In the first chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul provides his spiritually young audience an overview of the Christian life. Although brief (the chapter is only twenty-three verses), Paul covers considerable ground as he tackles this weighty subject matter. It is an exceptional and encouraging epistle that serves as a theological primer for new and young Christians, both yesteryear and today. For that reason, it is worth exploring each stage briefly.
1) Chosen: Paul wastes no time getting started. In verse four we read, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ” (Ephesians 1:4, NLT). Take a moment to meditate on that incredible statement. Before creating the foundations of this world, and long before you were born, God chose you to spend eternity with Him. That profound truth is so important that Paul reiterates it in the next verse: “God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (1:5a).
Now you may wonder why God almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, would choose you to be part of His family? Well, Paul answers that question in the second half of the verse: “This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure” (1:5b). We didn’t merit or earn this honor through our works; it was entirely His choice – a product of His grace.
Perhaps aware that this fundamental truth may be difficult to accept, Paul revisits the point a third time in verse eleven: “God chose us in advance.” At this point, there should be no confusion that our citizenship in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with our own efforts but is entirely a function of God’s choice. Jesus explained it to His disciples in this way: “For no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them to Me” (John 6:44, NLT). Those God chose in the past He draws to Christ in the present so that they spend eternity with Him in the future.
2) Purchased: Having learned of God’s decision to bring us into His family, some may ask, ‘how did He accomplish this?’ Paul addresses that question with this theologically thick statement: “God is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins” (vs. 7). Notice that God is purchasing our freedom – but freedom from what? Sin! Jesus tells us, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34b, NKJV). And since all have sinned (see Romans 3:23), all are slaves to sin, which eventually leads to death (see James 1:15 and Romans 6:16, 8:2).
But God frees us from sin and death through the blood of Jesus, “for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22b, NLT). And without forgiveness “each person is destined to die once and after that face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27a, NLT). And that judgment leads to condemnation for those without Christ (see John 3:18, 36). So “Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14b). As a result, Jesus “with His own blood … secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12, NLT).
We who have been purchased by the blood of Christ are now His. Consequently, we can echo Paul’s statement, “I have been crucified with Christ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
3) Sealed: When we commit our lives to Jesus, God places His seal on us, confirming our salvation and our citizenship in His kingdom. That seal is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us, “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (vs. 13). The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by our ongoing sanctification (among other things), assures us we belong to God and are part of His family, The disciple John explains, “God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us.” (1 John 4:13, NLT). Paul reiterates this point when he tells the church at Corinth, God “sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” (2 Corinthians 1:22, NKJV). In a similar vein he reminds his audience that by the Holy Spirit of God“ you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30, NKJV). This gives those of us who believe in Christ considerable confidence in our salvation.
4) Re-purposed: Having learned that God manifested His love when He chose us from the beginning, purchased us with Christ’s blood, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit, we now turn to the question of why? Paul offers this clear and compelling response: “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify Him.” (Ephesians 1:14, NLT). It is important to understand, accept, and apply this critical truth. Too often we focus on the first sentence and ignore the second. We revel in the knowledge that God made us His people and promised us an inheritance, and understandably so. But that cannot come at the expense of knowing why He did that. The two are inexorably linked. God’s people praise and glorify Him because He is worthy and they are grateful. This lifestyle of worship is the product of a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. It no longer seeks to satisfy self but instead pursues the presence of God. In Christ, we have new life and new meaning. We have been re-purposed to exalt Him.
5) Enlightened: Paul tells the Ephesian church he prays that God will “give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17, NLT). This knowledge deepens the believer’s relationship with the Lord, strengthens his faith, and produces spiritual fruit. And it flows generously from God who “has showered (us) … with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8, NLT). This wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit and includes a) knowing what to say when accused and ridiculed for your faith (Luke 12:11-12); b) understanding Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 John 2:27); c) insight into the mind of Christ (John 15:26); and d) guiding us in all truth, including the future (John 16:13).
6) Empowered: Paul prays that his audience “will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19-20a, NLT). There are four aspects of this power we need to understand. First, it is God’s power and therefore infinitely greater than the power of man. Second, God gives this power to all “who believe Him.” Only Christians have access to this power, which accompanies the Holy Spirit when He enters our lives. Third, this power glorifies God, as evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. And finally, this power accomplishes God’s will and furthers His interests. We do not use it to satisfy our selfish ambitions, pursue our dreams, advance our agendas, or acquire worldly treasures, influence, and accolades. Those who do will fail; their greed and self-centeredness revealing their false faith in Christ. (For a more detailed discussion of God’s power in the Christian life, click here).
Of course, this is neither a comprehensive list nor an exhaustive study of the stages in a Christian life. Remember, the Ephesian church was young and untrained in truth. Paul wanted to equip them with some fundamentals of the faith so they would grow as believers and resist the teaching of false prophets, who were proliferating in the area. Hopefully, this brief overview of that message will encourage and equip new believers today to move forward boldly and enthusiastically in their faith.