Some Background Info.
My church has been studying Ephesians together for a few months now, in both sermons and smaller classes. The book of Ephesians is an epistle-that is a letter- found in the New Testament. It is often attributed to Paul the Apostle as its author, though there is some debate about that. Also, some of the earliest manuscripts don’t include the city name of Ephesus, from which the book derives its name. For this reason some scholars debate whether the letter was meant to be circulated among the many churches in Asia-Minor, now modern Turkey, or intended solely for the church in Ephesus.
Regardless of whether the Apostle Paul was the actual author (I’m convinced he was based on scholarly arguments about grammatical similarities to Colossians) or who was the intended audience (I suspect first the Ephesians and then perhaps nearby churches), its nature being Scripture reminds us that God is its ultimate author and salvation is its end (Baptist Faith & Message 2000). Therefore, Ephesians has always been and will always be important for the life of the Church in every age.
Grace and Gifts
There are many themes found in Ephesians: our identity in Christ, the universal Church in contrast with the local church, unity and the conciliatory work of Jesus Christ between God and man and then believing Jews and Gentiles. But perhaps none so great as the theme of Grace. What might be the calling card of the protestant-evangelical view of salvation, the oft quoted verses 2:8-9 read, “For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourself but a gift of God, not of works so that no man should boast.”
Grace is an amazing and profound concept. The simplest definition of it is, unmerited favor. Grace is favor which was not earned or worked for. Rather, it was given…it’s a gift! Another popular saying which contrasts grace against mercy describes it like this: Grace is receiving that which you don’t deserve and Mercy is not receiving what you do deserve. We deserve God’s wrath but instead He has mercy on us. We don’t deserve God’s favor yet He graciously gives it to us through His son Jesus.
Radio Preachers and a Bit of Exposition
Some years ago I had a thought provoking meditation about faith that was spurred on by a pair of sermons I heard on the radio. Pastor David Jeremiah was preaching from a passage in James 2 which argues that “faith without works is dead”. This passage serves as a kind of addendum to the concept of faith found in Ephesians. Pastor Jeremiah did an amazing job at revealing how the two passages which at an apparent level contradict each other, nevertheless do in fact complement each other.
The gist of his argument comes from the assertion that the passage in James is to be couched in the context of its periphery verses. There James’ illustrates a dialogue between two people who are asked how are they justified. One man says that he has faith while the other offers that he has works which are evidence of his faith. The result, the man who argues that his faith justifies him but lacks works also lacks evidence for the thing that supposedly justifies him.
I would liken this to two suspects being charged for the same murder. The first suspect says he’s innocent yet he provides no witness for an alibi. Alternatively, the second suspect, instead of answering the question of guilt directly, provides numerous friends who provide him an alibi. He doesn’t need to argue for his innocence because of the testimony of his friends, while the first suspect is sorely lacking in this area.
Pastor Jeremiah did a good job in bringing the sermon back to verse 10 in chapter two of Ephesians. There, just after Paul’s statement that salvation is through faith without works, we read, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It seems that Paul is saying that works are a result of being found in Christ, not a criterion for being found in Him.
Paul, in Ephesians, and James together paint the whole picture of faith and its relationship to works. Works are an inevitable outcome of the person who genuinely has faith in Christ. And the inevitable works we will do, God has planned beforehand.
But What Kind of Gift?
The other sermon I heard was by Dr. Charles Stanley. He was talking about the “gift” of salvation and in emphasizing this gift aspect I was sent on my way thinking, “what kind of a gift are we talking about?”
Well, first and foremost, it is the kind of gift we receive. Let’s take a step back and bring grace and faith together again. As we said earlier, grace is a kind of unmerited favor. It wasn’t earned or worked for, but given. Similarly, faith is not a product of works, though it will compel a person towards works. The entire work of salvation is a work done by God, not us. God is the author, perfecter, and accomplisher of our salvation. He literally does it all! (For you theology guys, you’ll pick up quickly that I’m strongly monergistic in this sense, and not synergistic. That’s for a later time though.)
Grace is a gift, faith is a gift, salvation is a gift.
It’s not something we bought or earned but something that was given to us (I know, I’ve said that a lot already). We did not obtain it by grasping or reaching out for it. Instead, in humility, we may hold our hands open as to show our willingness to receive, but I hesitate to think much more. I’m more inclined to say that is the kind of gift that is placed into the laps of those crushed by life. They sit on the sides of the streets crumpled over in despair, too humiliated to lift their eyes to make contact with the people passing them by. If someone were to walk up to them while their heads and hearts were sunk, placing a gift into their unexpecting laps; this is one manner in which we receive.
But perhaps that still fails to illustrate the profound way in which we were gifted. It’s not simply that we were broken-wretched souls, but Scripture says that salvation came to us while we were enemies of God, powerless, and deserving of His wrath (Rom. 5:6-11, Eph. 2:1-3). While we hated God, He gave His son Jesus to die on the cross, to be crushed for our sins. And unwilling to trust, He gives us faith. And powerless to be transformed, He gives us renewal by His Spirit. And orphaned by our rebellion, He gives us a Father. And having no family, He gives us the Church. I could go on but perhaps I should simply do like Paul in Ephesians and pray that your eyes be open to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us in Christ. (1:8, 18-19).
Gifts for Use
But once we receive this gift, what are we supposed to do with it? Well, we use things-gifts according to their function. What is the function of this gift of faith and salvation? We already addressed that in our investigation of Ephesians 1:10. We are to walk in the works which He has prepared beforehand for us to do.
Faith is unlike an award given to us which we might hang on a wall. It is not like fine-china or a painting. We are not to occasionally look at it remembering how precious it is, admiring it behind glass. It is not even like a nice suit or dress. A few times a year we wear it to the someone’s wedding (I don’t wear dresses in case you’re wondering ; ) ). And it’s not our Sunday best; the clothes we’re glad to be out of as soon as we get home from church each week.
It is a different kind of gift. I suppose, faith is something like the gift of musical ability. I don’t simply mean an innate talent or ability, but that is an aspect of it. More fully, what I mean is that faith is like the receiving of that musical ability when you had no prior capacity for it. Perhaps it would be something like a person who is severely dyslexic one day and wakes the next to find he has clear and accurate vision. The very nature of his ability to read and learn has changed.
If I could choose an instrument to have the present knowledge and ability to play, it would be a violin. There’s something about the sound of the violin, and people who are virtuosos at this instrument, that I am enamored with. People will weep and applaud at the hearing of their music and the abilities of these musicians are praised. We often do the same with our heroes of faith. We are impressed by the integrity of their lives and the great composition of works they have produced through their faith. Quite literally, a person’s life of faith is a beautiful thing.
Learning to play involves practice though. Yes, we must practice. We must exercise our faith. Faith is a like a discipline in that way, and faith is also like music in that way. And the greater the faith you have and live by, the more beautiful your life in Christ will be. There are times in life when little faith is required, and there are times when great faith is required. There is music for every season, and every season of life requires faith to a different degree. Whether through triumph or tragedy, in each season it is the calling of Christians to let the chords of their faith ring loudly.
“but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;” – Ephesians 5:18-19