Saved To Be Holy
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1–2
Saved To Be HolyEphesians 1:1-2
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
Paul's letter to the Ephesians. It's been called, "The crown and climax of Pauline theology. The sublimest communication ever made to man. The consummate and most comprehensive statement which even the New Testament contains of the meaning of the Christian religion" (John Macay). "The divinest composition of man" (Samuel Taylor Coleridge). "Marvelously concise, yet [a] comprehensive summary of the Christian good news and its implications. Nobody can read it without being moved to wonder and worship" (John Stott).
It is with great joy this morning we begin one of the most beloved books in the Bible. I plan to take it slow and really dig into the profound truths contained in in this six-chapter epistle. The division of the letter is very simple and typical of Paul's writings. The first three chapters are doctrine and the second three chapters are application. In other words, God expects righteous living, but all righteous living must first be based on a good theological foundation. Or another way to put it: Understanding theology is important, but delight in understanding without the duty in obeying is useless. If you are looking for a simple outline: Chapters 1-3 are sitting with Christ, chapters 4-5 are walking in Christ and chapter 6 is standing for Christ.
The letter is addressed in verse 1 "to the saints who are in Ephesus." Or we can say, to the Ephesians. Ephesus was a strategic city located both on the coast of the Aegean Sea and on a major highway in Western Asia Minor, today, modern Turkey. The city was known for being the guardian of the great temple of Artemis and its open air stadium that could seat 25,000 people.
Paul's relationship with this church was well-documented in Scripture, all contained in the book of Acts. He founded the church on his second missionary journey (Ac. 18:19). During that brief stop, Paul was begged to stay longer, but he was on a hurry to return to Jerusalem (Ac. 18:19-21), leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind in Ephesus. On his third missionary journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus approximately 3 years (Ac. 20:31), the years being AD 54-57.
Initially in Ephesus, Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue for 3 months (Ac. 19:8). When expelled from the synagogue, he then moved to the School of Tyrannus for 2 years (Ac. 19:10). Demetrius the silversmith stirred-up his fellow workers and provoked the riot (Ac. 19:23-41), which forced Paul to depart to Macedonia (Ac. 20:1). Later on that journey, Paul met with the Ephesian elders in Miletus (Ac. 20:18-35). After this visit, it is questionable if Paul ever returned to Ephesus again (Ac. 20:25, 38, cf. 1 Tim. 1:3).
As I mentioned, this letter in verse 1 is addressed "to the saints who are at Ephesus." Yet after all that I just taught you about Ephesus, I with many others, believe that might not be the case.
I've told you that what you read in your Bible is well over 99% perfectly in line with the original biblical books. Since we do not have any of the original letters themselves, we need to go to copies, many of which are available and many of which date right back to the original manuscripts. Some of your Bibles might even make this point with a footnote by the word "Ephesus" in verse 1. Mine has this annotation: "Three early manuscripts do not contain 'at Ephesus.'"
Most likely this was a circular letter, a general letter written by Paul to many churches in Asia Minor. It is associated with the Ephesians possibly because it was first sent to Ephesus or perhaps Paul left a blank space in expecting multiple copies to be made and each church designated specifically in the title.
Why this conclusion? In this letter, Paul writes as though he is not familiar with the Ephesians when we know he had already stayed with them for three years. There are no personal greetings (Romans for example lists at least 26 people by name). There is also no mention of specific issues that are common in Paul's letters.
Some suggested themes for this letter: Christ is the head of the church His body. A believer's responsibility to walk in accordance with his heavenly calling in Christ Jesus (4:1). To proclaim God's sovereign plan especially as it relates to the church and His world. The purpose of Paul's writing Ephesians is to: Promote the unity of all people in Christ. Proactive means of preventing problems by encouraging the body of Christ to mature in Him. Make believers more aware of their position in Christ, because this is the basis for their practice on every level of life.
Paul clearly identifies himself as the author (Eph. 1:1; 3:1). He writes this letter from his Roman house imprisonment mentioned in Acts 28 (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20) where he also composed Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. The letter was delivered to the churches through Tychicus (Eph. 6:21).
With that as an introduction, I would like to use my remaining time to walk you through the prologue mentioned in verses 1-2. Apart from a few modifications, Paul followed the typical Greek greeting often used in common letters of his day. Yet instead of just explaining what's happening in verses 1-2, I would like to explain, but frame it in one theme that jumped off the pages to me when I studied these verses this week - holiness.
As a matter of fact, this is on Paul's heart because in verse 4, he says that God's purpose in choosing us to salvation is "that we would be holy and blameless before Him." God's goal is for you to be holy. To pursue righteousness. To be obedient. To be conformed to the image of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. To stop sinning.
Let's see what God's Word this morning has to say about the matter in Ephesians 1, verses 1-2. The title of this sermon is, "Saved to be Holy."
1. God's Servants
I am calling the first point, "God's Servants."
In verse 1, Paul calls himself "an apostle of Christ Jesus." Paul considered himself equal with the original 12. The very ones as he says in Ephesians 2:20 that are the foundations of the church, Christ being the Cornerstone. These apostles were commissioned directly by God ("by the will of God" - verse 1) to be the teachers and final writers of God's Word to His people.
The Apostles in the formal sense are no more. In their place now stand others that are responsible not to write new revelation, but to take the revelation they received and pass it on to others. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says God has given to the church "pastors and teachers." For what purpose? "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."
The serious pursuit of holiness is a challenging responsibility. And while it is your responsibility, God has never designed it that you might go it alone. He has given the church apostles who delivered the Scriptures. And He has given the church pastors who are responsible to teach the Scriptures, hold others accountable, set a good example, protect from negative influences and disciple in love when necessary.
If I can speak for all the pastors, our greatest encouragement is when you are pursuing holiness. When you are coming out and hearing the Word. When you are applying the Word whereby your life is showing ever-increasing spiritual fruit. When you are open to counsel and correction. When your heart is humble and teachable. When you put Christ first in everything and allow Him to shape your entire worldview. This is holiness.
This is our responsibility and joy to serve in this area. This is why we are in the ministry. For apart from this, I have no desire to be here as a pastor. I'm fine with writing your letters of recommendations and attending your birthday parties and enjoying your friendship, but my primary reason for being here is to aid you in becoming more holy.
2. God's Saying
There is a second element of God's desire for your holiness found in verse 1 when Paul refers to those he is writing to as "saints."
This word often throws us off because the first thing we recall when we think of saints is extremely devout people from the past. Are you a saint? You might first be inclined to say, "no." First of all, we know our shortcomings and how far short we fall from receiving that identification, and second, using that name for ourselves seems to come with a profound sense of arrogance. From now on, I would like all of you to refer to me as "Saint Randy."
Yet if we can strip off the cultural connotations of the word and simply stay with what the Bible teachers we see an entirely different use of the word. When Paul addressed this letter to the saints, he wasn't intending that only a few would read it. He was writing to the entire church. In other words, all Christians are saints. Yes, that means if you are in Christ Jesus you are a saint!
Let me explain. The Greek word translated saint (hagios) simply means "holy one." So are you a holy one? In practice, I hope you can say "yes," even though we would all confess we haven't arrived. But in the positional sense you are indeed a "holy one." Thanks to the work of Christ, all your sins were paid for through His work of redemption at Calvary. He died for each of your sins and declared His victory through the resurrection.
When you received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior on the basis of faith (as Paul says at the end of verse 1), the debt you had against God was entirely removed. Justice was accomplished when Christ took your penalty and righteousness was received when Christ gave you His righteousness. In the eyes of God, you are positionally as righteous as Christ. When He sees you because of your identification with Jesus, He sees perfect holiness. That why the perfection of heaven awaits you. Not because of your righteous works, but because of His perfect righteousness imputed to you as a gift of His grace. In position, you are declared by God as perfectly holy.
So what does all of that mean then for your ongoing pursuit of holiness? Because your new identity is holiness in God's sight, it only stands to reason that your life will forever increase in growing holiness. You and I still sin, but we are not sinners in God's eyes. We have a new nature and new identity. We are saints that still sin. One day, the full presence of sin will be entirely removed. But until that day arrives, we are to be in the process of sanctification where we are continually conformed to the image of Christ or we can say, being made more holy.
It is beyond the scope of this sermon to provide the many reasons to pursue holiness, but it is fair to say at this point that the greatest evidence that God has transformed us as saints will be our desire to live as saints. And our love and respect for Jesus will best be seen in our passion to be holy like Him.
3. God's Supply
Let me give you one more indication of God's desire for you to be holy found in the prologue. In verse 2, Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
How would you define the words, "Grace?" I hope you have a definition, after all it's a beautiful word used repeatedly in the Bible and one that even happens to be the name of our church! Is it just something you say before a meal? How would you define grace? Likely I would think most people would have a common definition along the lines of, "The undeserved gift of salvation that God has freely given us in Christ." And that's a good definition, but unfortunately a definition that is much too limited.
Think with me. If grace is only something we receive at salvation, then why is Paul desiring grace to be upon people here in verse 2 that have already been saved having received Christ? Listen to how we read about grace from Paul's letter to Titus. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Tit. 2:11-12).
Here grace is not just a passive thing we accept, a token of forgiveness from God every time we sin, but rather an active power than enables us to live righteously. In other words, if you are not pursuing holiness, you are not receiving God's grace. And if you are pursuing holiness, you must not do it on your own strength, but cooperate with the strength that God supplies with His grace. Titus goes on to say that Jesus "gave Himself for us to…purify for Himself a people for His own possession" (Tit. 2:14).
So if we can put it all together. Pastors give themselves that you might be holy. Christ gave Himself that you might be holy. And since God has already declared that you are holy, use the means He has provided for you in His grace to be holy in all your conduct.
Since we have the Lord's Table waiting for us and before we participate in the Lord Table we are to examine ourselves, let me ask you a couple questions related to this sermon.
- Do you desire to be holy?
- Why do you want to be holy?
- When you read your Bible, are you asking God to show you your sin?
- Are you presently aware of any sins in your life?
- Are you making effort with God's grace to turn from those sins?
- Is there a relationship in your life that needs to be reconciled?
- Do you need to apologize to someone?
- Do you need to forgive someone?
- Is there anger or bitterness in your heart?
- Is there greed or coveting in your heart?
- Have you taken something that does not belong to you?
- Is your thought life pure?
- Are you viewing images that are pure?
- Are you using your spiritual gifts in the church?
- Are you faithfully attending the church?
- Do you have any addictions?
- How about your marriage?
- How about your parenting?
- Do you speak the truth?
- Do you speak wholesome words?
- Do you resist gossip and slander?
- Do you encourage others in their faith?
- Are you sharing your faith with others?
- Are you a good example of Jesus to others?
- How do you feel when others call you out on your sin?
- Do you want to be more holy?
- Are you being made more holy?