A sermon from Eph. 4:1-6.
Have you ever given much thought to your identity? I’m not necessarily referring to your identity in Christ if you are a Christian. I mean all of the other ways that you describe yourself. Perhaps you think of yourself as primarily a mother or father. Some of you think of yourself as an athlete or a geek, Republican or Democrat. Sometimes, we are identified in ways that we don’t want to be identified like a lower-class person or less educated. Worse, some of us might get stereotyped because of identities that people put on us. For those of us who are in Christ, however, none of these positive or negative identifiers are our identity.
Christians have an identity, but often don’t know what it is or means. In the first chapter of Ephesians, we saw that saints are blessed by God because God has chosen them before He even created the universe to be holy and blameless before Him. This means that each one of us was known and each one of you saints was assigned an identity.
Your identity as a son or daughter was assigned in love. We see how it means that you are now a son or a daughter, and that as a child, you now have an inheritance and have been given a sign of that inheritance, the Holy Spirit.
Not only that, but the inheritance was not given to you because of something you did to deserve it. Rather, you were the opposite of someone who deserved it.
Your identity used to be “Dead.” But, because God is merciful you are alive. And not only that, but every other saint in here has been made alive. If we keep looking, we will see that as non-Jews we do not naturally have a birthright to the inheritance. However, Christ has torn down the dividing wall and reconciled all nations into one new man. In another letter, Paul phrases this reality in another way: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Former primary identities take a back-seat to the reality of the new man!
Our brother Paul writes, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Its common parlance within churches for pastors to tell their people that when they see a “therefore” they should look before. This is for good reason!
Paul typically couches ethical instruction in this format: This is what is, so this is how it should be. In other words, Paul is saying to you that because you have a new identity in Christ, you should walk in that new identity. Now, walking has significance within this epistle and the Bible as a whole. Prior to God making us alive, we walked in the way of sin and transgression (2:1). Later in the epistle, Paul would again tell the Ephesians how to walk: not like the Gentiles (4:17). The Psalmist under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” Walking indicates a pattern of life, a direction, and a destination, but more than than that, it also is another Biblical way to say “be.” Paul wants the saints in Ephesus to be who they are supposed to be: saints.
This action isn’t something that they have to muster amongst themselves. The wordplay in the text shows the foundation for Paul’s ethical exhortation: these saints have already been made saints. Election is underserved, but it does not permit disobedience. The standard and provision for worthy conduct is sourced and measured by the transformed identity that each one has in Christ.
What qualities should this walk have though? Paul identifies three characteristics of this walk – of this life of the saint. I want you to pay attention to the three characteristics the Holy Spirit inspired him to write: humility, gentleness, and patience. Now, these are qualities of someone else who we know very well. If there was one humble, it is: “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Similarly, Peter wrote that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Humility, gentleness, and patience are characteristics of Christ. If the exhortation to walk is synonymous with identity, then Paul is encouraging the saints to be like Christ. Being humble, gentle, and patient is how you live in a manner worthy of your calling!
Lest there be any question about how you should walk, Paul piles on instruction on how a saint should walk. He writes, “by bearing with one another in love.” Elsewhere in the Bible, God is describe with patiently bearing with Israel’s disobedience, and the Matthew the disciple remembered how Jesus bore with their faithlessness. This isn’t begrudging bearing though. This isn’t the type of bearing that you do when you have to wait in line at the DMV or the traffic on the interstate. This bearing with one another is done gladly. This bearing with one another is done in love. “In love” is so significant in Ephesians, right? In love, God predestined these Ephesians for adoption. Because of love – even when we didn’t love God – He made us alive with Christ. Christians are to encourage each other by speaking the truth in love. “In love” is both describing the manner in which we walk with one another and how we walk with one another.
Lets be honest, some of us get on each others nerves. She sits in your preferred spot. He sings really loud, and he sounds awful. That kid won’t just sit still and you are annoyed that the parents won’t do something about it. Walking in a manner worthy of your calling means that you glady endure their idiosyncrasies – you bear with them in love.
We also walk in a manner worthy of our calling by being eager to guard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If “in love” is important in Ephesians, “unity” is central. In fact, some scholars believe that it is the theme of the book. Before we will guard the unity, however, we have to feel like it is valuable.
Christ paid a heavy price to unify Jew and Gentile together into one new man; it is by his blood that people far off from God are brought into confident access to Him. The fact that Gentiles could inherit the promise of Abraham is the mystery of Ephesians. Its not just a mystery, it seems to run counter to the entire Old Testament! Gentiles were the ones who didn’t have the Law or Prophets; they practiced all sorts of vices. Moreover, they were not children of Abraham. This unification of the rag-tag Gentiles to the Jews demonstrates the “manifold wisdom of God.”
Failure to guard unity confounds that “manifold wisdom of God.” Today, racial and cultural strife outside of the church can spill into the body and threaten unity. When poor Christians don’t feel welcome in our church because they aren’t rich enough, the wisdom of God is confounded. When Christians of other ethnicities don’t feel welcome in our church because we don’t like how they worship, the wisdom of God is confounded. When we start a church just for cowboys, the wisdom of God is confounded. When we start a church looking to attract only one demographic, the wisdom of God is confounded. When an older generation despises a younger generation or a younger generation loathes and older generation, the wisdom of God is confounded. When you don’t like that he can be here, you confound the wisdom of God.
The church is not a homogeneous mixture of Stepford wives. We maintain our individual personalities, but we exchange all other identities with the identity of the new man. In fact, the glory of God is manifest when He can take people from every nation on the earth and make them into one family! If our identity conflicts with that new man, identifying with Christ and the new man takes precedent. This honors the Lord. It honors the Lord to to say, “I love unity with you more than I love who I am.”
Walking in accord with God’s call means that conflicts of interests and preference should be met with Christ-like humility, gentleness, and patience. However, this isn’t something that the Ephesians had to muster up and nor do we.
The Sprit is the one who is responsible for building this community in the first place: hence, the unity of the Spirit. The Spirit accomplishes unity in the body when the elect walk according to their calling. Look here a the phrase “bond of peace.” We have already seen peace in Ephesians. If we look back to Ephesians 2:11-22, we see that before Christ, there was hostility! We all love ourselves and who we were over each other. But, Christ made peace when he made the new man! Christ has unified all people in Himself to make peace between them.
This peace and unity was accomplished by God, but we see human responsibility here, right? Christ says to His Church through the words of Paul, I made peace and unity when I made each of you alive into one new man, but you have to walk humbly by bearing with one another in love and being eager to guard the unity that I made. You see, the gospel is a whole package. It is the good news about what God has done and how He expects us to live in response. We shouldn’t get scared when texts seem to prescribe conduct; we should thank God that He tells us exactly what pleases Him. Here in Ephesians we see a small slice of that: live your life in a way that maintains and honors what the Lord has done among each of you when he made you all saints. Be loving. Guard unity. Its up to you!
Paul grounds this whole exhortation in a theological confession that borders poetry. This is important, because the kind of unity that we are talking about here is different that the camaraderie of humanity. The Church is unified because it has one God and one way in.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—“ There is only one Body of Christ. It is composed of many different assemblies around the word, but it is all one body. Within that assembly of saints, there are many individual parts that make the whole. The very fact that all of us share a common interest in gathering early on a Sunday to worship the Lord is evidence of the oneness between us, but not just us, right? Because the church down the road is gathered to. Are they apart of the same body? Yes, because of what Paul writes in the next line: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” No one confesses that Jesus is Lord apart from the work of the Spirit. So anyone who confesses Christ in this way is a brother or sister. This, however, is also an exclusive phrase. So-called “Christians” who deny the work – the death, burial, and resurrection – of Jesus are not Christians. People who deny the truths of the Bible – like God being three Persons or one entitiy or that marriage is between a man and a woman as He created them in the Garden before the fall – these people are not confessing the “one faith.” One note on baptism here: We are Baptists and can prove in Scripture that baptism is for believers only. Its probably best in this particular verse however to take “baptism” to do less with the mode and more with identifying with Christ. So, others who practice baptism in other ways I would argue have a deficient view of baptism in like of the Bible, but they still have the “one baptism” if they are baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, those who flaunt lives that dishonor their baptism – that is publicly declaring allegiance to Christ – are not brothers.
Under in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul concludes this confession talking about God the Father. I think that because Paul is writing in the context of a confession with a focus on unity, I think that “all” probably applies to believers. God is the God of all believers and there is only one Father. So, the saint worshiping in Seoul or Stockholm worships the same Father that we are this morning. This is really amazing when you think about it. You might never meet them, but they are your brother or sister.
Trinitarian unity is the model for Christian unity. In 4:4-6, we see the Spirit, Son, and Father. They work together in distinct ways to accomplish a mission, but they are one as this passage makes very clear. God is one, and his people should live in that same oneness.
If Christians don’t walk in a manner worthy of their calling, they muddle the image of unity within the Church. We all have a common election and a common confession and this requires us to walk by patiently loving one another and eagerly guarding the unity of the Body. We must, by the Spirit’s help, develop Christ-like virtues of humility, gentleness, and patience to walk in unity. When we walk in unity like this, God is honored and his glory is made radiant.