he arrives, the security guards search him and his guitar and then the Chaplin runs up to him all excited and tells him, “I’ve got good news. The warden decided to let you sing in a part of the prison that they never let visitors into!” So the guard led Matt into the solitary confinement unit of the prison. It’s one long hallway with two stories of cells, each with a solid metal door that has an ity bity window on it. Overcome with nervousness, Matt suddenly couldn’t remember the words to a single song. So he prayed and God gave him the words to just one song:
There is no guilt here
There is no shame
No pointing fingers
There is no blame
What happened yesterday
The dirt has washed away
And now it's clear
There's only grace
There's only love
There's only mercy
And believe me it's enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
There's nothing left now
There's only grace
What a powerful reminder that grace isn’t just something we sing about in church. Grace isn’t just for descent folks. It’s not a little boost to help good people get into heaven. Grace is everything and it’s for everyone. God’s grace is powerful and relentless. Grace erases our guilt, our shame and our blame. Grace washes our sins away. Grace walks in the front door, and sin scampers out the back. If you are in Christ, you’re no longer defined by sin, you’re defined by grace—that is your identity!
Grace changes everything.
Is it changing you?
The fingerprint of the faithful—the identifying mark of those who are “in Christ”—is a grace-filled life. You can’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. You are saved by grace. Finally, Ephesians 2 tells us that we are servants by design.
• WE ARE SERVANTS
Augustine once said, “For grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” Paul puts it this way in the next verse: “Being saved is a gift from God. It’s not the result of anything you’ve done, so no one can brag about it. God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:9-10 NLT). In other words, you’re not saved by good works, but you are saved for good works.
Last week we talked about predestination and God’s plan for each one of us. Well, a huge part of that plan includes living lives filled with good works. These good works are your service to God. Jesus once said, “Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life…” (Matthew 20:28 TLB). You were put on this earth to make a contribution. You weren’t created just to consume resources—to eat, breathe, and take space. God created you anew in Christ to make a difference with your life. Jesus came to serve and to give—and those two verbs ought to define your life on earth too. Mother Teresa once said, “Holy living consists of doing God’s work with a smile.”
Opportunities for service abound. Teaching a Sunday School class, providing disaster relief for tornado-ravaged towns, feeding the hungry in war-torn nations, or filling a shoebox with Christmas presents for deprived children are just a fraction of the ways we can serve. The key is to find the ministry that God planned just for you. That’s a word people often misunderstand—ministry. When most people hear “ministry,” they think of pastors, preachers, and priests. But God says every member of his family is a minister. In the Bible the words servant and minister are synonyms. If you’re a Christian, you’re a minister! We each have our own ministry—determined by your skills, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences—that God planned for us to spend our lives doing.
Do you know how to tell how old a worker bee is? All honeybees look pretty much the same whether they’re young, old, or middle aged. The only way to tell the difference is by their wings. A young worker bee has perfect wings; they’re rounded at the ends and thick in the middle. But as the bee gets older its wings get more and more worn out. They start to fray at the ends and they get tattered and torn. Eventually they get thinner and thinner until there’s nothing left. See, a worker bee never dies of old age. They don’t die from heart attacks or malnutrition. Unless they get swatted, they typically die in rather good health because they wear out there wings in service of the hive.
The church needs more people like that—folks who will wear out their wings in service to God.
We’ll talk a little more about servanthood next Sunday, but for now Paul sums up your identity in Christ this way: “For we are God’s masterpiece” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). God sees you as a masterpiece about to happen.
Each one of us is a work in progress. Like clay in the sculptor’s hands, God is molding and making you into who he wants you to be. Are you starting to get a clear picture of your identity in Christ? You may be a sinner by nature, but you are saved by grace and a servant by design.
Of course, there is still more your identity than what we’ve already discovered in the first two chapters of Ephesians. Next week, we’ll hold the magnifying glass over Ephesians 4, and see what else we can discover not just about our identity as individuals but as a body of believers in Christ.
In the meantime, I want to invite those of you who are still defined by your sin, to surrender your identity to Jesus—receive his marvelous grace, let God save you and change you. If you’ve already been saved by the matchless grace of God, then I want to urge you to start serving—let your life overflow with the good works God planned for you. If I can help with either of those things, please come forward while we stand and sing.