The book of Ephesians is probably my favorite book in the entire Bible; right next to the book of Romans and especially Romans chapter eight. This seems appropriate to me since some people believe that the book of Romans is most likely an extended commentary on the themes that Paul began to explain in Ephesians.
It is important to remember that the apostle Paul planted the church in Ephesus many years before he penned this letter to them and when he planted the church it absolutely rocked the community of Ephesus (Acts 19 – 20). Paul started with a core team of twelve men who had received the Holy Spirit (19:1 – 7), he spent three months trying to convince the Jews in the local synagogue of the power of the gospel and wound up moving across the street as he continued preaching and planting for the next two years (19:8 – 10).
As time went on, many people began to hear and respond to the gospel, even to the extent that those who practiced witchcraft (black magic, occultism, and spiritism were among the top religious practices in Ephesus)2 began to burn their books of witchcraft and get rid of their precious idols (19:11 – 20). All of this resulted not only in the Word of God continuing to increase and prevailing mightily (19:20), but it also caused a riot because the silversmiths and other precious metals workers were losing their profits since many people were renouncing their previous involvement in witchcraft (19:21 – 41). The gospel was causing a cultural earthquake in the city of Ephesus because of the tenacity of twelve men and an apostle!
Now, years later, Paul is writing a letter to the Ephesian church. Paul’s aim throughout the book of Ephesians is to help believers in Ephesus to rest/sit securely (2:6) in their new identity in Christ, to live/walk (4:1) in ways that bring honor to Christ and to remain standing steadfast (6:11) in their commitment to Christ. It is as though the apostle Paul is trying to answer some basic questions for the Ephesians: Who am I? What does obedience to God look like? How do I endure the evil world I in?
Do you ever ask these questions? Ever wonder what God sees in you? Ever wonder how to honor God in a variety of situations on any given day? Ever wonder how to resist the evil that surrounds you? Every day, we are faced with believing what God says about us rather than listening to the lies of the enemy. Every day we are challenged with numerous opportunities to obey God and bring honor to his name or disobey him and bring dishonor to his name. Every day we face tremendous pressure to conform to the evil ways of the world around us as Satan, Sin, and Death accuse, tempt, and taunt us.
Look at some key passages from Ephesians with me…
1:1Paul, and apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making him known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In 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, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
2:1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
4:1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
6:10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Once again, Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to help us believe who we are based upon who we belong to; he wrote to help us live in obedience to God; and he wrote to help us resist the evils of the world we live in. Some scholars summarize Paul’s aim in writing as him calling “the Ephesians to remember their new identity in Christ” (Chs. 1 – 3) and to “embrace and exhibit a new morality for Christ” (Chs. 4 – 6).3 The apostle Paul underscores this vision of a new identity and a new morality when he uses a building metaphor in 2:11 – 22 and 4:1 – 16.
In 2:11 – 22 Paul expands on what he has said in 2:10 where he says that the Ephesian believers “are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Though the Gentile and Jewish believers were once separated they are now being built into “one new man in place of the two” through Christ’s work at the cross (2:11 – 15).
The Gentiles are no longer outsiders, and the Jews are no longer insiders, but they are instead both held together by the work of Christ at the cross (2:16; 19). Both groups are now “members of the household of God” (2:19) that has been founded on the word of “the apostles and prophets” (2:20) with Christ Jesus as “the cornerstone” or glue of the entire structure which is “a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21).
As a holy temple this one new man is “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:22). In Paul’s mind he agrees with the apostle Peter that all believers are “living stones” that are “being built up as a spiritual house” (Eph. 2:21 – 22; 1 Pet. 2:5).
In 4:1 – 16 the apostle returns to his building metaphor when he says that God has given leaders to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (4:12) so that the body of Christ “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (4:16).
I think the greatest connecting key in both building metaphors in 2:11 – 22 and 4:1 – 16 is the work of Christ at the cross as the church’s head, foundation, and unifying glue as he reconciles us first to God and secondly to our neighbor (2:13 – 16; 4:4 – 7, 15).
So, Paul’s aim is to help us understand that we are God’s workmanship, he is building us (both insider and outsider) into a visible household on earth where the Spirit of God lives and breathes and literally turns the world upside down through the power of the gospel.
Paul also wants to underscore the truths that to become this spiritual house here on earth, the members of this house must know who we are because of whose we are, we must know how to walk in obedience in accordance with who and whose we are, and we must know how to stand firm against the forces of evil in this present darkness that we live in. The easiest way to remember Paul’s aim is to remember the words: Sit (1:1 – 3:21), Walk (4:1 – 6:9), Stand (6:10 – 20).
#1: WE MUST SIT IN OUR CHRISTLIKE IDENTITY (2:1 – 10)
Identity is the core of the Christian life. It is probably one of the most often overlooked aspects of being a child of God. Our hearts and our minds scream unholy thoughts and desires at us twenty-four-seven. You are worthless because you failed, or you are worthy because you succeeded. You are unlovable when you sin, and you are lovable when you do not sin. The negative self-talk within us has a constant pulpit with a bullhorn deep within the recesses of our souls.
Paul wants to combat this brokenness within us by hammering home the truth of who we actually are in Christ in 1:1 – 3:21. This massive section of Paul’s writing hinges on 2:6 when he says that God “raised us up with him [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. The key to our being seated with Christ is the phrase “in Christ” or “in him”; it is a phrase that is used over twenty-five times throughout the book to drive home the truth that our identity is not rooted in our performance (fail or succeed) but is instead rooted in Christ’s perfect performance. We are who God says we are because he redeemed us; we are twice owned by the God who created us and then paid the price to purchase us back from the clutches of Satan, Sin, and Death.
We will come back to the concept of redemption in our conclusion but for now, you and I must constantly learn what it means to sit in our identity in Christ Jesus. One thing I have found helpful over the years in preaching this to myself to combat the negative self-talk is to make a list of all the descriptions of who I was before Christ found me and another list of who I am in Christ since he found me. I do this by carefully surveying the entire book of Ephesians and charting both lists using key words and phrases that fit the category with the before Christ list under the left beam of a cross and the now in Christ under the right beam of that same cross. Visually seeing the length of the lists and the words that God uses, is a deeply impactful exercise with getting to the heart of sitting in your identity in Christ. But you and I cannot just sit we must also get up and walk!
#2: WE MUST WALK IN HUMBLE OBEDIENCE TO GOD (4:1 – 7)
Obedience is no easy thing to do. It is absolutely impossible to obey God without the help of his Spirit; the very God who demands obedience gives his Son to pay the price for our disobedience and also gives his Spirit to enable our obedience. That very message – that the God who demands obedience pays for our disobedience and enables our obedience – is the essence of the message of the gospel; it is really good news to know that we are not left to our own devices to draw close to God. This is the message that turned Ephesus upside down!
But the questions remains: What does it look like to walk in obedience to God amidst a broken and perverse culture? Paul addresses this in 4:1 – 6:9 and he begins this massive section of his letter by urging us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1 – 3). The calling we have been called to is the calling to belong to God based upon the work of Christ at the cross and the empty tomb. The way we are to walk out that calling in obedience is in humility so that we maintain a peace-filled, Spirit-led unity.
But what does this look like? Paul’s line of thought is driven by relationships, and he begins with relationships in the church and our individual responsibilities to one another (4:4 – 5:21). Then he moves outward to families and the roles of husbands and wives and children (5:22 – 6:4), and then he finally lands on how to be obedient in the vocational roles of employer and employee (6:5 – 9).
The bottom line here is, if you want to know how to walk in obedience as a church leader, or an individual church member, or a husband, or a wife, or a child, or an employer, or an employee, God is clear in this section of Paul’s letter. The key in all of this is that you and I would walk as the blood bought children of God we really are.
Leaders are called to serve by making fully mature believers in the church. Church members are called to serve one another by building one another up in the love of Jesus. Husbands are called to serve their wives by loving them like Jesus loved the church. Wives are called to submit to their husbands and respect them just as they submit to and respect Jesus who serves and loves them sacrificially. Children are called to obey their parents who lovingly discipline them so that everything will go well for them. Employees are called to serve their bosses from pure hearts by understanding that they are actually serving Jesus in their job. Employers are called to resist the urge to be heavy handed abusers who use their employees for their own personal gain because Jesus never uses or abuses those who are under his care.
My final word from this section on what it means to walk in obedience to Christ – since Paul’s entire range of thought is relationally driven – is that there are occasions when church leaders abuse their power, church members manipulate their influence, husbands begin to use and abuse their wives, wives become deceitful or domineering, children become obnoxious or parents become neglectful, employees become lazy, or employers become heavy handed; in these occasions, it takes much prayer and wisdom from the community (the family of God) to chart a faithful pathway forward.
My core principle in dealing with these situations is the instruction to wives that says, “submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (5:22). Wives are called to submit to a sacrificial savior not an egotistical, abusive, neglectful little boy with a mustache who is pretending to be a man. My point here is that God loves and protects the downtrodden and the abused and he stands against oppressors, manipulators, and abusers. We do not leave the abused with the abuser; we rescue the abused, shelter them from the abuser, and confront the abuser until there is a long pattern or repentance.
So, identity is key to obedience because who we are is dictated by whose we are and if we know who and whose we are then walking in obedience is the necessary outcome; we do what we say we will do because we are who we say we are and we are who we say we are because God is the one who says who we are. All this identity and obedience talk naturally leads to Paul’s final thoughts about standing firm in the midst of an evil and perverse generation.
#3: WE MUST STAND FIRM IN THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS (6:10 – 13)
It is no easy task to stand firm against the waves of this present cultural darkness we live in. It is also no secret that the culture we live in is hellbent on normalizing anything and everything that is abhorrent to God. The mass murder of innocent babies, the sexualization of everything, greed around every corner of the entertainment industry, self-indulgence of every kind, demonic idol worship in movies and music, and the list can go on and on.
None of these things are new or unique to our current culture. We must remember that many who were saved and made up the church in Ephesus were one time demon worshippers who had no problem with piles of new born babies discarded in the streets in a barbaric form of early abortion and there are accounts of pornographic brothels strewn throughout the city. The Ephesian culture, much like ours, was catapulting towards destruction in the grips of what Paul calls “this present darkness” (6:12). It is this present darkness that the Ephesians and we must stand against. But the question is “How?”.
Paul’s answer is simply this: “Stand firm by putting Jesus on like a solid set of armor”. Paul goes to great lengths in 6:10 – 20 to describe this spiritual armor that is bound up in the person and work of Jesus as he describes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit; all of this is put on through the regular discipline of prayer.
Ultimately, as I said earlier, we stand firm by Jesus on like a solid set of armor. Jesus is the embodiment of every piece of the armor we are to put on. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is our righteousness; he takes our filth and gives us his perfection. Jesus is our Prince of Peace. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. Jesus is the one who won our salvation at the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus is the sword of the Spirit because he is the Word who became flesh. When we commune with Jesus through regular and daily times of prayer, we are effectually putting Jesus on as our armor so that we can stand firm amidst this present darkness.
In conclusion, as I have studied and thought about the general themes and instructions of the book of Ephesians over the years, I have often wondered what the key is, to sitting in our identity in Christ, walking in obedience to Christ, and standing firm in the armor of Christ. I have often asked: “How do I sit, Walk, and Stand, Lord?”
Years ago, when I was preaching through the book of Ephesians, I think the Lord gave me a key to sitting, walking, and standing in accordance with the message of Ephesians. The key, I believe is wrapped up in the concept of redemption. In Ephesians 1:7 – 8 (part of the first section of scriptures we read at the beginning of this message) Paul says, “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”. The question is, “What is this redemption that has been lavished upon us?”
There is a story that helps to paint the picture of what redemption means in the Bible. It is the story of a little boy who created a beautiful little boat with his mom and dad just like the triune Godhead created us. The little boy enjoyed his creation every day but one day the boat went missing. The little boy searched everywhere for his creation just like Jesus searches for us and he finally found it down a dark alley in a scuzzy pawn shop. When the little boy explained that the boat belonged to him because he had created it, the dirtball of a pawnshop boss (echoing words from Satan, Sin, and Death) told the little boy that his creation belonged to him now and that the boat was his slave, earning him lots of money and attention from the townsfolk. The price to purchase the little boy’s creation would require his life’s savings similar to Jesus’s life at the cross. The boy gladly paid the price after conferring with his mom and his dad, and as he walked out of the pawnshop with his beloved creation clutched in his arms, he uttered these words: “I redeemed you… You are twice-mine because I created you and paid the price to purchase you back from your slave owner”.
This is the meaning of redemption: You and I are redeemed… God owns us twice because he created us and then he paid the price to purchase us back from the clutches of Satan, Sin, and Death through the person and work of Jesus at the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. We are redeemed, twice owned by the God who created us and paid the price to purchase us. We are literally priceless.
When you and I begin to get the sense that we are redeemed – priceless and twice owned by the God who created and purchased us – we are enabled to sit in our Christlike identity, walk in humble obedience to Jesus, and stand firm in Christ as our spiritual armor. So, if you want to grow in your ability to sit, walk, and stand, then get your mind and your heart to focus on the truth of your redemption through the work of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior.
Get your mind wrapped around the fact that you are priceless not worthless, priceless not filthy, priceless not alone, priceless not rejected, priceless not hated, priceless not unlovable, priceless not forgotten, priceless not trash, priceless because the God who created you also paid the price to purchase you back from Satan, Sin, and Death. You are redeemed (if you are a believer) therefore you can sit, walk, and stand! – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this post are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A historical and Theological Survey 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2005), 209.
3 Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still, Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 246 – 248.