Irresistible Love

ephesians 300X150What is a Christian?  A Christian is someone who in Christ knows the irresistible love of God.

We are not accustomed to focusing on God and his plan. In our world perspective, we as human beings are the primary actors on the stage of history, but here God is the primary actor.

A. God at work for us in Christ and through the Spirit.

1. “God is for us" (Rom. 8:31), the one who has chosen us. God has always been and always will be this kind of God. God is the God of past, present, and future, and in all three he is at work for us. Our security rests on what he did before the foundation of the world, on what he did and continues to do in Christ and in the Spirit, and on what he has promised for the future. God has intentionally chosen and planned to go to great lengths to achieve salvation for people. This is not an afterthought on his part, but the very essence of who he is.

2. God is a gregarious God. The outcome of creation is not in doubt, for God has been at work from the beginning and has already set Christ as the one who will accomplish his purposes. God will have a people for himself. When that happens, people will see how loving and relational he is.

3. God who is worshiped. Great worship always has this "narrative" quality, recounting the actions of God. For Christians, while they do not ignore other actions of God, the centre is always on God’s work in Christ

1. Being In Christ

The idea of being "in Christ" can be difficult to understand. How could early Christians think they were "in" a person who had been alive with them only a few years earlier and whose brothers they knew? They did not speak of being in James, nor do we speak of being in John Wesley or Martin Luther.

The difficulty in our comprehending the idea of being in Christ is compounded by typical evangelical language about conversion. Christians today usually speak of inviting Christ into their hearts in order to be able to go to heaven.

"In Christ" with its 164 occurrences, 36 of which are in Ephesians, is much more likely the central motif of our relationship with God. Just as redemption is "in Christ" (1:7), so justification and every other act of God take place in Christ.

In fact, the only way that the atonement makes sense, the only way that Christ’s death is effective for us, is if the union between Christ and believers is so strong that in some way his death is our death and his life is our life. This solidarity is achieved by a double identification via the Incarnation and faith. In the Incarnation Christ identifies with us and by faith we identify with him.

Closely related to the idea of being "in Christ" is the language of doing something "with Christ" or of "dying and rising with Christ." The result is that believers are so closely connected to Christ that the "body" image is one of the most expressive pictures of the relation. Christians are part of Christ (5:30) and part of each other (4:25)..

The statement that Christians are part of Christ has enormous implications for how we understand salvation and who Jesus is.

(1) With regard to salvation, Paul teaches that we are embodied in Christ and share his death and resurrection. Evangelicals usually focus on Christ’s substitution for us as the key idea in salvation. As important as substitution is (see 5:2), it is only one aspect of the explanation, not the whole teaching. In fact, the way people understand substitution often militates against Paul’s emphasis on being in Christ, for substitution suggests that Christ takes our place and we are removed from the picture, whereas in Paul’s view we are caught up into Christ and made one with him.

(2) With regard to who Jesus is, Christ is no longer viewed merely as a human being. He is the cosmic Christ, the focus of God’s activity from eternity (1:4), the one who embodies and represents all humanity (1:6-7), the one in whom all God’s good gifts are available (1.-3), and the one in whom all creation can be summed up (1:10).

People sin because they forget God. How strange that we forget the "place" we live. If we know we live before God and in Christ, we know we live in a defining presence. Our lives become determined by the character of Christ and God. It becomes increasingly difficult to say, "I know I live in Christ, but I am going to do the opposite of what Christ expects." Christian ethics are grounded in our being in Christ.

If we emphasise only that Christ is in us, we define reality, and Christ is about one inch tall. If we realise we are in Christ, he determines reality and encompasses all we are.

Christians must live like people who know their "geography," who know they live in Christ and consequently are part of him. As a result, Christians should never view themselves merely as individuals. Yes, they are still individual persons, but not merely individuals.

Realising we are "in Christ" will change the way we do evangelism. The standard line of "asking Jesus into your heart so you can go to heaven" is weak in comparison to what Paul describes.

What language shall we use to invite people into Christ? Possibly the discipleship imagery of following Jesus or attaching oneself to him is a good place to begin. Attaining salvation, in other words, does not result from believing enough facts, but from being joined to Christ. The emphasis on going to heaven needs to be placed in perspective so that present life with Christ and life in the Spirit receive proper attention. Such evangelism may require more thought, but it almost certainly will have more effect in changing lives.

The irresistible Love of God

We have difficulty thinking that God chooses some and ignores the rest. How can God be a God of love and do this? But such conclusions run far beyond the text of Ephesians.

At the same time, perhaps election is not as foreign as first thought. Being selected for a team or an organisation, being admitted to a school, or being chosen by someone of the opposite sex are all affirmations of value.

The election language in Ephesians 1 is primarily about God and shows why God should be praised. If the focus is corporate rather than individual and if people are elect only in the Elect One, Christ, then this text has nothing to do with our fear that God chooses some and ignores others. That is a non-biblical conclusion about the result of election and the question who is elect.

All the focus on God’s choosing and acting should not be taken to an extreme.

As one theologian put it, "With theology you always have to pay." He meant that if we pay too much on one theological idea, we do not have enough left for other necessary truths. People often pay so much for ideas like election that they have nothing left to pay for other necessities like human freedom and responsibility.

The focus of the biblical text is on the cause of election—God—and its purpose—that Christians live holy and blameless before God.

No one should worry whether he or she is elect. The main question is: "Are you in Christ and one with him?"

We are to live holy and blameless lives before God. Some will blanche at the call to be holy and blameless. While Paul rejected his so-called blameless experience as a Jew, he still called on Christians to live blamelessly (cf. Phil. 2:15 with 3:6). Christians are to live lives of service to God.

Sometimes Christians debate whether the church is a company of freed believers or a hospital for sick souls. This is not an either- or choice, for surely the church is made up of believers who have been given freedom in Christ in order to be a community of healing for the broken.

Christians are to live in a holy and blameless manner before God (1:4). This is not an oppressive weight, but as much privilege as it is responsibility. We are called to live in keeping with God’s intent for us.

Whatever else the church is, it must be a community of changed people, a community focused on ethical living before God. The concern is not "do- goodism" or keeping rules, but being people who live out their relation to God. People, both in and outside the church, have the right to expect changed behaviour from Christians. Purity—or right living—is not an option.

Nowhere is proper conduct more needed than in the lives of church leaders and pastors. We live in a time when virtually all respect for pastors and church leaders has been lost, for too many of these people have abused their positions for selfish reasons or have shown that their relation with God made no difference. Ethical living that flows from life with God is the responsibility of all Christians, and leaders must demonstrate that or resign. To be blessed and valued by God demands life in keeping with God.

Five key words to describe Christianity—grace, truth, faith, love, and hope. All five appear in 1:3— 14 and in key passages throughout the letter. There is a logical order to the five. Grace always comes first,- that is why it receives so much attention at the beginning of this letter. It describes God’s action and is foundational for understanding the other terms.

Grace is a difficult word. People know it is important, but too often it carries little meaning (in spite of the popularity of the song "Amazing Grace")

Grace is the reality we need for life. It emphasises that God values us and seeks us despite our failure and sin. It underscores that God is the one who always takes the initiative and who empowers us. Even when human beings ignore him, God still seeks people and draws them to himself. "Grace" is too important theologically to drop, but it is so hard to grasp that it may have to be modelled before it can be understood.

Why do people fail to live in relation to God and to serve him? Is it not because most of the time we view God as a remote being, cut off from us and not involved with us—a being whose expectations are not important, at least not in the reality we know?

God is not remote, that he has been and is active for us, and that he will affect both individuals and the church by what he does.

As Walter Wink reminds us, ‘To worship is to remember Who owns the house." Or as Tom Wright points out, "You become like what you worship." Devotion shapes us, but since we were created in the image of God, only God has the right to shape us. All else is distortion and sin. Worship is our breath, our hold on life. Learn to worship.