“The Riches of God’s Grace Empowers Life in Christ”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Ephesians
When Haddie was 1 year old, we effectively taught her how to do math. She was an expert, at 1 year old, on the number 9. She could get it right each time.
“Haddie, what’s 11 minus 2?” “9” she says.
“Haddie, what’s 7 plus 2?” “9.” You’re right! Haddie, what’s the square root of 81. “9” Very good!
As you probably guessed, Haddie just obeyed us and said “9” to everything we asked. This is called learning by rote. That kind of knowledge is insufficient. It does not prove that the student has actually comprehended the material.
And so a learning system centered on rote memorizing, like memorizing a phone number, fails to prepare the student with critical thinking skills and how to think through difficult topics.
It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Sometimes, we can mentally learn truth but it does not affect our living. Someone might say … “I know I have an inheritance in Christ, but it doesn’t affect my living today.”
On the other hand, we can learn about applications about how we should live, but we have no right ability or motivation to live that way. I know I should be a better husband or wife or child or parent, but I don’t know how! I feel like I don’t have any power!
Just like instruction can come without application, so also application can come without the power to do it.
Must have both. We must have both instruction and application. But it goes further than that. In our relationship with God, we must also have illumination. Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit to intellectually understand the Bible’s teaching and to make that teaching meaningful to the believer, and further, to empower him to live in accordance with that teaching. We need application and instruction, yes, but we also need the Holy Spirit to help us to understand the doctrine and application and to make both meaningful to us and then to empower us to live it. And the Holy Spirit will do that with His doctrines not anyone else’s! He’ll do that with His applications, not anyone else’s, as well.
So, we have those 3 elements then: Bible doctrine, Bible application of that doctrine, and illumination…the Holy Spirit helping us understand and to do it.
We have all 3 in the book of Ephesians. Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians is doctrine and chapters 4-6 is application of that doctrine. Plus, we have 2 prayers for illumination in chapters 1 and 3.
Combining these 3 things, then we have real knowledge. We must have doctrine. And we must have the application of that doctrine. And thirdly, we must have the Holy Spirit illuminating us to live life in Christ as it is designed.
Unbelievers can memorize the head knowledge of chapters 1-3 and unbelievers can memorize the heart knowledge of chapters 4-6, but if the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of his heart about the doctrine, then, and only then, will it become meaningful and real and powerful to him. It’s the illumination of the head and heart knowledge that empowers us for life in Christ.
This, then is biblical application. Biblical application is the Holy Spirit taking textbook doctrine and teachings on Christian living based on that doctrine and opening that up to the believer to empower him for life in Christ. If you don’t have this, you don’t have real biblical application.
This is why the Bible’s doctrine is important and why the Bible’s applications are important and why prayer that God’s Spirit would illuminate these truths is important.
All 3 of those elements are reflected in the book of Ephesians. That’s why I’ve chosen the theme of Ephesians to be this: The riches of God’s grace empowers life in Christ. You could even write that in your Bible in the margin. The riches of God’s grace empowers life in Christ.
Without the riches of God’s grace, making rules to live for Christ life becomes legalistic. You need all three God’s doctrine, God’s application, and God’s illumination. And in Ephesians you have the doctrine of the riches of God’s grace and chapters 1-3 and the application of that doctrine for life in Christ in chapters 4-6. As well, we’ll see not one, but two of Paul’s prayers for illumination.
So, the doctrine of the riches of God’s grace is crucial. And so to be empowered for life in Christ, you must comprehend the riches of God’s grace. To be empowered for life in Christ, you must comprehend the riches of God’s grace. As we’ll see, prayer for comprehension is crucial. We must pray.
I’ve been saying that chapters 1 to 3 is doctrine and chapters 4-6 is application. To illustrate the point, guess how many commands are in chapters 4-6? There are some 40 commands. Guess how many commands there are in chapters 1-3? There is just one, and we will see that as we go through the book.
TRANS: So what we’re going to do now for the rest of the message is capture the flow of the first three chapters and as we do, we will attempt to glory in the riches of Christ. And at the end we’ll touch on some of the applications from chapters 4-6.
Paul Establishes His Authority (vv.1-2)
Paul starts out the letter in chapter 1 verses 1-2 by establishing his divine authority as an apostle of Christ Jesus. As an apostle, Paul has been commissioned by Christ Himself and he is writing with all the authority of inspired Scripture.
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, Paul has the authority to write this letter.
Praise for God’s Riches in Christ
Now, verses 3-14 is a hymn. And it is all about the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ.
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,…
Paul says we have every spiritual blessing! Paul goes on to teach on what those blessings are in verses 4 to 6.
In eternity past, God the Father elected and predestined us
Ephesians 1:4-6 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
And within our lives, in the present, Jesus Christ redeemed us forgiving us of our sins, giving us wisdom, insight and making known to us the mystery of his will. That’s Eph. 1:7-10.
And in verses 13-14, Paul has an eye toward the future. When we trusted in Christ, the Holy Spirit sealed us and He himself became the down payment of our future inheritance.
Ephesians 1:13-14 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
We have all of these rich spiritual blessings in Christ! We have every spiritual blessing in Christ!
Paul prays for illumination
Now, beginning in verse 15, Paul is going to pray for us. You’ve got it all, Christian! Every spiritual blessing: Election, predestination, adoption, grace, redemption, forgiveness, insight, understanding knowledge of the mystery of His will, and the sealing of the Spirit, who is our down payment of a future inheritance. You’ve got it, it’s yours!
What do you pray for someone who has everything!?
ILL: It’s kind of like asking what do you get someone for Christmas who has everything? A boy may have all of the toys, but it’s no fun without batteries. That boy needs batteries to more deeply experience those toys.
And this is what Paul prays for the believer. As those who have trusted in Christ, we have it all, but we need spiritual batteries. We need to be able to enjoy what we have in Christ. So, we need illumination, we need God’s Spirit illuminating us.
Let’s jump in to the prayer in verse 18…Ephesians 1:18-19… I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened … [that’s illumination!], so that you will know […see we need to know something…we need to really come to know in a powerful way…#1…] what is the hope of His calling [the calling is all those blessing in verses 3-14…and we need to know…#2….], what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and [#3 we need to know…] what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
We have election, predestination, adoption, grace, redemption, forgiveness, insight, understanding knowledge of the mystery of His will, and sealing of the Spirit, who Himself is our down payment of an inheritance. Wow! We need illumination on what all this means! And that’s what we’ll do.
Paul’s point here is to say …look, what glory that we have in Christ! And it is all to the praise of His glory.
TRANS: Paul prayed in verse 19 that we would know what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us believers. What I want to know is when did that power of Christ first begin for me?
As we saw last week, the surpassing greatness of his power is the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We get resurrection power! Ephesians 1:20 look at it … [the power that is toward us is the same power that…] He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
When was that resurrection power first accomplished in me? The answer to that is in chapter 2. Again, when was that resurrection power first accomplished in me…chapter 2…
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
Verse 5 Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Our Unworthy Position as Individuals (2:1-10)
If you have trusted Christ and Christ saved you, you received resurrection power when that happened. You were dead in your sins, but Christ made you alive together with him!
I was dead! But Christ raised me to life again! Chapter 1 gave us the glorious spiritual blessings that we have in Christ. And it was all given … to me, a dead man! Hearing of these should help us to have a great sense of unworthiness. I don’t deserve this!
And now, in chapter 2, it makes this unworthiness even greater. It’s not that I am unworthy in the sense that I’m unworthy to receive an award for an outstanding job, I’m unworthy in the sense that … God Himself should die and rise from the dead for me!
Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
A wretched sinner, gladly seduced by Satan, indulging my sinful desires and someone who is most deserving of God’s wrath. …now, verse 4 …But God
Ephesians 2:4-9 But God (!), being rich […that’s why we keep talking about the riches of God’s grace…here, rich…] in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus ….[what? Really? A complete reversal, from child of wrath to seated with Christ, what? How can it be? Well, it is that way …], 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace [again, His riches of His grace] in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Not of works, of course! What good works can a dead man do? Those who say you must be good or you must do good works to earn heaven, do not understand the work of Christ.
If you understood the work of Christ, and gloried in that, you wouldn’t dare add to it. Your good works are like filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6 says.
ILL: And so adding your good works to Christ perfect, eternal monumental work is infinitely worse than adding your paint to the Mona Lisa or your chisle to Mount Rushmore. It’s infinitely worse than adding your lines to Romeo and Juliet or your musical notes to Handel’s Messiah. If you add anything to any of those things, you’ve instantly defiled it.
Salvation is all the work of God! Nothing you can do can earn it. All you must do is respond to what Christ has already done. Trust him and be done doing life your way.
And so… can you believe it, when Christ saved you, he was kind to you. Ephesians 1:20-23 says that he is the cosmic ruler of the universe. And He is kind to you, a wretched undeserving sinner …really only deserving God’s wrath, but He brought you to faith in Christ and He gave you all of those marvelous benefits of salvation like election and predestination and redemption and a future eternal inheritance.
TRANS: And how unworthy we are! We know ourselves to have been deep in sin and yet God richly blessed us with His grace. But now, beginning in verse 11, even more as Gentiles…how undeserving we are. Not only because of our sinfulness, are we undeserving of these marvelous glorious graces, but also because we are Gentiles.
Our Unworthy Position Corporately (2:11ff)
As Gentiles, before Christ came, we were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to God’s promises. We had no hope and we were out God in the world.
For all of those centuries before Christ, the Gentiles were excluded from Israel. God was working out his program of salvation exclusively in the nation of Israel. So, the Gentiles were excluded. We were not of the chosen race. They were required to join the nation of Israel.
This is Ephesians 2:11-12 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, […this is everyone in here …you ] who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember [that’s the only command in chapters 1-3 …you are to remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
So not only were we dead in our sins, but as Gentiles, we were in a place of not having any hope we were without God in the world. But when Christ came, God’s program of salvation included the Gentiles. And you remember on the day of Pentecost when thousands of people from every nation under the sky were in Jerusalem. And 3000 received Christ that day and many of them are Gentiles!
And the book of Acts records how God began to save Gentiles and how the Jewish believers responded to that. And so what happened is …verse 13 …
Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles…] who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
And by the riches of God’s grace … verse 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
… That is, we Gentiles are part of God’s program of salvation now.
And so as Gentiles… we were dead in our trespasses and sins and God has made us alive together with him through the power of Christ’s resurrection… But it goes a step beyond that now, as Gentiles. If God did not do something, we would continue to have been without hope and without God in the world. But God made the way possible so that you and I as Gentiles could be brought near into God’s program of salvation through the cross of Christ.
So not only am I unworthy as a sinner because of my wretched sinfulness that deserves the wrath of God, I am unworthy as a Gentile because God chose to make the way that we could be saved.
And not just saved, but spiritually resurrected from the dead now to enjoy election and redemption and the future eternal inheritance. Surely this is too good to be true!
Paul’s response now in chapter 3 is to pray! Paul is overwhelmed at this point and so he begins to pray…but he interrupts himself to reflect on how he gets to play an actual part in all this …
Paul Marvels at his calling to Preach the riches of Christ!
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
The New American Standard has a “dash” and the prayer actually begins in verse 14. You could draw a line from verse 1 to verse 14 and underline the phrase “for this reason” as it occurs in both verses. But why the interruption?
It’s because it seems at the moment he began to pray, he reflects on his role in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles! He ponders his great privilege as one who has been called to carry this great news to those who were once afar off, to the Gentiles. Paul is an apostle, that is, he is the sent one …he’s been sent to the Gentiles. And Paul is overwhelmed in verses 1-13 with the fact that he it is who has been called to preach to the Gentiles …the unfathomable riches of Christ!
For one, it is only now been revealed in Paul’s day! And for another thing, Paul marvels that it was him of all people Christ chose!
Dip in here to Ephesians 3:4-10 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body [that only now has been revealed in Paul’s day…and the Gentiles are…], and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints [see he’s overwhelmed at the thought…], this grace was given, [what grace?] to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
I’d say that’s a motivation to evangelism! Paul is overwhelmed that he has the opportunity to preach the gospel! And so do we, so do we!
So, Paul is amazed that God would save sinners as children of wrath undeserving the wrath of God and Paul is amazed God has opened up the door of salvation to the Gentiles. And on top of that Paul is now amazed and overwhelmed with the thought that he is the one chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ!
And this is amazing and no doubt we all here have some degree of understanding of these things, but Paul understands that we’re going to have difficulty with comprehending this to the spiritual depth that we should desire to.
So, he prays! He again prays for comprehension, beginning in chapter 3 verse 14. Dip in to verse 16…Ephesians 3:16-19 …[Paul prays] that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Amazing calling! God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ. He has chosen us. He has redeemed us. He has given us a future inheritance.
How unworthy we are of these things! Especially in light of the fact that before we were saved, we were enslaved to various lusts and wretched sinners. And were unworthy of these things, not only because we are wretched sinners and deserving of eternal wrath, but also we are undeserving of these spiritual blessings because of the very fact that we are Gentiles! God did not have to give salvation to the Gentiles, but He chose to do that when Christ came.
And now we’re seated together with Christ, though we were once wretchedly sinful ….Gentiles. Oh, that we might understand where we’ve come from and where we are now in Christ! Sometimes, we have this thought that God is required to do these things, oh no! It’s only the unfathomably rich grace of Christ that makes this possible!
Oh, that God would help us comprehend these things, that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened and that we would truly come to know what is the hope of this glorious calling we have in Christ!
“You must comprehend the riches of God’s grace!” And if you do and only until you do by the illumination of God’s Spirit, will you be empowered for life in Christ.
And that’s why now, in Eph. 4:1…Paul writes …
Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk [or live] in a manner worthy of [is this glorious] calling with which you have been called,
This is why Paul in both of his prayers, both at the end of chapter 1 and the end of chapter 3, prays that we would come to comprehend this very calling. If you don’t comprehend the calling you’ve been called to, you will not be empowered to live in a manner that is worthy of this glorious calling that we have in Christ.
To be empowered for life in Christ, you must comprehend the riches of God’s grace. This demands that you study to receive head knowledge and heart knowledge and it demands that you pray that the Lord illuminate this knowledge.
ILL: I remember when I was first saved, I would record myself reading Bible verses I liked and walk around on my secular college campus with my Walkman…yes, a Walkman listening to verses and both those prayers were on that tape. I wanted those prayers to become a part of my life. And I would constantly be praying these back to God.
It is only when you come to comprehend this glorious calling that we have in Christ that you will be able to live in a way that is distinct from the world.
Chapter 4 …
Ephesians 4:17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,
Don’t live like they do. They are dark in their understanding. It is only when you come to comprehend the glorious calling that we have in Christ that you will be able to put on the new man and put off the new man as we have it in this chapter. It is only as you comprehend the glorious calling that we have in Christ that you will, verse 25, be able to put aside lying and be able to speak truth to your neighbor.
Your capacity verse 26 to be angry and yet not to sin is dependent on your comprehension of the glorious calling that you have in Christ.
And in chapter 5 now as we get into family relationships, wives, you can now understand how in chapter 5:24 the wife is to be subject to her own husband as the church is to Christ.
Ephesians 5:24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Think of the dependency that we as the church have upon Christ! Where would we be as Gentiles apart from the marvelous working of Christ!?
I’d say that the church ought to subject herself to her Lord and be entirely thankful, wouldn’t you?! I mean, look at the position that the church is in, filled with wretched sinners only saved by God’s grace! Wives look at that for power to be subject to your husbands in all things.
And men, look at Christ! Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
We are to love our wives as Christ also loved the church. He died for the dirty wretched Gentiles! Oh, how thankful I am for that! Even so, husbands, we need to love our wives like Christ loved us infinitely undeserving, wretchedly sinful, unworthy Gentiles.
And within this same salvation context, chapter 6:1, you children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Yeah, I guess it is right, knowing what Christ did for you kids.
Chapter 6 verse 4, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger! Can you see then, that an application within this context makes it so much easier to hear and to do. We’ve got power now! I am overwhelmed with the gratitude of my salvation and empowered by God’s Spirit who illuminated me and who accomplished my salvation, I now want to and will be able to carry out these commands. I will, if God has illuminated me as to my salvation.
But until we comprehend the glorious calling, we will not carry out these applications of Christian living. To be empowered for life in Christ, you must comprehend the riches of God’s grace.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Ephesians
Image if you were the sole heir to a multi-million dollar estate and you didn’t even know it. That’s what happened to Arlene Magdanz late last year.
CBS News reported it on Dec. 17, 2012. Walter Samaszko Jr. was a loner whose death went largely unnoticed. That all changed when a crew sent to clean out his house found a fortune stashed away in the garage of his $112,000 single story home.
There were ammunition boxes stuffed with thousands of gold coins, from Austria, Mexico and the United States. There was enough gold to fill up two wheelbarrows — more than $7.4 million worth.
“There was every kind of coin you could think of,” said Alan Glover, the Carson City clerk and the public administrator of the estate who borrowed a neighbor’s wheelbarrow to haul the treasure out.
City officials searched through records to find an heir: a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who a judge declared … was Walter’s lone surviving first cousin.
The decision means Arlene of San Rafael, Calif., is a millionaire. Officials were able to track her down using a funeral bulletin at Walter’s home that led to his father’s service in Chicago in the early 1960s, and then newspaper clippings that listed survivors.
When a lawyer told her that her 69-year-old cousin’s estate was valued in the millions, officials said, she was surprised ….” Well, I guess I would be too!
Just think if Arlene knew about her inheritance, that it was coming. She would have responded a little differently, right? As soon as her cousin Walter died, she would have put off her former way of living and would have put on a new way of living! She believed she had an inheritance coming! Her whole life would have changed even before she received the inheritance in full.
Now, that’s an unworthy illustration for sure, but in Christ, we have an eternal inheritance coming. How does our faith in God’s promises show that in our lives? If we truly believed that we have an inheritance coming in Christ, how would your life change? What priorities would matter most?
The problem isn’t that we know our lives need to change for the better, is it? We know that our lives need to change in some areas. Our problems is that we need illumination on the riches that we have in Christ!
To be empowered for life in Christ, you must comprehend the riches of God’s grace.