Dear Ephesians

Ephesians 1:1-2

How many times have you heard of a letter that starts out like this: “Dear So-and-So, How are you? I am fine.” I think that when I was a child, and even during my teenage years, I was seriously tempted to start a letter in that manner. Why? Because it was easy. You were putting down words on the paper without the bother of actually having to say anything. We all know that such words probably don’t mean much of anything. They are just a way to get a letter started. However, in the case of this letter to the Ephesians, Paul does anything but what I have just described. Every word is important. I think that we oftentimes skip over this part of Paul’s letters, because it sounds so much like a formula. However, that is a serious mistake. We want to “get to the good stuff.” But a patient and careful reading of these two verses will teach us much about what it is to be a Christian. That is what these verses are about: what it is to be a Christian.

Paul describes himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. What is an apostle? An apostle is one who is commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. There are two main ideas. The first is that an apostle is someone who is sent on a mission. The word itself is related to the Greek word “to send.” An apostle is therefore someone who is sent. An apostle is not just someone who is sent, like an errand boy, however. An apostle is someone who is authorized to act on behalf of the one who is sending him. So Paul is authorized to act on behalf of his master, Christ Jesus. Since Paul does not dwell on his apostleship in this letter, we will not, either.

However, there is one point in relationship to his apostleship that Paul does bring up, and that is how he acquired it. It was by the will of God. In fact, as James Boice puts it: Paul’s emphasis does not seem to be on the fact that he was an apostle so much as how he became an apostle. He became an apostle through the will of God. That is how it happened. It did not happen because he wanted it to happen. It did not happen because other people wanted it to happen. It happened because God’s will made it come about. At this point, we have to realize something about this letter: it has more references to the will of God than any other of Paul’s letters. It is a vitally important theme in this letter. God’s will set apart Paul for his apostleship just as surely as God’s will set us apart to be saints. It is the same will of God working in Paul’s life that works in our lives. If Paul became an apostle by the will of God, then we become saints and believers by that same will of God.

Paul writes, in fact, to the saints who are in Ephesus. We hear the word “saints,” and we are immediately puzzled. We normally use the word “saint” to refer to a super-holy person, a person who borders on perfection, if not actually perfect. What is a saint? The Bible never uses the word to refer to super-holy people in the sense in which we normally think of the word. The word “saints” is always applied to those people who are set apart from the world by God. In short, it refers to Christians. All Christians are saints, and all saints are Christians. So, the next time you talk to another believer in Christ, make sure you say “Saint Joe…” How awkward would you feel to turn toward your neighbor right now and say “hello, saint!” We might in fact protest, “I’m no saint.” Yes you are. Every Christian is a saint. If you trust in Jesus Christ, then you are SET APART, which is what the word “saint” actually means. You are holy. You are different. You are a saint. That is what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be a saint. Paul did not write to just one perfect individual who might be called a saint in our definition. Rather, he used the word to refer to all the believers. That is proved by the next phrase “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word could just as well be translated “the believers in Christ Jesus.” If you look carefully at your Bible, you will see that translation in a footnote. I think it is the better translation. All saints are believers, and all believers are saints.

So, are you different from the world? Are you set apart? Are you holy in your living? Do you live up to your calling? It is quite easy to say that since we cannot be perfect, we shouldn’t even try to be perfect. That is a very dangerous thing to say. It leads to all sorts of sin in a person’s life. We have to recognize that becoming more and more holy is the work of God in our lives. We cannot take credit for it. Nevertheless, we are to strive in the Lord’s strength to be holy, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

The saints are those who believe in Jesus Christ. They trust in Christ because Christ is trustworthy, and because God’s will has decreed that it should be so. Let me illustrate this by referencing a teenage survey that was carried out recently. The question was asked, “What do you wish for most in your life?” The number one answer was not money, success, or pleasure. The number one answer was this: “What I wish for the most in my life is someone to trust.” That’s what teenagers are looking for these days. They don’t know who to trust. Well, here’s your answer, teens. Trust in Jesus Christ. He is trustworthy, and will never let you down. He is always faithful. He might put you through some tough times, but He will be with you nevertheless. Have faith in Jesus.

But what is faith? Paul writes to those who have faith, but what is faith? Faith is the open hand that clings to Christ. Faith is the empty vessel that simply holds what God pours into it. Faith is the tool by which we grab hold of Christ and never let go. But, to be more specific, faith has three parts to it. The first part is knowledge. You cannot trust in something about which you know nothing. You have to know whom it is you trust. Secondly, faith assents to what it knows. You don’t merely know who Jesus is. You agree that Jesus is who He says He is. You agree that Jesus is the Son of God. You agree that He died on the cross for your sins. You agree that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your life, setting you apart from the world. And thirdly, faith is trust. You not only know who Jesus is, and what you are to believe, you not only agree with that knowledge, but you also entrust yourself to Him. If you are at the top of a burning building, and cannot see the ground, and someone says to you, “Jump, and I will catch you. I have a large tarp which will cushion your fall,” what do you do? If you jump, then you are entrusting your life to that person, even though you cannot see him. Faith is always a trust in something that you cannot see. So Paul is writing to people who have these three aspects of faith. Do you have these three aspects of faith? It is not enough merely to know about Jesus. It not enough even to agree that Jesus is who He says He is. Such knowledge and assent come up only to the level of the demons. They believe and agree with right doctrine! But they cannot entrust themselves to God. All three elements must be together. You cannot entrust yourself to someone about whom you know nothing. That is simply dumb. You must rather know about, agree with, and then entrust yourself to Jesus. That is what a Christian is.

One further description of what a Christian is can be found in that little phrase “in Christ Jesus.” That phrase, or any equivalent of that phrase, will be found in this letter many, many times. We are “in” Christ Jesus. What does that mean? Well, it means that Jesus represents us. You might remember Romans 5, where all sinners are in Adam, and all believers are in Christ. That is talking about representation. But that is not all it means. Being in Christ also means dwelling in the same place as Christ, and having the Holy Spirit dwell in you. There is communion, fellowship with Christ. In a marriage, there is communion and fellowship between husband and wife. So also there is communion and fellowship between Christ and His church. Being “in Christ,” therefore, is an exceedingly important aspect of being a Christian. This will be spelled out in more detail in the next few weeks.

What are the characteristics of Christians? Well, they have grace from God the Father and God the Son, and peace from God the Father and from God the Son. Both grace and peace come from both God the Father and God the Son. The way Paul says it here clearly indicates, by the way, that Jesus is God. What is grace? Grace is unmerited favor from God. We don’t deserve eternal life, but God has given it to us. We don’t deserve faith, either, and yet it is a gift from God. Grace is a way of summing up the entire Gospel in one word. God’s grace gives us life. Grace is related to peace as cause to effect. That is, grace results in peace, peace between God and us, and peace between my neighbor and myself, specifically, my fellow believer and myself. Do you have this peace? If you have this grace from God, then you should have this peace, also. In fact, you should have both kinds of peace, peace with God, and peace with your fellow believer. That means anyone in the church. You may not think that person is a believer. However, it is the church that says who is and who is not. We are not to make those judgments about other people. Instead, we are to treat everyone as a Christian who is a member in good standing.

This letter, then, from Paul, is written to saints, to people who believe. They believe in Christ Jesus. They have grace and peace from God. Are you one of those? If you are, then you are to listen to what Paul says. After all, this letter was not written merely so that theologians could wrestle over its meaning. No, this letter was written for every Christian; every person who is called a saint, every person who believes. This doctrine is for you. You are to understand and apply its meaning. What if you are not one of those saints, believing in Christ Jesus? Then you are to realize just what you are missing. You are to realize that you do not have grace from God in any kind of saving way. You do not have the peace of God. You do not have peace with God, or peace with your fellow human being. You are fundamentally a person at war. Come to the Father, and He will show you grace and peace. Come to the Son, and He will show you grace and peace. Come to the Holy Spirit, and He will show you grace and peace. Amen.

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Wilkins’s exam, part 12

At last we come to the end of the exam. I am not going to deal with the SJC stuff at the very end, since that is irrelevant to my concern about what Wilkins is teaching.

I have very little with which to quibble in the last section of his exam. Almost everything he says there (pg. 26, question 4 through page 27) I can affirm. I might say that we need to be more careful with how we use the term “Christian.” It is most often used in the sense of “one who is born again.” I think this is the more common usage of the term. Therefore, if we are to use the term in a federal sense (which the DPW does do, as Wilkins notes), then we need carefully to distinguish the two usages. Otherwise, we will sow much confusion among the people of God.

So, after 14 posts and 635 comments, have we arrived at any conclusions? I for one am more convinced than ever that Wilkins is out of accord with the WS. I do think that a very important conversation is happening right now with Xon on this thread. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that it is the most important thread on my blog with regard to FV concerns. Xon would agree, I think, with that assessment. It is a logical debate about the implications of Wilkins and the WS. Can it be logically stated that Wilkins is out of accord with the WS? The back and forth has been the most fruitful discussion, devoid of name-calling, and dealing with real issues, and where both sides are understanding each other. I would advise that anyone who is interested in this debate follow this thread closely. With this post, however, I am done commenting on the FV for about two weeks. With that mysterious comment, I close this examination of Wilkins’s exam. I hope and pray that this debate has been clarifying.