A reflection on one of my favourite passages in the bible; Ephesians 2:4-3:13
Here we are in 2016; a new year and season: With new challenges and opportunities and thankfully the same God. When I think back over the last year on my terms so much has happened that I would not even know where to begin; I think of living in Africa for three months which entailed working with the local church, being awestruck by the beauty of Gods creation; Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat and starting to train for the ministry.
When I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to reflect on and then share, I must freely admit I suffered a bit from what you could call preachers block, there was nothing straight away jumped out at me or drew my attention. But I believe God lead me to consider this chunk of scripture. The Grace fuelled Mission of Hope. When I speak of the mission of hope I don’t simply mean the mission of Hope Community church. I mean the mission of the hope that we as Christians have in Christ. Which is the outworking of Grace in our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit?
A Sinful State (2:1-4)
At the start of this chapter Paul Asks the church to look back. These verses do not really need much explanation, Paul is reminding us about one of the main things that link every one of us; We are all Born, we will all die and we are all sinners. But the focus and verb tense here are in the past, he is not writing about current sins as he does to some of the other churches (Corinth)
Paul is simply asking them to look back on their previous sinful state so that they can know the beauty of where they are now as people and as a church, he asks them to look back to add emphasis to the wonderful work of grace the is occurring daily in their lives as the holy Spirit lives and breaths in them so they can know the beauty of their current State.
- Know the Darkness of the Night so you can know the beauty of the rising Sun.
- We have to know where we have come from to know where we have arrived.
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Timothy Keller
The truth is we are all deserving of God’s wrath. this is the cornerstone of grace, we do not deserve it yet God loving gives it to us, this is what Paul is reminding them off so that the next section of the passage will have even more added merit. Look back so that you can look forward and know a state of Grace:
A State of Grace (5-10)
“Grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, “Be good.” Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, “Help!””
– Philip Yancey
Paul has finished his commanding for us to look back and remember our previous state and moves onto the reason why he pointed us that way in the first place. That in this section of verses he can paint the beautiful picture of the State of Grace we Christians find ourselves in. Eugene Peterson in the message paraphrases it:
It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
We are Christians have moved from being Sinners to Saints. Wearing white robes of Grace bestowed on us by a loving father who wants us to know his goodness. Verse 7-10 explain why: It is by grace that we have been saved(verse 8) a gift that is from God, which means there is nothing we can do to earn it. The minute something is given to us of our own doing it is no longer grace, but a reward or payment; the beauty of grace is that it means we all come before God equal; undeserving but yet gladfully receiving of it and never being able to boast in our own merit, only the goodness of a loving father. How amazing is this, and some of us ask why? verse 10 puts its simply:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We have been created for a purpose. This year, this season and stage of your life know that whatever we have done or think holds us back from God, his grace covers it. More than that know that he calls you and me to a purpose he has set before us. Everyone person in the kingdom of God has a role building the kingdom of God, every role in the kingdom of God has been specially given by God and is equally important in the eyes of God.
Unity of Grace held together in Christ. (11-17)
Again Paul write and asks people to remember their former lives. He writes in this local situation to ask the gentiles, those who where would have been outside the law and outside the covenantal grace that had been bestowed on Israel to remember their own past. That at one point they were outsiders to the kingdom of God. This applies to all of us, we were all at one point gentiles who did not know the love of the father, some of us may know as we listen to this may not know the love of the father. in this writing, the assumption is that everyone is saved and so Paul moves forward: But Jesus is the reason that we are all able to know the great and vast Love of God of Israel we who‘where once far have been brought near by the blood of Christ’One of the end products of the work of Christ was the fulfilment of the great promise to Abraham that Jesus would be the hope of the nations. God had not simply promised salvation for the Jews he had promised it for everyone, that it would come through the Jewish bloodline of King David. This is the point Paul is hammering home here in verses 13-15 that we are One. The barrier of the law is gone, Jesus came and destroyed the weight of expectation and the need for sacrifice to atone for our sin. He came and fulfilled a system that pointed to him and by his death created one people under God. A people who would not be defined by the state, or ethnicity but a kingdom that stretches beyond all borders on this planet, a kingdom of Grace. And so we see in verse 13: ‘But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ How to mind blowing ing amazing is this, we have been brought near to God. We have access to the father of all, The God who created all and even now Grants us every breath, we have access to live and experience the beauty and wonder of a loving Father. What does this mean for us today thought. It means that we must always strive to be a people who are united by Grace, who see the law of God as the filter by which we are to live. That we remember that Grace calls us to live together in the hope of the cross, In verse 11 Paul talks about the circumcised and the uncircumcised. We are never to see people as such; Paul was talking about the idea that some are better, the arrogance amongst the jews that they thought because of some simple physical act that where ‘better’ we are to be a people of hope who fight to maintain the idea of unity in grace. Fight against becoming religious and holding out some perceived notion that people need us, or that we are better than people. Even when we start to grow as a church we must fight the idea that anyone new needs time to bed in. We must be a people of Grace united building a temple of grace.
The Temple of Grace (17-22)
So in verse 17 We see the coming of Jesus, who proclaims Good news: Peace and power. The peace that Grants us access to the father. In one Spirit, Paul then declares ‘So then’ he then begins to work out all that he has been going over in the previous parts of this letter; In verse 19 Paul reaffirms our status as people under the grace of God. We are no longer Strangers and Aliens. Terms that were common in the city of Ephesus.
- Strangers: Where the foreigners and visitors to the cities who did not know who had no right’s.That were completely unknown and had no links and no ways to be trusted.
- Aliens: Where non-citizens who were granted some rights as customary.They were treated as neighbours. Only as citizens where you granted full rights and we are granted the citizenship of heaven.
God is moving in power in you and through us, He brings us into his city. He opens the gates of his palace and beckons us it. He brings us into the temple he has built and even more, than that He moulds us into the bricks he needs to build his kingdom. He has laid the foundation for the kingdom of God through the church, With Jesus as the cornerstone that cannot be moved. Every generation of Christians is another layer of bricks as God builds his full temple. We are living bricks on the foundation of those who have gone before, with Christ as our cornerstone and grace as our cement. But Living bricks are not called to be static they are called to move, to live and bring the light of the gospel and the power of the holy spirit into every aspect of this world.
The Mission of Hope: Living out Grace (3:1-13)
Quickly I want us to consider the start of chapter 3. To see the effects of an individual and a church that is Grace lived out. The effects of a deep understanding on the follower of Jesus I believe creates an explosion of Love that moves us out of our comfort zone and to live a grace-filled life wherever we are that draws people in and leaves people wanting whatever it is that we are on. The beauty of someone who lives from a place of grace is that they don’t even realise it. I remember one of my first jobs, when my old boss took me out for lunch after a few weeks and after some awkward small chat about life and work came out with the line ‘you are one of those Christians’ this took me by surprise as he tried to show me the stupid of my choice and all that I was missing out on in life, I remember wondering why or how he would notice I wasn’t overly keen back then on promoting my faith. But only now looking back I knew I was in a place where I had supreme confidence in what God was doing in me and I knew his grace and that assurance and peace drew attraction from the people around me. We nee to be a people who live out grace, so at the start of this passage (3:1-5) First Paul seeks to assurance the gentiles that their share of the inheritance is authentic because of its divine origins. Paul is saying to the church and everyone else that You have access to God because God himself out of Love and grace out of mystery has given you access. Paul says God by his grace sent me so you would know his grace!
Verse 5 reminds us that Gods timing is well perfect. God chose when to make know the mystery of his gospel because he knew what was best. When we are in a season of waiting, a season of not knowing or frustration without own life or faith. We have the assurance of knowing that God is right there with us, but acting out his plan in his time. I disappeared to Africa on the 14th of April and by the 19th of April a lot of things started to happen in church, things that Don’t need to be named because they are over, I was sitting on the shore of Lake Victoria wondering what is going on? Why Did God have me on the other side of the world, 1000’s of miles away when I thought I was needed at home. It’s only now I can look back and no see what I thought was a bit of a mistake by me to go, but wisdom by God moving me out a situation and teaching me that I was to walk his path and fight the battles he would trust me with: To trust him in every situation. God’s grace covers all no matter where we are. We as people were moved on from one place to another, not by the will or timing of Man, but by the will and timing of God. Who is saying to us now I need you to know my grace and trust me, through all the pain and hurt that you have experienced? I need you to be a people who live out grace in this place now, Trust me and trust my timing. As God chose to intervene in the course of human history over 2000 years ago when he himself came to this earth in the form of a baby and utterly shook the foundation of work, and still is today. So he directly steps into every one of our lives at different points and changes the course of our lives, the beauty of it is half the time we do not even realise.
The Mystery of God is that through the gospel of Jesus Christ all come to him, when the Christ child was born God opened the doors of heaven, he created a ‘one-conditional unconditional grace’ being simply that we would come knowing our Sin but desiring the Love of God even more, that we would come to Jesus and accept his love and help. Then God brings us off the street and makes us royalty in the kingdom of God. The only thing God requires of us is a human heart, We become equal citizens under the grace of God. This is the essence of the gospel, It is a grace that does not measure on merit but gives us the fuel to live out or life in the shadow of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is our hope and the hope we are called to bring to other people.
Like Paul in verse 7 we become ministers of the Gospel of grace in the power of God. God gives to every one of us a purpose and a power that calls us to more, to action. Paul who was called to preach Jesus Christ. We are no different, everyone in this room is called to preach out the unsearchable, unending, unknowable bounties and riches that are found in Jesus, Preach does not mean use the word, we are empowered by the holy spirit to be a people who live differently, to be a light that draws people in. this is how we preach and show the hope that we have, this is how we live out the grace that we have been given. This is how we bright to light everything that has been made plain by the mystery of God (verse 9) So we see in the closing verses of this section (10-13) that this is the mission of Grace, the hope of God for his church and the hope of the world that would be found in his Church. The we would be a people who have know our graceful state and seek to live it out, that we would be a people who seek to mirror Jesus, Paul and all who have gone before us in taking part in helping God accomplish his internal purpose and a people who Know that through the grace God gives us we can approach him with the full confidence of the Son approaching his loving father.
Please forgive me for the mess of stuff that we have simply skimmed over, and even the time I have taken. There is so much in every inch of this text and I could get lost in it ever if we took a few verses. But this is what God laid on my heart, that we would be a people who Know Grace and are compelled to response to it.A people who remember who we were, but Know the hope that is Found in Jesus. That we would be a people who live in a preputial state of Grace, Children soaking in the love of the father and willing to do our all so that those around us would know it. A community of believers willing, desiring and demanding of their church and those around them that they reach the lost, the broken, the hurting, the lonely, the abused; not because we as Christians are better or have the answer but we as Christians have all been in the same place and have come to know the love of the father who give us grace no matter what way we came to him and loved us. A father who loved us that much that his love compelled us to change to be modelled into the image of the son. That we would be a people united by the grace Christ has given us, United as children of God and citizens of one kingdom. Living out one mission, one purpose. Defining ourselves and boasting in one thing. The grace of God. Never looking to the status, power or wealth in the church but only looking on the grace that others have. That we understand our role in the body of Christ, knowing that every cell is of equal importance to God, whether we are the hand or the blood cell that carries oxygen to the hand. No part of the body can function without the other, and no Christian can truly function alone. We are united under Christ, one body with Grace as the blood that flows between us. We are a temple of Grace living bricks in the kingdom of God.
That we have a mission of Hope so that others know this God, this Grace, this Jesus and this holy Spirit. That we never become inwards focused, that we are the living river eternally powering out of the temple of God like the image in Ezekiel. That while Grace is freely Given and received, it demands our all.
““Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship”
Grace is amazing, but we must never underestimate it or the weight it carries when we receive it, Its why as I close this I want us to reflect on these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he rallies against a cheap and weak understanding of Grace, May this never be our own limited view of Grace and what is means for us now and calls us to this new year in 2016.
 The Message Bible
 New Living Translation