When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of who God is. When God is Big…Identity is a Gift — Who are you? Who or what defines you? What does it mean to be true to yourself? These are questions of identity. When God is small, you are responsible for creating and maintaining your own identity. This is stressful and exhausting. But when God is big, identity is received as a gift of grace in Christ. This brings security and peace, no matter what happens in life. Recorded on Oct 17, 2021, on Ephesians 1:3-10, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series called When God is Big… In this series, we’re considering how a bigger view of God changes everything, including how we live out our values and deal with our struggles. Last week, we looked at how a bigger view of God helps us deal with our struggle with fear. If you missed any of the messages from this series, you can always go back and watch on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast if you’d like. Well, today, we get to address one of the main issues that people in our culture struggle with today, which is understanding/establishing your identity. Now, I am a Christian, husband, father, pastor, friend. I’m a Packer fan, I’m an extrovert, I’m an ENTJ, I have 1.25 dogs. But who am I? What among these details defines me? How do I know if I’m being authentic to my true self? These are questions of identity. And these are huge questions because they tap into how we see/define/present ourselves in this world. Who are you? What is at the core of who you are? Well, if you have a Bible/app, please open to Eph 1, starting with v.3. This morning, we get to look at a very famous passage, which every Christian needs to understand, because it reveals so much about our true identity, our authentic self, who we truly are, in Christ. Let’s start with v. 3.
Ephesians 1:3–10 (NIV), “3 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. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Now, Ephesians was a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the city of Ephesus in modern Turkey. Now, Ephesians was written broadly, meaning, it was meant to be shared with other churches in other communities. So it’s a great letter to study if you’re coming into Christianity. However, the passage we just read is dense and somewhat difficult to follow. In fact, it’s one long sentence in Greek. I think the reason that Paul did this was once he started describing who we are “in Christ” (as he says), he can’t help but add one detail after another, brick by brick, until he has built up a towering description of what God has accomplished for us through the person and work of Jesus. Let’s work through this once again starting with v. 3.
Ephesians 1:3, “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.” So we start with a blessing or a call to praise God. Praise be, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He has blessed us. And this means that everything about who we are and what we have “in Christ” comes from God the Father in heaven. He deserves all the glory/honor/praise. Well, what does every spiritual blessing mean? What does that refer to? Let’s continue with v.4.
Ephesians 1:4, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So God the Father in heaven, chose us, he elected, he picked us in him, that is, in Christ, when? After we proved ourselves to be worthy? After we justified ourselves or our potential? No, he chose us in him before the creation of the world. Our Father had us in mind before there was ever space or time. And what do you think he thought of you all the way back then? How useful you would be to him? How much he needed you? No! Paul says that our Father chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. God chose us to perfect us. Holiness refers to being set apart for God, sacred and not profane. Blameless means to be without sin and without even a hint of guilt or shame. This is how God envisioned us in Christ. This is what he chose us to be. But we have a problem. We aren’t holy and blameless today. We have all sorts of problems. We constantly fail to live up to even our own standards of right and wrong. We’re always getting our feelings hurt or our noses bent out of shape or stepping on the toes of the people who are our closest friends and family members, the people we have every incentive to love. And let’s not start with our devotion to God. We make one tiny little sacrifice for God and we expect God to give us a standing ovation. So are we holy and blameless? And the answer should be well, obviously, we’re not. Well then, how would God accomplish his vision for us? How would God overcome this problem? Look at v. 5.
Ephesians 1:5-6, “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 love’ here, means that the entire motive of the gospel, the reason that God acts in this world and in our lives, the why behind the what is rooted in his great and inexplicable love for us. So because of his love for us, God predestined/predetermined, he decided in advance to do something. To do what? He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ. The word that is translated adoption to sonship is a technical word that means that when we are adopted, no matter who we are, male or female, that we would receive full inheritance rights just as a legal son would have in the Roman Empire. Now, Paul isn’t saying that we all become male. He’s saying that we all, male and female, are adopted fully into the family of God, with all the inheritance rights of legal children. And here, Paul reminds us that this adoption to sonship takes place through Jesus Christ and in accordance with the pleasure and will of the Father. This is what God planned to do, this is what God wanted to do, and the outworking of this plan to adopt us and to make us holy and blameless in Christ is something that brings God pleasure, he’s happy to do it. Of course, all of this is to the praise of his glorious grace! The grace of God is something that is totally unique about Christianity. There’s nothing like it in any of the other world religions or philosophies. The reason that sinful men and women might be adopted into the family of God and made holy and blameless is only because of the grace of God, only because God had decided in advance to give us his free and unmerited favor. But how? How does God give us his grace? Paul says that God has freely given us his grace in the One he loves, that is, in Jesus Christ, the true Son of God. The Father loves the Son and wants to, in fact, delights to not only save sinners but to gather them to himself as adopted sons and daughters in his family. Isn’t this amazing? Isn’t this crazy? This is why the gospel is good news. But again, what does God do about the fact that we are so far from holy and blameless today? Does he just ignore our sin? Does he sweep it under the rug? Not at all. Look at v. 7.
Ephesians 1:7, “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.” In him means, again, in Christ, we have redemption. Well, what is redemption? The word redemption comes from the Latin phrase meaning ‘to buy back.’ So to redeem something means to purchase its freedom. You might think it’s a bit extreme to say that people are slaves to sin, but just try and be a perfect person and see how long you last. But rather than ignoring our sin or sweeping it under the rug, God provides redemption for us, how? Through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, freely offered as a sacrifice to atone or pay the price for our sins. In Christ, we have one who was willing to be our substitute, to take our place. And his sacrifice, the cross of Christ, is what allows us to have complete forgiveness of sins. God doesn’t ignore the fact that we are far from holy and blameless, and he never gives up hope in his vision of who we could be that he has had for us since before the creation of the world. But he has made a way for us to find redemption and forgiveness. He has made it possible for us to become holy and blameless, how? In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us! According to Paul and according to the whole record of the Bible, God has billions of dollars worth of grace, and he has transferred all of it to our bank account. He has lavished his grace on us in Christ. And this is a great reminder that the Bible isn’t first a list of rules to follow or things to avoid in order to make God happy with us. It is first and foremost a story of who God is and what he has accomplished on our behalf in Jesus. If it’s anything, it’s a story of God’s love and his redeeming grace, lavished on us. v. 8.
Ephesians 1:8-10, “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.” God doesn’t act by chance or do things by accident. This whole plan, starting before the creation of the world and continuing on to this very day and on again into the future, has been done with all of God’s wisdom and understanding. God has been carefully, methodically, working out his plan of salvation and redemption and adoption throughout space and time. In the OT, we could see hints and shadows of how God would bring this plan to completion, but it wasn’t until the cross and the empty tomb that God revealed to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure. After Jesus, you can’t read the OT and not see how it prepared us for the coming of Jesus. But the details were still a mystery beforehand. Again, Paul reminds us as if we’ve forgotten that our Father in heaven purposed all of this in Christ. Jesus is the chief cornerstone. He is the true Son of the Father. He is the beginning and the end. So even though Jesus would receive many more brothers and sisters through this divine plan of adoption, he would still have supremacy. And his preeminence would be put into effect when? When the times reach their fulfillment, in the fullness of time, as Paul writes to the Galatians, what? That the Father would bring unity, that God would sum up, all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Now, here we move from the present to the future. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, the grace of God and the fullness of the gospel have been made known. The redemption and adoption and forgiveness of God are offered freely to all in Christ. And for those who believe in Jesus and are united with him by faith, we are in the process of being made holy. But this process will not be complete, and the ultimate plan of God to unite all things under the Lordship of Christ, will not be complete, until the return of Christ. So as we look forward to that future day when God will finish what he started all the way back before the creation of the world, we have so many reasons to give him the glory/honor/praise today. Just look and see what God has done! Well, what does this have to do with the struggle of identity? How does this apply to how we see/define ourselves? And the answer is this:
When God is Big…Identity is a Gift. This passage has everything to do with identity! In the gospel, we find that who we are is a gift of God’s grace, given to us in Christ. After the name of every single Christian, every single man, woman, or child who believes in and follows Jesus, there could be a list of adjectives from this passage alone. A few weeks ago, we looked at a passage where Jesus said his disciples’ names were written in heaven. From God’s perspective, I believe our names could be written something like this: David [blessed, chosen, becoming holy and blameless, loved, predestined, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven, he needed God’s grace, but it was lavished on him in Christ] Parks. I’m not sure that would fit on a business card, but for the Christian, this is your identity, this is who you are in Christ! At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it doesn’t really matter what you do or even what has been done to you. The most important thing about your identity is who you are in Christ.
But here’s the problem: When God is small to you, then you are responsible for creating and maintaining your own identity, your own sense of self. And how do we do that? The world says that what you do defines who you are. What you do for work or how much money you make or who you are attracted to sexually or what your politics are, and so on. We’re told that these are the things that define us. But this is just not a good way to live. Why? Well, what happens if you define yourself through your work (in or outside the home) and then you get sick or you lose your job or something happens that disrupts your ability to work? Then, not only do you need to maybe find another job, but you’ve lost your sense of self as well. It’s no wonder that so many people are so stressed out and anxious today. Every day your very self is on the line. But when God is big…and when you see yourself primarily through the lens of how God sees you. When you receive your identity as a gift of God’s redeeming and life-giving grace in Christ, then what you do doesn’t define you. But for the Christian, what you do ought to flow out of who you are in Christ. Then stability is possible, freedom of possible. Who you are is secure, no matter what might happen in life. And this is such a better way to live. But even for the Christian, we need to be reminded of this again and again. Because it’s so tempting to define ourselves by what we do. Remember that Paul was writing this letter to men and women who were already Christians. So every one of us needs to be reminded of who we are in Christ. When God is big, identity is a gift. And what a gift it is.