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Identity

Suit Up

Read This Week: Ephesians 6

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. – Ephesians 6:10-11, 13 NIV

Under Armour, the sportswear company and distributor has a name for the gameday uniforms they supply to sponsored teams. They call it Battle Armor. When these teams put on the battle armor, it is supposed to signify that they are ready to lay it all on the line, compete at the highest level, and win. The uniform lets the opponent and spectator know that they are suited up and ready to do battle in the arena.

In the descriptive last chapter of Ephesians 6, Paul illustrates the Christian as a soldier being outfitted for battle against their sinful nature, Satan, and the forces of evil that come against them in the world. He calls this spiritual uniform, “the whole armor of God.” It is the total offensive and defensive equipment of the Christ-follower.

Paul lists these items of equipment in the order they are to be put on and identifies the spiritual quality and power that each represents. He makes it clear that the enemy is more than human and that we need supernatural strength to effectively fight off spiritual attacks and be victorious. The Apostle writes in verse 11 that with the complete armor supplied by the Holy Spirit, we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

When we suit up every day with the whole armor of God, the Spirit enables us, by faith, to experience Christ’s victory for ourselves. The belt of truth gives us sincerity and integrity of character. The breastplate of righteousness guards our hearts allowing us to be obedient to God in our attitudes and actions.

The helmet of salvation covers and cares for our minds with the assurance of eternal life so we can be fearless in our walk with God and our service to other people. The shoes of the gospel of peace empower us to bring the good news of Jesus to a suffering world and inject hope into situations that seem desperate.

The shield of faith protects our entire life giving us complete confidence in God’s power no matter the circumstances we face. And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is an offensive weapon that is powerful to attack the lies of the enemy, the confusion of our culture, and the sinful nature that corrupts our lives. God’s word, whether spoken or written, is our greatest weapon.

Sooner or later, every believer sees that the Christian life is a battle, not playtime. We face a versatile enemy who is much stronger than us apart from God. Therefore, we must access the power to withstand vicious attacks and to navigate the life we’ve been given successfully. We have to suit up with the battle armor of God every day without exception. It gives us all we need to stand, fight and win.

Copycats

Read This Week: Ephesians 5

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth). – Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-9 NIV

If someone is dressing, acting, or talking like another person, they are referred to as a “copycat.” A copycat is a person that imitates, mimics, or follows the same things as someone else. And depending on what is being copied, this behavior can either be a good thing or a bad thing.

In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that our lives are to mimic that of Jesus’ life. That we should follow God’s example of love and integrity in our behavior, relationships, dealings with others, and our marriages. Some translations of verse 1 say that followers of Christ should be imitators of God. We are to be His copycats.

This passage of Scripture makes it clear that if we are children of God, then we should imitate our Father. Our identity sets the tone for our responsibility. People who are made in the image of God and restored to relationship with Him through Christ, are to be the living expressions of who he is. Our lives and their movements should reflect the attributes of Christ and be a visible template of his nature.

God is love; therefore we are to be loving people. When Paul asks us to walk in love, he’s not talking about something completely foreign to the Christian life. In our new identity, we are to express ourselves in love. Practically speaking, when we love others in the right way, we imitate God who is the author of love and who initiated that love for us.

God is forgiveness; therefore we are to be forgiving people. God forgave and made peace with sinners as an example of what our lives should emulate. When we forgive each other, we reflect God who forgave us in Christ Jesus. When we have grace for one another, it expresses the undeserved favor of God that was realized in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

God is light; therefore we should live in the light and have nothing to do with the dark nature of sin. God is set apart and His followers are called to be the same as we live in the world. A Christian should not participate in the things of darkness as Paul specifically lays out in verses 3-7. He says that our identity as God’s holy people compels us into the light to reveal His goodness, character, and conduct.

Verse 15 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.” God is wisdom; therefore we should make wise decisions as we seek to do the Lord’s will. When we exercise wisdom in our lives with forethought and good intention, it often leads to the right choices. These right choices then put God’s prudence and understanding on full display in a world of self-gratification and hedonism.

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that copying someone is a great way to compliment them. But for the follower of God, imitation is the highest form of obedience. Doing as Christ did is the best way to honor the Lord with our lives and bless other people. Copycats of Jesus are what we should strive to be.

Maturity Is Awesome

Read This Week: Ephesians 4

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV

Awesome is an often-used word in our culture. Just like the theme song of The Lego Movie says, “everything is awesome.” The cars we drive are awesome. The house we live in is awesome. The sports teams we pull for are awesome and on some days, the weather is awesome. Everything is so awesome that we forget what the word even means. Everything is awesome to the point that we lose sight of reality and what we should be.

The definition of the word awesome is “to cause feelings of fear and wonder.” Even though human beings can be impressive and inspiring, not much about any one person embodies the true meaning of awesome. But the definition of the word mature as seen in Ephesians 4 is someone who is “a whole person with integrity and virtue.” This is what God desires for us; to be mature, not awesome. He wants us to be complete followers of Jesus, not people trying to be something we’re not.

Paul starts chapter 4 with the encouragement to “live a life worthy of the calling we have received.” He begins that sentence by referring to himself as a prisoner for the Lord, someone worthy to not only serve but suffer for Christ. That doesn’t sound awesome but Paul wanted the people of Ephesus and us to know that the call of God on our lives is special because of who Jesus is and not who we are. We shouldn’t get that twisted.

We are simply people whom God has gifted in a way that is tailored to our unique design. With his help in our maturation and applying our gifts, we can have an eternal impact in the world and be part of some pretty incredible things. Verse 7 tells us that to “each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it and gave gifts to his people.” It goes on to say that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, until we all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The fact that Christ would choose to work in and through us to accomplish anything is really what causes awe and wonder. We can’t generate that response on our own and we can’t produce those results apart from the Holy Spirit. God’s work is awesome and we are simply called to grow in and use the gifts He has given us for His glory in the world.

We are also called to reveal his awesome glory by treating each other with love. A community whose members are trying to be awesome often disregard and mistreat one another. But a community of faith made up of individuals who are pursuing God and growing will be healthy and loving.

Paul says in verses 25-32 that mature believers bear with each other in love, speak the truth in love, build each other up in love and encourage in love. A mature group of people loving each other without an agenda or motive other than to glorify God is truly awesome. Maturity in Christ is awesome.

A Beautiful Mystery

Read This Week: Ephesians 3

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. He intended that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Ephesians 3:2-11 NIV

Mystery embodies the core of the human experience. We relate to and are drawn toward the mysterious at the moment we take our first breath until the day we take our last. It is part of who we are, what we sense, and how we think and interact. We are designed to be driven by what we can’t see. 

This wonder brings vitality to our existence. Mystery makes us feel alive and takes us to the edge of our seat. If there was no mystery, we would be people without dreams, vision, and imagination. We would lack the desire to understand what we can’t comprehend. The drama of our plot would be replaced by a predictable apathy. The depth of our souls would be shallow and without hope, faith, and the longing for eternal life.

In the New Testament, however, a mystery is not something one cannot see or understand. It is a truth that was hidden in the past that God has now revealed to His followers. A mystery is a “spiritual secret” that is unknown to those outside the faith but understood and valued by the family of God.

Paul talks about one of these mysteries in Ephesians 3. He explains the mystery of the gospel and how it unites all people in one body known as the Church. Paul himself was a perfect example of this mystery. He had been a Jewish leader who was now sharing the good news of Jesus with the Gentiles. Paul was doing the unthinkable and building community among the Jews and Gentiles under the banner of Christ. The world had not seen this before and didn’t understand what was happening.

Verse 6 captures this perfectly where it says, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” The Gentiles, along with the Jews, received the inheritance which the Lord promised to his people from the beginning. They were all God’s children and members of the same body.

There was and is only one people of God. In the Church, through Jesus, all believers are part of the same community regardless of human differences. Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection accomplished more than the salvation of individuals. It reconciled and brought Jews and Gentiles to God and each other.

The same reconciling power of Christ that unites all people is still effective and available today. In a volatile and divided world, the unifying nature of the gospel should be seen in the Church. The Church is to put on full display the manifold wisdom of God to those who are unbelieving. It should be a diverse community of individuals from all races, cultures, and backgrounds coming together under faith in Jesus.

God’s plan and work in and through the Church is a beautiful mystery. It is not understood by the world when they see His kindness, goodness, and grace expressed in the lives of His people. But it stands as a beautiful contrast to the ugliness of sinful attitudes and relational discord that divides mankind.

Yes, God had a mysterious plan or “secret” but He does not want it to be a secret anymore. Paul says in verse 9 that the beautiful mystery of God’s plan should now be a splendid realization. He wrote that we are to “make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”

The Church has the awesome responsibility to explain the mystery; to counter the evil of prejudice, marginalization, and racism that is so prevalent in modern society with love, acceptance, and harmony that comes from our unifying identity in Christ.

Made Alive

Read This Week: Ephesians 2

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. – Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV

In his book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Dr. Gary Habermas writes, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he was a false prophet and a charlatan whom no rational person should follow. Conversely, if he did rise from the dead, this event confirmed his radical claim.” He goes on to say, “The good news to the world is that the God of the universe has overthrown the powers of darkness by his conquering death and resurrection.”

A dead savior is no savior at all. When the women and disciples discovered the empty tomb and saw that Jesus was alive, they realized that He was unequaled and divine. His resurrection settled, once and for all, that he was indeed the savior of the world.

The Apostle Paul saw Jesus too, and he writes about what it means when we encounter the risen Christ in Ephesians 2. He says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Not only did God provide forgiveness of sin through Jesus’ death; he also gave us a new life by his resurrection. God intervened on our behalf and out of his love and mercy, we are made alive together with Christ.

The old life for a follower of Jesus is referred to in the past tense in this chapter. Verse 1 states that you were dead in your transgressions and sins. Verse 2 says you used to live a bad life when you followed the ways of this world. But what was once true for the Christian is not the case anymore. He or she is brought to life from a state of death; brought to newness from their old ways.

Just as he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” Paul makes the same point in this passage. He declares in verse 6, “And God raised us with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” When we are made alive in Christ, we experience renewal. When we encounter and are regenerated by the risen savior, we become new people.

This is a new identity and life that God gives us. The old father disappears. The old wife is not around anymore. The old co-worker and friend can’t be found. The old person is gone; renewed forever by the One who conquered death in the grave. The old heart, habits, behavior, and thinking, are radically changed through the power of Jesus.

In Him

Read This Week: Ephesians 1

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him, we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. – Ephesians 1:3-11 NIV

From the very early stages of our lives, we try to satisfy an inner desire to be accepted. We hunger for attention and are constantly searching for people to love us. We strive to acquire things and achieve goals, hoping that our success will give us an identity and appreciation from others.

In spite of our efforts, the approval we desperately want is never fully satisfied. We struggle to find lasting peace and fulfillment in the things we attain and in other people. But our desire for all of this is just a by-product of a deeper emotional and spiritual need. A need that can only be met by a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The Bible provides an outline for discovering our true identity and few books communicate this better than Ephesians. In these passages, we see that God has given us the promise of heaven and a relationship with Him on earth. These truths answer our deepest questions and longings about our ultimate purpose.

Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians by thanking God for all of the spiritual blessings and benefits that are enjoyed through a relationship with Jesus. He then uses the phrase, in Him several times in the following verses to lay out what those blessings and benefits are. Paul makes it clear that nothing found in and of ourselves is superior to what can be experienced in Him.

In Him, we are chosen and accepted. God chose us even before He created the universe and our salvation is not based on anything we did or have to do, but fully on His grace. He chose us in Christ and not because of who we are trying to be. Therefore, we cannot make ourselves acceptable to God. By his grace and good pleasure, He accepts us in Christ. This is our eternal identity that will never change.

In Him, we have purpose and direction. When we are redeemed through Christ’s finished work on the cross, it means we have been purchased and set free. Free from the law or trying to earn God’s favor. Free from the power of sin and our fallen nature that keeps us confused about who we are. Free from the accusations of the world that we are worthless and without hope. Within this freedom, is the power to live out the purpose God has for our lives and the ability to glorify Him in everything we do. Without this connection, we can do nothing that glorifies God, but with this relationship, even the small things have a purpose.

As we discover our purpose in Him, we find direction. Ephesians 1:8-10, tells us that “With all wisdom and understanding, he (God) made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” In Him, we can know God’s will for our lives and even the plan He has laid out for us. It’s no longer a mystery when we follow Christ. We don’t exist in the dark nor do we have to chase a million other things to have vitality in life. Our purpose provides clarity that gives us the freedom to live to the fullest.

In Him, we have a future. God deals with us based on our future, not our past. This passage tells us that in Christ, we have an inheritance. We are valuable to God as He paid the price for us and makes us part of His eternal legacy. We don’t have to worry or base our identity on what we can accumulate on earth. Our future is secure because of awaits us in eternity.

Ephesians 1 provides spiritual power and relief for the follower of Christ. It says there is “incomparably great power for us who believe.” And that “power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” That is some other-worldly power sufficient to give us all the hope, peace, and joy we need to be successful.

It shows that our identity is not in the positions we hold, the effectiveness of our work or who our friends are. Instead, it is found in being God’s creation and the object of His love. We don’t have to live one more second with a performance-oriented perspective. What we do or don’t accomplish in this fleeting world doesn’t have one bearing on who we are as people. Our lives have wholistic value in Christ and we are called by God to embrace this truth and apply it.