Good morning church! Most of us who have been tracking with us at the Gathering, you’ll know that we’ve been studying the Gospel of Mark. We’ll be taking a break from that series for the month of September and then will pick up from where we left off in October.
As elders, we prayed and thought over what would be an important topic to cover and we decided to have a series on “Living out our Identity in Christ”. Now, why would this be an important topic? Because every decision or choice we make in this life is connected to what we believe about God and what we believe about ourselves!
From the time we are born, we are figuring out and trying to build our identity. So even when we were kids like 3 or 4 years old we were trying to somehow outdo and gain some kind of superiority over our friends.
Like for example, I used to do this thing where whenever people would ask me my age, I would add a “half” to it to make me look bigger. I would say “Three and a half, four and a half” etc. And even as we go through school, college and work we are naturally trying to create big lists of what we have done and what we have achieved! Our own sinful self and the world tells us “More achievements, more respect…More achievements, more money…more achievements, more happiness”.
The more achievements you have, the better you feel about yourself. Basically, it’s all promoting this motto “What you do is who you are”. And the truth is that it leaves our life extremely unsatisfied and unfulfilled at the end. Because that’s not how God created us!
But God has given us a better identify – a completely satisfying and fulfilling one and that’s what we are going to study& embrace over the next 5 weeks.
Today we’ll be looking at our first identity: We are chosen and adopted in Christ! We’ll be turning to Ephesians 1:3-6 for our time today. As you’re turning to Ephesians, let me set up our time by giving a brief context. Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Rome.
In spite of his difficult circumstance, he is actually exploding in praise as he’s writing about the glory of the gospel in Chapter 1. With the many things that he has to tell the Ephesian church, he starts by talking about “Who God Is” and “Who we are in Christ”.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
1. We are chosen in Christ
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Do you remember the first time you were picked in a team or to do something for the church or given a responsibility? Remember how proud and privileged you felt at that point in time. Unfortunately, even though we say “we are saved by grace”, sometimes when we think about God choosing us in Christ, at the back of our mind we still think it’s either because I’m a good person or God’s seen some potential in me. I believe v4 gives us two reasons to know that God’s choice is made apart from us:
i) God chose us before the foundations of the world
It says before the foundation of the world, God chose us in Christ. The term “In Christ” means “a person’s current position before God due to what Christ has done”. Think about it…this is happening in eternity past. Before creating the heavens and the earth, before God said “Let there be light”…even before that God already made His choice in Christ.
A similar theme is mentioned in Romans 9 where it says that even before Jacob and Esau were born or they even did anything good or bad, God made His choice. He chose Jacob over Esau. (v11,12) Therefore it’s not based on a person’s talents or his good works or his social status or popularity but completely based on God’s mercy. Very different from the way the world works.
In God’s economy, it’s the worst, the sinner, the poor, the unworthy, the insignificant who are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (Jam 2:5). In fact when we look at Israel’s history – God says in Deut 7:6 – it wasn’t because they were a large, powerful nation that He chose them.
Instead, they were few and weak, but God chose them as His treasured possession to show them His love and to show how committed He was to the promise He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The second reason why we know that God’s choice is apart from us is:
ii) God chose us to be Holy and blameless in His sight
The criteria for Holy God is perfect holiness and perfect obedience. Blamelessness literally means faultless – no one can say that you’ve committed a fault! And we fail really bad! If we had any doubts on the first point, I think this should make it clear because we are naturally so far away from holiness. Here’s what Scripture says about us:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Rom 3:11,12)
Holiness and purity according to these verses is impossible for sinners and yet it is a requirement from us in order to be presented before God. Only through Jesus Christ can we become Holy and blameless in His sight.
I believe this truth should rid us of any kind of spiritual pride that’s there in us. Sometimes we may think it’s because I pray so well, I help serve the Gathering each week or I observe all the disciplines and that’s why God chose me. No, the truth is that God chose you not because of anything you did or could ever do. God chose you out of His love and mercy!
Another place where this truth of being Chosen in Christ can help us is in times when we are tempted to sin in order to gain people’s approval. Maybe it’s in your family where you are pressurized to disobey God in order to gain their approval. Or maybe it’s in your workplace where you are pressurized to compromise and use unethical means to help your colleagues or boss.
Or maybe it’s among your friends where a white lie here and there in order to gain their approval. In all these places when we are tempted, we can be reminded of the identity that God has chosen us in Christ to be His treasured possession before the foundation of the world. The highest authority in the whole universe has already given His approval over you because of Jesus.
Not just that the truth that we’ve been chosen to be Holy and blameless before Him. For a believer who has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus, longing for purity and holiness is placed in his DNA.
2. We are adopted in Christ
In love 5 he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Wow! Check out the language that’s being used to show the love of God. It says in love God ordained and pre-planned before the foundation of the world for us to be adopted as His children through Christ. It’s a kind of a delightful longing that’s being visualized here even as God knows exactly how and when it’s going to pan out.
Initially, I read this think about modern-day adoption but I did a little reading and adoption in the Roman culture of that day was very different from what we know today. And it adds an amazing emphasis to the love and grace of God.
In Ancient Roman culture:
a) The child was freely chosen by the parents. The child was desired by the parents.
b) The child would be a permanent part of the family. Parents couldn’t disown a child after they are adopted.
c) An adopted child receives a new identity. Any prior responsibilities and debts were erased. New rights and responsibilities were taken on.
d) The concept of inheritance was part of life, not something that began at death. Being adopted made someone an heir to their father, joint sharer in all his possessions and fully united to him.
Now think about how beautiful is this picture when we think about the God the Father giving us all these great and glorious blessings through Christ. In eternity past, God pre-planned and ordained us to be adopted as His sons and daughters. But there is a problem here. The ones who were supposed to be adopted are by nature God’s enemies. Remember what we read in Romans.
We don’t seek God. We don’t recognize God. We don’t want God. So, God, the Father sends His Beloved Son – whom He dearly loves, He shares such an intimate relationship with Jesus…sends Him to rescue us and erase our debts of sin and our old sinful identity. Jesus Christ is the perfect and pure lamb who goes up on the cross to die for you and me.
He rises from the dead on the Third Day so that whoever repents of their sins and turns to Jesus Christ will be adopted fully into the family of God! The Bible says that we are co-heirs with Jesus Christ. And this is the amazing truth –We are fully united to God never to be separated again! He is our Father and loves us dearly!
When we are tempted or when we fall into sin, this truth can bring hope and repentance to our hearts. Rom 8 says that we don’t have a spirit that makes us slaves and makes us live in fear from God. We have a Spirit of adoption that cries out “Abba, Father”. In Hebrew, that’s what you’d intimately refer to your father something like “Papa or Daddy”.
When you are being tempted or when you fall, understand that you can run back to your heavenly father and repent because there is safety there. Jesus Christ paid a huge price so that we don’t have to fear the presence of God when we fall but rather have the ability to turn back to Him in repentance and faith.
Some of us are just going through a really hard phase in life right now. How does this truth of being adopted as a child of God bring hope into your life? You’re probably thinking that God is so far from you. Sometimes you might think – does God care about what I’m going through?
The answer is that God is a Father who doesn’t disown His children. In Hebrews 13:5 he promises to “Never leave us nor forsake us”. He is right with us and we have access to Him as our “Papa”. Does God have the power to immediately change our situation? Yes, he does. Why does God wait then? That’s because God’s a loving father who is more interested in making us more like Jesus Christ.
There are some things we probably will understand only a few years down the line or maybe at the end of a lifetime but God’s plan in choosing and adopting us was to save us, change us into the image of His Son and bring Him glory through all of that. That’s why I don’t want us to lose track on the phrase “to the praise of His glorious grace”.
It’s easy for us sometimes to just love the idea of God choosing us and adopting us for our good but the truth is it’s not about us. In 2 Cor 12, it’s an interesting passage where Paul thrice asks God to remove a thorn from his flesh. I’m guessing it’s an illness of some kind.
This is the same Paul who performed amazing miracles like his handkerchief was enough to heal people but yet he didn’t find healing despite praying about it several times. What the Lord told him is that His grace is sufficient for Him for His power is made perfect in weakness”.