BY PAUL DUNK
I'm in the middle of a series on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. This past Sunday I reached chapter 4, the part of the letter where for years, I bid grace adieu. Thanks for the kickstart, Jesus. I got this.
In fact, I rarely read chapters 1-3 at all because there isn't one single thing in those chapters that I'm supposed to do. Those chapters are all about what God was doing, so I would yadda yadda Jesus, pat grace on the head and "of course" the gospel so I get could into really important bit about Christian activity that seemed to begin in chapter 4.
If you read Ephesians in one sitting, it will take you about 20 minutes. Before planting KW Redeemer, I did this with our launch team one Sunday. Front to back. No commentary from me. Just the letter followed by bread & wine.
I did that because I wanted the church to hear the tone of the whole letter. The first 3 chapters announce the power of God’s scandalous, rescuing grace. The last 3 chapters invite us into a life of gospel freedom, empowered by God’s sanctifying, renovating grace.
A life of love and unity is not the gospel, it is however the result of the gospel.
The first word of the church is 'Christ', not 'church', so to speak.
The Christian life is Spirit propelled, not self generated. The letter to the Ephesians must be read, preached and understood in that context.
When you get to the beginning of chapter 4, it begins with, "walk worthy of the calling of which you've been called." If we ignore the context of the letter (which I did for years) it is easy to naturally conclude that Jesus started something that we finish. That gospel-erasing, grace-negating error leads to a very tiresome view of the Christian faith.
God’s grace empowers our calling and reforms our character so we live in unity.
God’s grace empowers & compels us to tear down the idolatrous wall surrounding our hearts labeled ‘me first’. God exonerated you from your old life by His rescuing grace & empowers you for your new life by his renewing grace. In other words, Paul is announcing some good news ...
The call to “walk worthy” is not a divine guilt trip, it’s a divine invitation.
Paul isn't asking the church to act a certain way in order to make themselves something. He's announcing that they are free to live according to who they are now by the grace of Christ.
In Romans 1:16 Paul says that the gospel of the good news of Christ's perfect life, atoning death and divine resurrection is power.
The empowering grace of God reorients our misplaced self love by putting it behind Christ & others. Consider for a moment, the call to the Ephesians & the culture of the Ephesus. In 4:2, Paul calls them to a life of humility, gentleness, patience and bearing in love. Those words do not describe the ancient Greco Roman world. The opposite of those things described ancient Ephesus: pride, force and survival of the strong.
Paul is not asking a church full of Greeks, fresh out of the Artemis cults (Acts 19) to reform themselves. They can't. I can't. You can't.
I'm thankful that I have days where humility, gentleness, patience and bearing someone's burden in love actually describes me - but I don't live there. I'm capable of the opposite and I do the opposite more often than I'd care to admit. I am a sinner, struggling with the pride, arrogance, selfishness, impatience of my self-worshipping heart that wants to constantly default back to it's 'me first' position.
The good news of the gospel is this: that's not who we are anymore. Yes, us Christians are still sinners, but we're not slaves to our sin. We don't have to be self-centred. We can, by God's grace, live "on call" to prefer and love others. We're united to Christ and scandalously - God calls us His children.
The cross of Christ is not the believer's starter kit and the grace of Christ isn't something you talk about upon entrance to Christian faith but not afterward. The grace of the gospel is not only the power to enter Christian faith, but the power to live it out. Not the ABC's of the gospel but the A-Z, as I once heard Tim Keller put it.
The grace of Christ is the only means by which reform and not behaviour management is possible. Thus Christ must be front and centre every Sunday - that's where the power for our reform is.
Preach Christ and reform happens.
Preach reform and exhaustion happens.
The life of love that the scriptures call us to in Ephesians chapters 4-6 is neither earning nor forfeiting the promises Christ already secured for us in chapters 1-3.
... well, of course that's scandalous.
That's why we call it amazing grace, not pending grace.
Christ’s work saves. Not yours.
Christ's work secures. Not yours.
Christ's work earns. Not yours.
Every passage in scripture that even smells like it's talking about rewards is hinging on one thing: whether or not you're united to Christ. He received your judgement so you receive His reward.
The flow of the letter is not IF you do this, THEN God will accept you, bless you & give you favour. That's not the gospel. That's karma.
The flow of the letter is BECAUSE in Christ God has already accepted you, blessed you and given you favour, you are THEREFORE both freed and empowered to live according to who you actually are, in Christ.
When Galatia tried to complete in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit, Paul said He prayed that Christ would be fully formed in them (Ch 4). It goes without saying that Paul is not utterly confused and contradicting himself, saying in one breath they can't complete things in the flesh and then in the next breath praying they would complete what Christ began. It's the realization of gospel freedom and freedom from salvation by rule keeping that Paul wants formed in them.
Our human response to God’s grace is not completing what Christ accomplished for us by His grace, that's done.
Our response to grace reorients our hearts to hate our sin, and live to the glory of our Saviour.
Good news church: Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing in love is being created in you by God's grace not your grunt work.
To "Walk worthy of your calling" is more than a prescription for you it’s a description of the new you.
You are free church.
May we enjoy God & glorify Him forever by living to the glory of the One who saved us.
Paul is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of KW Redeemer in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is an MCO race school graduate, but presently his main hobby is drinking espresso because it's cheaper than fixing cars. Paul and Susan live in Waterloo with their three children.