What does it mean to be a Christian? Where you really gain your identity, is when you become a Christian. Your identity is found not in what you did and who you are, but who Christ is and who He is. In this first verse, Paul identifies his audience.
This epistle is directed and addressed to Christians. Though it was directed to the church at Ephesus, it was meant to be a circulated letter, effectively addressed to all Christians in the surrounding areas, and even us today.
So here, Paul identifies his audience in several ways. The question we need to ask ourselves after understanding how Paul identifies these Christians is: Can we be identified like this too?
First, Paul identifies his audience as "saints" (Ephesians 1:1). The word "saints" mean "holy ones" or "separated." The Christian is one who has been separated from Satan's clutches. We are set apart outwardly (in our conversations, in our behavior), but we are also set apart inwardly. We've been cleansed from an evil conscience, all the pollution that sin brings to our life. Our minds are not governed by sin, but by the Word of God.
The word "saints" isn't something we strive to be, or a title someone can bestow on us, but it is something that all Christians are already. We have been set apart for God, by God. (This is antithetical to the erroneous, Roman Catholic idea of "saints," in which a saint is someone who is someone special, someone especially holy, and to whom you can pray to after they die.) Saints are not superior Christians, all Christians are saints!
Second, Paul identifies his audience as "faithful in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:1). Christians remain faithful to the doctrine of Christ Jesus (his death, burial, resurrection, and defeat of sin and death) and remain faithful in obeidence to Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ is the center of our lives and our belief as Christians. If Christ as a person is not essential to you, you are not a Christian. We have a relationship not with knowledge, but with a person.
Faith in Christ means several things: First, you assent to the facts of Christ in your words. But second, you must assent to the facts in another way, not just mentally, but in your heart, in a way that affects your life, in a lasting way that endures forever (1 Cor 15:2). This is not just mental assent, but a commitment to the facts. To receive the gospel means to receive the resurrected Lord that affects your mind, heart, and soul, permanently.
Third, we are "in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:1). Before we were in Christ, were in someone else: Adam. Adam, the first man, disobeyed in the garden of Eden and plunged us all into sin and guilt. (1 Cor 15:22) In Adam, we were doomed to hell. But now we have been brought out of Adam and into Christ. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). In Christ, we are an entirely new creation (2 Cor 5:17). All people are either in Adam or in Christ.
Those who are new creations in Christ ought to practice holiness. Since God is holy, God's people must be holy also.
What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to be a saint, it means to be faithful, and it means to be in Christ, not in Adam.
So, is this your identity now?
The best book I read last year was Notes From a Tilt-A-Whirl, by Nate Wilson. This book is about you and me and the world (tilt-a-whirl) we live on, spinning through space at 67,000 mph. Our story and the story of everyone who ever lived is really about one big story of redemption that includes laughter, evil, death, beauty, and the Hero we all ache for in a good story.
But, how do you make sense of a world like ours filled with paradoxes? Is there a purpose to all the madness and sin within and around us? Yes, there is, and the purpose is surprisingly beautiful: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made.
As I think about this book, here are 4 objective and subjective reasons why this was the best book I read last year. It was…
1) Metaphysical (real). The world we live on is like a tilt-a-whirl ride at a carnival. While on a ride that spins in every direction, it seems chaotic but there is actually order—much like the spinning planets in our solar system and in the entire universe. Like a play, we all enter the stage and there will come a day when we must exit the stage. In a seemingly chaotic and short-lived life there are so many ‘notes’ to take and so many questions to ask. Yet, you don’t have to know all the answers to every question. In the spirit of Ecclesiastes, all that matters is what really matters. All of creation groans for ultimate reality: the Redeemer. Wilson has portrayed all of this and more, amazingly.
2) Theological. In a fresh way, Wilson deals with most of the questions relating to hell, the problem of evil, and chaos vs. order. Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Hume, Lewis, Chesterton, Sartre, Donne, Tolstoy, and others are gathered in a round table discussion. Jesus is at the head of the table. His word and His cross speak louder than all the ideologies of the world. Like a thriller, Wilson presents Christ unexpectedly with a shocking effect. This is a book I would give to my lost friends or family members who are thinking through these things.
3) Poetic. This is a beautiful book because it is written as a novel but reads like a poem. The use of literature, art, and philosophy are breathtaking and are reminiscent of C.S Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. For all four seasons of the year, he has included four hiatus (“be still”) chapters that are purely reflective, provoking wonder and awe at the beauty of God’s spoken universe. Wilson helps to awaken you to stand in awe of the reality that is and has been.
4) Personal. I feel like I read this book at the right time. In a sense, this book saved me from a dull and sinful unbelieving heart to lay hold of God’s powerful will for my life. Wilson has and still does help me to use all five senses to enjoy life and to magnify God. Even in seasons of spiritual desertion, God has not forgotten me and is not blind towards my circumstances, or deaf to hear my prayers. Reading this book not only helped me feel the weight of a transcendent God, but the weight of His sovereign love and providential care for me as an immanent God.
In the spirit of Good Friday and Easter, Wilson retells the story of redemption with triumph:
The last page approaches, reached only through trials and triumphs, tears and laughter. The ending comes. But God is too big for endings, too big to work with a single narrative arc. This will be the end of Death, the end of a story that began in a garden and has played out in gardens ever since.
Let us bury Death in a garden, and seal the hole with a cross. For Him there will be no Spring.
There is a rustling of impatience. Anticipation. Creation creaks and groans, tired of shadow, tired of Winter.
The sun comes.
The corn will see the morning.
The sun warms me, reminds me.
Be grateful, it says. I have broken the Winter (89).
Needless to say, get this book and read it dozens of times!
A friend of mine literally placed this book in my lap at the right time. It’s called, The Heart of a Servant Leader—another book by Jack Miller (1928-1996), and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite books! Honestly, this was totally unexpected. Who would want to read a book by someone named “Jack Miller”, right? Yet, I have gained so much from Jack and still do now.
This book is amazingly personal; I felt like a wise spiritual grandfather was right there mentoring me. The reason why this book is so personal is because it is made up of letters Jack wrote to pastors, missionaries, interns, married couples, singles, and almost every other kind of person you will encounter in the gospel ministry. The ministry dynamics of conflict, joy, suffering, hope, and spiritual warfare expressed on these pages is so real that anyone in ministry can identify with them.
Yet, the most I have gained from these letters is the picture of warmth, humility, and transparency of a servant leader demonstrated by Jack himself. His evident poverty of spirit will spill over into your life in such a way that grace will induce praise and dependency on God for the sake of the gospel. In a repentant spirit, Jack writes,
One central conviction has come to me: it is that pride and self-centered ambition crowd the love of God out of my life. Therefore, I constantly need to repent of pride and self-importance and to have the love of God as seen in the golden message of grace crowd out wicked stuff like self-importance. I pray; I believe; Lord, help me with my unbelief (62)!
I highly recommend this book, it is totally worth buying and reading every year. Get it in our bookstore!
At some time throughout the year, we come across a certain book that surprises us for our good with a certain power that is unexpected. David Helm’s One-to-One Bible Reading was an unexpected treat on discipleship and its primary focus in the life of a believer in the world and in the local church. Throughout this book, Helm argues that the key to discipleship is the centrality of community based Bible reading. He shares the same vision as the authors who wrote The Trellis & the Vine:
Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading—not only digging into the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.
It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer and Bible reading—more of a movement than a program—but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.
It’s an exciting thought (p. 12)!
Helm unpacks this vision—what it is, and how to do it, in less than 100 pages. Realistically, he helps you identify (with) non-believers, new Christians, and established Christians in your life. Personally, he helps you engage, befriend, and mentor the various people in your life toward Christlikeness. Technically, he helps you develop a consistent movement of simple fellowship and gospel-transformation that revolves around the Word.
With tons of valuable examples, interpreting frameworks, reading plans, print/copy resources, and more, any Christian will be left ready to enter into a healthy and vibrant discipleship relationship that will advance the gospel for the kingdom of God. This helpful little book is available in our bookstore. I highly recommend it! Every disciple of Jesus can do this or do something like it!
I love reading books with my wife. Last year we had the great pleasure of reading Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. If there is anything that we as evangelicals tend to be unclear about in our thinking, it has to do with the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Chan makes this case: we have simply forgotten or neglected the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians.
He is right. This is why the Church of Christ does not tend to be marked with power. After reading this book, I came to terms with all the misconceptions I had of the third Person in the Trinity both theologically and personally. The more I think about the message from the book, the more I am challenged to remember His power and influence upon my life in and through everything.
Chan’s passionate communication of the Bible bleeds all over these pages. The most unique feature to this book are the short biographies of real Christian men and women who have demonstrated the power of the Spirit in their lives through love for others, suffering, joy, risk-taking, and stepping out in faith. Chan’s greatest strength is his ability to be so personal and so simple in helping you to see the ways you might be neglecting the Spirit in your life. In particular, Rebekah and I have gained so much from the chapter on following God’s will with the Spirit’s leading. I really recommend it.
Here is Francis Chan, explaining more of what this book is about. Enjoy!
As Christians, we have a rich and beautiful heritage of men and women of faith who have and are fighting the good fight of faith for the sake of the gospel. One day, we will meet them all in glory. But, what if we could meet them and be encouraged by their spiritual legacy today? I believe this is what editor, Arthur Bennett has done in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.
I urge every Christian to read and own this classic work of old prayers that inspires communion with Christ, longings for heaven, sensitivity toward inward sin, love for the gospel, service in ministry, a high regard for God’s greatness, and preparation for family and corporate worship.
I believe the burden of this work is to encourage drooping hearts to seek God’s face with the same intensity and passion of the prayers recorded in this book. With transparency, warmth, and transcendence, some of the prayers come from Puritans like Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, Augustus Toplady, Thomas Watson, and Isaac Watts. Bennett has wonderfully included an introductory prayer that expresses this burden. He prays,
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, Where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox That the way down is the way up, That to be low is to be high, That the broken heart is the healed heart, That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, That the repenting soul is the victorious soul, That to have nothing is to possess all, That to bear the cross is to wear the crown, That to give is to receive, That the valley is the place of vision
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.
Needless to say, this is a great book to read alongside your Bible. This book is available in our bookstore.
Scripture argues that the elderly play a pivotal role in our lives, but most particularly in our youth (see Proverbs 20:29; Titus 2:2-8). The kind of spiritual role we play in those who are younger than we are is powerful. Many of us know this is true because we have personally experienced the spiritual legacy of the older people in our lives, who are still with us or have passed into glory.
Two years ago today, Chester Babij (1930-2010) went home to be with Christ at age 79. As a beloved great grandfather, grandfather, father, husband, and brother in the Lord, Chet was cherished by us all. As a Christian for the last 8 years of his life, he aimed to live for the glory of Christ with remarkable physical energy, an intense love for others, a smile on his face, and a growing delight in the Bible.
As a youthful person compared to Chet, he was a spiritual grandfather to many of us, including myself. The imprint that this man left on my life in the brief time I knew him is significant beyond mere explanation. A few days before he died, he left me with this indelible line:
"You know Gabe, what brings me joy these days is that Christ was rejected so that I could be accepted."
Chet yearned to be with Christ in heaven toward the end of his life. It gives me joy to know that all of his hope and peace toward the end was in ultimately finding his irreversible acceptance from his heavenly Father through Christ’s life and death. He did not fear death because he knew that death was just a portal into glory.
As recipients of Christ’s invincible life, we can welcome death like he did without any fear. For the Christian, it is not death to die. We will be raised.
Chet, we will see you again very soon!