Welcome to the Family IV - Our Father’s Masterpiece
I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found!
When they handed out the artisan gifts, my name never came up. In fact, my name didn’t come up for a lot of gifts that were handed out.
For example, I am not gifted in sports at all – somehow that completely missed me and so consequently I was always among the kids picked last for any of the school sports teams. To this day I am no great fan of sports.
I also was overlooked when it came to the gifts of the trades. I am very sorry to have to admit that here this morning, especially given all the trades people here, but do not give me a hammer, a saw or screwdriver. Serious damage can happen if you do!
Then, of course, none of the artisan gifts were given to me. In case you are wondering “wow, what a useless guy he is”, let me assure you that I do have gifts in other areas but athleticism, the trades and the creative gifts are not among them.
I am not a painter, a poet, nor a sculptor - that may be behind the fact that I totally missed something in our study last Sunday as we looked at the later part of Ephesians 2.
By now you should know that we are in a series called Welcome to the Family, which looks at the “Letter To The Ephesians” through the lens of a church that was experiencing many new people coming into the family.
So in the first chapter and first part of the second chapter, Paul outlines the amazing work of coming into God’s family.
It tells of how “I once was lost, but now am found”, and of the amazing power it took for God to bring us out of our former way of life and into this new life in the family of God!
It literally took a second birth which has brought us into God’s family.
The key passage that outlines this is Eph. 2:4-10:
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Lest we somehow overlook the enormity of what has happened to us, Paul paints an incredibly vivid picture of what “I once was lost but now am found” looks like.
The power that raised Jesus from dead took us, who “were dead in transgressions”, and “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.”
In other words, a complete change of nature, a coming into God’s family not as adoptees but as those born a second time with all the old sins and claims on us cancelled instantly and us given the Holy Spirit as our personal strength and guide.
The miracle of second birth is the most significant thing ever witnessed! We must never underestimate how huge someone coming into the family of God really is!
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is it! Once I have come into the family the enormous work of second birth is done!
As long as I remain in the family, don’t wander off too far, and remain grateful, then I will be okay. And if I remember whose work this is, then I am free to live out my days as I wish.
Not so fast, my friend. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like you owe something or are indebted to your liberator or that there are strings attached to receiving second birth. I’m not suggesting that.
What I am suggesting though, is that once you are in the family of God the work really begins in earnest.
A Work of Art
The work that begins in earnest is wrapped up in the word “handiwork” in Eph. 2:10.
Up until now all the work was done for us. None of the great miracle of second birth, which brings us into God’s family was our doing. Notice what is says:
“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
All of this was God’s amazing work with us as the recipients. But then notice how the wind shifts in the next verse: “10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
It may not seem like much at first glance but this is one of the most significant verses in this entire section because with this the wind truly changes moving the onus onto us.
That is what you see in the word “handiwork”
Handiwork is actually an artisan expression which may actually be the reason I didn’t notice it (because remember, none of the artistic gifts were given to me).
In fact, the larger setting in which the word “handiwork” is framed is one of an art exhibition, which is one of the more startling ideas in this wider passage.
If the language of Eph. 2:6-7 doesn’t describe an art exhibition then I don’t know what does: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
In plain English Paul is saying that one of the reasons God raised us up is so that we would eventually be seated in the heavenly realms as a showcase of God’s amazing grace.
What our Father wants to show off is the amazing life transformation that has happened in us since our second birth.
How we can go from mere paint chips on a canvas or a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel to an amazing work of art that will astonish the universe. That’s His ultimate dream for us.
Here’s my point for today: While the second birth is all God’s doing with us as the happy recipients, the work of life transformation is the result of as much of our work as it is of God’s work.
Little by Little!
The word “handiwork” captures the idea of what happens to us once we have come into the family of God.
Coming into His family is only the beginning of an incredible life long process that sees you morph more and more into your Father’s likeness.
While we may well have our Father’s eyes once we are born a second time into God’s family, we need to remember that this is all we have. The rest now needs to come into conformity to that new nature we received.
The good news is that coming into God’s family through second birth means we have a new nature and thus have his DNA in us but that’s all we have.
We now need to use our new nature to begin to conform everything about our old way of life into this new one. That is quite a process, my friend.
Everything about us has to change. Our actions and deeds, our thoughts and words, our attitudes and ways of looking at things; old patterns need to be broken and old habits need to go.
We needs our mind renewed day by day, so that little by little we are formed into our Father’s likeness so that we begin to think like him, react like him, act like him, behave like him and talk like him.
We should be becoming the spitting image of our Father in heaven. That’s what is wrapped up in the word “handiwork.”
The word “handiwork” literally means a work of art. Literally “to do, to make” and refers to something that is made or created, which is why the Jerusalem Bible uses the phrase “work of art”.
It carries the same idea as in the days of the high school art class where you spun the lump of clay on the potter’s wheel with the hope of making a masterpiece (which in my case was always a lopsided coffee mug without a handle).
Only if you were an artist could you create incredible pottery out of clay. That’s what the word “handiwork” means; a work of art that points to a master artist.
In fact, take another look at Eph. 2:10 where that word appears.
It says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” and notice the three words/ phrases “created”, “prepared in advance” and “for us to do”.
These are the keys that explain what is involved in us becoming God’s work of a
This master artist is none other than God himself as the word “created” suggests.
When it says, “we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works”, the word ‘barah’ is used for “created”. ‘Barah’ is only used of God and refers to the original creative energy only God can exert.
While we may create, we will never create like God. This is why He is known as the Creator because He alone can take nothing and create something beautiful, as witnessed all around us in nature.
“The universe was formed at God’s command so that what is seen is not made out of what was visible.” Heb. 11:3
He is the Creator, the Artist, the Composer and the Potter. We are the portrait, the composition and the sculpture.
Like any wooden sculpture ever started, so also the Creator went into the forest and brought back a block of wood all rough, cold and dirty.
He made it his own and brought it back to his woodshop to begin his work. He chopped, hacked and cut. Then He chiseled, carved and sanded until a fine work of art was masterfully created.
When our Father gave us second birth, it was like He went into the bush and retrieved this old, crooked log which was far from promising.
He had noticed you lying there, had his eye on you for a long time and repeatedly reached out to you.
When you agreed for him to save you, He made you his own by giving you second birth, brought you into his woodshop and immediately began to do his work. He began to cut away the old rot and began to bring out the beauty.
As long as you work with him, your Father will mold and shape you into His image.
2. “Which God prepared in advance for us to do”
The key to this is for us to work with Him. Before we look at that more closely I want you to notice secondly the phrase “which God prepared in advance for us to do”.
This carries the idea of ‘to prepare beforehand, to make ready beforehand’, suggesting that He already knew what He wanted us to look like.
When God found and retrieved us, He did not see what we were but only saw what we would become!
When God looks at us half-finished in his workshop, He doesn’t get frustrated with the slow progress or with the work still needing to happen, but instead all He sees is what we can become and what He has in mind for us.
As He looks at his masterpiece sitting in his woodshop amidst all the woodchips, shavings and dust, instead of feeling discouraged or frustrated, God marvels at the work already done and is thrilled about the work yet to be done.
He knows exactly what His masterpiece is to look like and He won’t rest until it becomes that.
3. “To do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”
For that to happen, the analogy of us as the raw material falls apart, since which raw material has ever risen up to work with the master artist?
Raw material is just that, raw material. It isn’t a living, breathing sentient being. It’s just a blog of wood, a pile of clay, a bunch of paint chips or a piece of stone.
This is not what we are. The Bible actually calls us living stones. We are sentient beings and thus active partners with the Creator in the greatest creation ever seen on God’s planet.
There may well be seven other great wonders in God’s creation but you need to know that you and I are the first one!
There is nothing as beautiful as when a sentient being is transformed from a lifeless object that merely exists into a living, dynamic being that not only has its Father’s eyes but becomes more and more like its Father.
For that to happen, the living stone partners with the Creator in the creating. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is all the Creator’s work. Don’t lie around like a lump of clay waiting for the Creator to do His magic.
You may be in His woodshop with him having given you second birth, but if all you do is wait around for the Creator to do His work, you will lie around as a lump of clay or a block of wood for the rest of your days.
Sadly, there are many in his woodshop who are precisely that; lying around as blocks of wood. How sad is it when children of God who have experienced second birth, but they do not resemble their Father in any way and make no effort to try.
The destiny on us is to be a masterpiece and be his spitting image. For that to happen, the power of the creative work of the Creator needs to be merged with our effort and part as we slowly become this masterpiece.
That’s what the phrase “for us to do” points to.
When it says “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”, we need to realize that while the good works may point to a masterpiece and while God may well have prepared it all in advance; however none of this will happen until we lean into this idea of “for us to do”.
The word ‘do’ in “for us to do” comes from the word ‘peripateo’ from which we get the English word ‘periphery’; literally meaning “to walk within” as in walk within the boundaries.
It’s like we do our own painting inside the boundaries of an image sketched on the canvass, as the Master Artist guides our hands.
It’s like He has sketched a rough outline, provided you the paint and brush, and then says paint. Color it in, walk within my boundaries, and turn it from a sketch into a living, breathing portrait!
An Art Exhibition for The Ages
In bringing this home, I want to go back once more to the idea of God’s traveling showcase. I love the idea of God showing off what His grace has done in our lives.
“That in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:7, 9-10
I love the idea of God’s showcase. We are God’s exhibition. When He unwraps His masterpiece, then everyone would see the incomparable riches of His grace.
He puts us on the pedestal; heaven’s spotlight is squarely on us.
When the wrapping comes off and the new you is displayed (freshly made alive, raised from the dead and princely in appearance), there would be this collective “ooh and ahh” that ripples through eternity and brings the house down with an ovation to God’s amazing grace.
Skevington Wood calls this “God’s publicity program for the whole of history – and beyond”. In fact, Wood wrote, “God planned a continuing exhibition of his favor to cover all the centuries, and after that through all eternity. “
God’s plan is that in every generation there would be this showcase of God’s workmanship and handiwork.
This is very much like a traveling exhibition that moves across the time-space continuum, which landed in the first century in places like Ephesus and in our times among us.
Not only in the here and now, and for those who watch us in our times, but also for all eternity.
For all eternity and for those who would be part of the new heaven and the new earth; that God would point to us and declare His grace to be great!
Maybe that’s what John Newton had in mind when he wrote: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun we’ve no less days to sing God’s grace than when we first began.”
In these closing moments, let me ask you, where is the portrait and sculpture right now? If the wrapping were to come off today what would it look like?
Determine this day to use that brush and paint, and to have Him guide you as you paint within the lines. If there should be a ‘smidgen’ of paint beyond the lines, have no fear for the Master Artist will wipe it clean.
In these closing moments, let this be your prayer!
Welcome to the Family – Extreme Makeover (Giving Birth)
I’m not sure why people love the idea of an extreme makeover; this idea of taking something ordinary or even downtrodden and making it into something extraordinary.
I am sure you have seen a show like this. They are all over reality-tv. Somebody plain and ordinary gets an extreme makeover, to the delight of his or her friends.
Sometimes it’s a house or a car that gets the makeover but most often it’s an individual, maybe combined with an extreme weight loss program, cosmetic or even surgical improvements.
The results are always astonishing and absolutely delightful to see. Most often the old, and what once was, isn’t even recognizable in the new and improved.
Once in a while it can be someone downtrodden and at the end of their luck. This is what Jeremy Paton and Evan Felker did with a St Catharines homeless guy named John (which is what you are seeing on the screen in front of you).
John is a homeless guy right here in our city who was given the chance for a haircut, shave, some new clothes and a hot lunch. The change is rather remarkable.
We love this sort of stuff, as seen by the fact that the video received over 50,000 hits.
It actually points to something greater in life, something that Paul alludes to in Ephesians 2:1-10.
Deep within us is this desire for an extreme makeover that comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out. We long to be changed from the inside to the outside.
Not just a fresh coat of paint on the old barn nor a tinkering or adjusting the hinges only, but a thorough reconstruction that starts at our core and changes everything about us including sometimes even how we look.
We love stories of life change and the Scriptures do not disappoint.
One of the more graphic examples is that of the demoniac in Luke 8 who goes from one moment of “had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs” (vs.27) to the next moment of “dressed and in his right mind” (vs. 35).
This sort of thing is repeated again and again in the pages of the New Testament. The prodigal son, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus the tax collector, or even Paul himself, attest to similar tales of extreme life change.
The Ephesian Miracle!
This was the very thing that was obviously happening in the Ephesian church as well.
Again, keep in mind what was happening in their church was an explosion of new people coming into their ranks.
For most of their history they were a small little group of twelve people huddled together and hidden away in this big, scary city of Ephesus.
They were that for 25 years, until Paul shows up and introduces them to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then so empowers them, that soon the entire region hears about the amazing work of God with stories of incredible life change.
This letter was written against that backdrop of explosive growth and how to make it all work.
While Paul eventually does address how to move over and make room, in the first chapter or two he is landing on the remarkable miracle of life change he is witnessing.
This is made all the more striking by the fact that those who experienced the most radical life change were among the worst of the worst.
Ephesus was a pagan metropolitan. It was the headquarters for the Greek goddess Artemis, known as Diana to the Romans.
She was the goddess of fertility that saw countless temple prostitutes ply their trade, catering to the tourist and seaport industries.
In many ways, the licentiousness of those days was similar to the unbridled sexual expressions of our days.
Many of those who experienced radical life change came out of this lifestyle. These were not people ‘half saved already’ nor were they morally upright to begin with.
I Once was Lost!
Paul’s language is very clear in capturing who these folks once were. If anything, he paints a very graphic picture of who they once were, which ends up becoming a portrait of total depravity.
The colors are vivid; the tone is graphic and the image emerging is startling.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Eph. 2:1-3
Wow, what a portrait! If you were to name it, you could call it: “I Once was Lost”! The first thing he says is “you were dead”.
Of course we were alive and yet we were dead; dead where it mattered the most, namely in our relationship with God.
We were dead toward anything having to do with God. That part of us that hears and responds to God, namely our spirit was dead.
We might have been physically alive, but our soul or inner person was distorted and twisted and our spirit was dead.
“The most vital part of our personality – the spirit – is dead to the most important factor in life – God.”
Arthur Skevington Wood
What brought about this numbness toward anything having to do with God were our repeated “transgressions and sins”.
While “transgressions” describes intentionally crossing boundaries into forbidden territory, “sins” refers to continually falling short of the mark.
When Paul says, “in which you used to live” he is describing a walking about, or a wandering around. This captures the idea of purposefully leaving the innocence and holiness of the Garden of Eden while wandering around in a spiritual wasteland.
There is no suggestion that this was against our will or that people were forced to live like that.
No one was dragged into the wasteland, choices were everywhere, with many turn-arounds possible.
That is what the word “followed” suggests: “You followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
We freely followed. This clearly indicates freedom of choice. No one is being forced to live a certain way; the decisions and choices are always ours.
Being born east of Eden doesn’t mean having to live east of Eden any more than being born a sinner means having to live a life of sin.
There is a Savior that we can turn to from early on.
Remember how in the previous chapter Paul talks about predestination, which outlines the idea that there are divine markers along the path of life pointing to a Savior.
Those who ignore these markers choose to do so at their own peril, since doing so shapes their destiny.
Repeatedly ignoring the divine markers makes it increasingly difficult to say yes to the Savior. Every time someone says no to a divine marker, they add another layer of hardness over their heart, until it becomes fossilized.
This is why a child or a young person has a far easier time coming to the Savior than an older person. In fact, 80% of people who to come to Jesus do so before age 18! The older someone is, the harder a conversion becomes.
Every time a divine marker is ignored, it makes coming to Jesus a little bit harder.
Every time a marker is ignored, it pushes people deeper into the domain of Satan that Paul describes as “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Eph. 2:2
Every time a marker is ignored it also invites the wrath of God a little more, as Paul says: “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Eph. 2:3
The wrath of God isn’t kindled because people are born sinners. It’s kindled because sinners ignore the divine markers and choose not to turn to the Savior.
The bottom-line is that this creates a hopeless situation where finding your way back becomes increasingly difficult.
This is the portrait of hopelessness and despair Paul paints in the opening verses as he looked around at the debauchery and depravity of Ephesus.
This portrait of doom and gloom that could have been called, “I Once was Lost” makes what follows next truly astonishing.
But Now Am Found!
Despite the layers of filth and crustiness that reduced most to the level of prodigals in a pigsty or naked demoniacs who could not be chained, God is able to provide an extreme makeover that literally changes people from the inside out.
I love the language of Eph. 2:4-6: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
I love the language in this passage! God made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions! God raised us up. God seated us in the heavenly realms.
What an amazing metamorphosis! This is extreme makeover taken to incredible heights.
This then becomes Paul’s second portrait. If the first portrait was called “I Once was Lost”, then this second portrait surely has to be called “But Now am Found”!
As graphic as the first portrait was in its morbidity and despair, so graphic is this second portrait is in its brilliance and hope!
The contrast could not be more striking. With colors of doom and gloom, we see a portrait of death, contrasted to a portrait of life with colors of hope and brilliance!
While we may have been absolutely dead in our transgressions and sins, we are now absolutely alive where it matters most.
Our spirit – that essential part of us that responds and interacts with God – was absolutely dead and dormant but now has become alive.
Our spirit is fully alive. We are alive toward God, alive toward His impulses, presence and words. Nothing falls on deaf ears.
Let me just land in these verses for a moment or two so as to bring out a little better what God’s work has done in us:
1. Made Alive
“God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” vs. 5
Very much alive. This is most remarkable considering how absolute our spiritual death was. This was no ‘scheintod’ or merely ‘vital signs absent’, with reviving still possible. We were totally dead in our transgressions.
The power needed to make us alive is remarkable. To have the vilest offender, who’s piled on transgressions upon transgressions, turned around and made alive requires enormous power!
2. Raised Up
Such is the power of God, that it’s compared to resurrection power when Paul said, “God raised us up with Christ.” vs. 6
In being made alive, we are actually raised up. When you hear it put that way, doesn’t it remind you of being raised from the grave just like Jesus was?
Of Jesus it was said that “he was raised on the third day” (I Cor. 15:4) and of us it was said, “God raised us up with Christ”!
Similar language suggests that us being made alive was like a resurrection of sorts.
In fact, later in the letter Paul says that when Jesus was raised from the dead that Jesus raised with him all those who have called on His name.
So this is resurrection power that we are talking about.
This is not a corpse still warm being revived nor is this Lazarus in the tomb for four days. This is the valley of dry bones coming back to life. This is what that is.
For any of us to be spiritually alive is an incredible miracle of God. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead has also raised us from the tombs.
3. Seated in the Heavenlies
Not only were we made alive and raised up from the dead but we were also seated in the heavenlies: “Seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 2:6
Can you imagine that? He seated us with Jesus on the throne. Literally “enthroned with Christ” or seated with him on the throne.
There will come a day when we will reign with Christ, with us on thrones from which we reign as princes over a new world.
So in many ways we are princes in training and in waiting.
So great is His power, that God not only made us alive, not only raised us from the dead, but also elevated us to princely places in this life and even more so in the life to come.
For the Glory of God’s Grace!
This brings us to the question of why. To put someone on his throne will surely garnish the attention of heaven. To have the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve on these thrones must be to the astonishment of heaven.
It raises the question of why. So would you believe me if I were to tell you that all of this (made alive, raised from the dead and seated on thrones) was to showcase the grace and power of God?
“In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:7-10
I love the idea of God’s showcase. We are God’s exhibition. When he unwraps his masterpiece, everyone would then see the incomparable riches of His grace.
He puts us on a pedestal; heaven’s spotlight is squarely on us.
When the wrapping comes off and the new you is displayed (freshly made alive, raised from the dead and princely in appearance) there would be this collective “ooh and ahh” that ripples through heaven and brings the house down with an ovation to God’s amazing grace.
Skevington Wood calls this “God’s publicity program for the whole of history – and beyond.”
In fact, Wood wrote, “God planned a continuing exhibition of his favor to cover all the centuries, and after that through all eternity.”
God’s plan is that in every generation there would be this showcase of God’s workmanship and handiwork.
This is very much like a traveling exhibition that moves across the time-space continuum. It landed in the first century in places like Ephesus and, in our times, among us.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Not only in the here and now and for those who watch us in our times, but also for all eternity.
Paul said, “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:7
For all eternity, and for those who would be part of the new heaven and the new earth, that God would point to us and declare His grace to be great!
Maybe that’s what John Newton had in mind when he wrote: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun we’ve no less days to sing God’s grace than when we first began.”
Not Pawns in His Hand
There is one more thing I need to land on, and that is being God’s workmanship in his traveling exhibition does not make us objects or pawns in God’s hand.
None of this is meant to objectify us or to make us feel used somehow. This is not what this is about.
As important as it is to demonstrate God’s grace and power, I honestly believe that the real reason for His amazing work is because He loves us so.
Make no mistake about it; the thing uppermost in His mind was the fact that one of His children was dead in transgressions and sins.
The reason why he left the 99 behind and looked for that one erring sheep was not because of some great ego-need God had to come to the rescue yet once again.
When he saw you he didn’t say, “Here’s a chance to show off my grace”. When he saw you his heart broke for you.
I love verse 4: “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive.” Nothing else motivated him. Because of his great love he wants none to perish. That he would show you off was actually secondary.
That brings me to the last thing here this morning, and that is that none of this is our own doing. You do not turn your life around. You do not make yourself become spiritually alive.
This is not about you pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
That’s why the refrain in the passage is “God made us alive” and “God raised us up.”
This is also why it says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8-9
Yet there is something that we have to do. While it is the grace of God that makes all this possible, at the end of the day none of this will come our way unless we stretch out our hearts to God in faith!
God’s grace saves us through our hearts of faith stretched up to God.
Faith is saying “Yes, Lord”. The moment you do that is the moment God’s grace flows into your life, which makes you alive, raises you up, and then seats you on heavenly thrones!
Welcome To The Family - 2. A Band of Brothers
A Band of Brothers
We had our share of struggles growing up. Three boys close together made for a competitive, rough and tumble upbringing.
The oldest was bossy, the youngest feisty, and the one in between pushed back on both ends.
Boys will be boys, right? I could tell you stories of mishaps, accidents and plain examples of stupidity.
There would be the story of bunk beds collapsing together while two brothers were using the top bunk as a trampoline, and the third brother sleeping below, only to be pulled out with a huge goose egg on his forehead.
There would be the story of the wooden lids from spinners used as Frisbees, only to have one brother hit on the head causing yet another trip to the hospital.
There would be the story of brothers who dared each other to reach the highest part of a tree only to have one fall out and break his arm.
Of course, there is also the story of wanting to see how high up a nostril you can shove a pea before you’ve gone too far.
None of these things I recommend, but this was the rough and tumble of growing up in the Rausch home.
Nate Klassen you have nothing on the Rausch gang in their day!
We had our issues and struggles with times when we didn’t talk to each other nor liked each other very much especially during our teenage years.
While we eventually did go our separate ways, creating our own families and would see each other maybe once or twice a year, there was still this undeniable bond that only brothers can have. A band of brothers we were.
At the end of the day I knew that I could count on my brothers.
I knew that they would be there if ever I needed them and that we would believe in each other even in the most spectacular failures of life.
The same is true in the family of God.
Children of God
We began last time describing how we have come into the family of God; and that while the word adoption was used, it was unlike any adoption ever witnessed.
That when it says: “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5), that it doesn’t mean in the way that you and I understand adoption. You see, a human adoption can only go so far.
Don’t misunderstand me, it can go incredibly far; someone adopted can be made completely part of a family and the most successful adoptions are exactly that where is never any doubt that you are part of the family.
However, an adoption will always have its limits. You will never have your adopted father’s eyes. You will always have the blood and DNA of another course through your veins.
Hence many adoptees have this need to find their biological parents and make the connection with their blood relatives.
However, when you came into the family of God it was more than adoption.
We talk about Jesus giving up his blood when he died. That blood was applied to you.
His blood is in your spiritual veins and thus we were released from whatever former spiritual blood and ties were in us.
This is why we use the term ‘born again’. It comes closest to clarifying that we are actually born into the family of God with His blood in our veins and with us having our Father’s eyes.
Born into the Family of God
We have been born into the family of God. Not only is God our heavenly Father, with Jesus in this unique role as elder and princely brother, but with it we have come into this rambunctious family of many different siblings with as varied backgrounds as you could possibly imagine.
If you thought your family was unique you should try the family of God!
The Klassen’s and the Rausch’s having nothing on the rough and tumble of the family of God.
If the first part of Eph. 1 was about becoming children of God, then the second part of the Eph. 1 is all about figuring out life in the family of God.
Coming into the family of God is what’s captured in Eph. 1:15-23, with the key thought being what you what you read in vs. 22: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed Jesus to be the head over everything for the church which is his body.”
Not only does that set Jesus far beyond “an older brother by another mother” status, to where the family of God is Jesus’ family with Him as its head, but this also opens up the idea of this weird and wonderful family of God!
This is actually the first time in this letter that Paul calls this group the church, and he uses a word that came to define what the church really is at its core.
He uses the word ‘ecclesia’, which literally means ‘called together as the family of God’.
Friends, becoming a bona-fide child of God means coming into a new family. And just like you don’t choose your family on earth, so you also don’t choose the family of God.
The family of God is what it is, just like your earthly family is what it is.
The Weird and Wonderful Family of God
Here is the problem: Since you don’t choose your family, you’re going to be with people that sometimes you wish you could trade in.
Which boy doesn’t want, on occasion, to trade in his little sister? The same may will be true with some people in the family of God.
I can see Paul sensing that about the Ephesian family. In many ways Paul, while part of the family himself, saw his role as a governor tasked with helping the family get along as it grew up.
So he must have been imagining what it must be like trying to have all these new siblings coming in.
Remember what the Ephesian family was like. For most of its 25-year history it was a small band of about twelve people. Twelve people for over 25 years can be like an ingrown toenail.
Then Paul shows up and they had no idea what hit them. He was like this whirlwind of Holy Spirit energy.
And doesn’t God begin to move in that church and surrounding community, so much so that within two years the place went from twelve to thousands of people who came into the family of God!
By the time Paul writes his letter to them it was some 10 years later.
What was started, continued on so much so that Paul commented on all these people coming into the family: “I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” Eph. 1:16
Their fame had spread. Paul’s language suggests that he really didn’t know them personally. He had only heard about their faith; rumor on the street had it.
Keep in mind that he was part of this growing family only for the first two years. Since that time, many more people had come into the family, most of whom he had only heard about.
Thankfully, most of these converts made it into the family of God, unlike today with the rise of private faith and television and online church.
They understood intuitively what many don’t understand today; that is that becoming a child of God means coming into God’s family and identifying with a group of believers such as the Ephesians.
In our culture, this looks like becoming members in the local church.
So anyone that was born a second time was baptized as quickly as possible, to show the world that they are now children of God and thus part of the local family.
By the way, those of you who feel as though you have been born a second time have a great opportunity not only to make it public by being baptized but also to state your intention of belonging to our family by becoming members.
This is happening here locally on June 21, which is Father’s Day (how amazing is that!!)
Paul’s Prayer for Them
Because of this expanding family, Paul the governor says that he is praying for a couple of things to happen.
First off, he is praying that the Holy Spirit would help them know their new daddy better and better.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Eph. 1:17
There truly is so much about our heavenly Father that we still have to learn. If he is your Father, then of course you want to know Him more and more, don’t you?
That’s what Bible study (self guided or in a group setting) is all about (put in a plug for PM’s study along with Precept).
But then notice what else he prays for:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Eph. 1:18-19
What he is actually praying for is that they would understand the uniqueness of the family of God.
I know that, at first glance, these verses don’t seem to suggest that at all but there are a couple of key words that hint that this is about the family of God.
Not only the phrase “his holy people” is a reference to the family of God but also this idea “that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”
Let’s talk about that hope for a moment. I realize that most often we associate biblical hope with the blessed hope of his soon return, which is absolutely correct.
However, the context of this entire section is not about the return of Jesus but living in the family of God and thus this hope refers to the hope we have in the family of God.
So how are you feeling about the family of God, friend? Are you thrilled with the family, or do you maybe feel ambivalent or even conflicted?
I told you this is as weird and wonderful a family as any family you have ever seen!
We are a hodgepodge of people thrown together from different cultures, demographics, backgrounds and ways of life, all of which we bring with us into the family.
So who said the family of God wasn’t interesting?
The Body of Christ
Consider Scott St Church for a moment. We are not all the same, we don’t all share the same values and we bring incredibly different perspectives to the family.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean:
So for everyone who’s ever been disheartened by the normal struggles and tensions of a diverse family, you need to hear Paul’s prayer: “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”
We can pray that we would feel hopeful about the church and that we would see what a beautiful thing the family of God is.
The reason for feeling hopeful about the family to which God has called us has to do with what Paul says the family of God is:
“God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.”
Paul reminds them that not only is this the family of God (“the church which is his body”) but that Jesus is the undisputed head of that body, as Paul says, “God appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”
This is the reason why we are incredibly hopeful about the family of God.
This speaks to the church as the body has many different parts, each bringing their unique strengths to the table such as:
Yet we realize that with all other groups trying to get along that our unity is not rooted in goodwill alone but in the power of God in our midst that serves as glue.
His Great Power for Us
The other reason we feel hopeful about the family of God has to be because of the power of God that comes from this connection between body and head.
If the family of God is the body of Christ, with Jesus as its head, then the life that is in Jesus flows into the body and gives it its life.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” vs. 18-19
Look at what’s flowing our way: His incomparably great power for us which Paul calls the inheritance among his people.
Paul tries to find words to explain the life flow of Christ that is gushing into the body and is active in our very multicultural and multigenerational church.
“God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” vs. 22-23
What is the glue that makes us stick together? What’s the reason for our hopefulness and optimism for the family of God? It’s “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”!
That’s what sets us apart from all other groups. We are filled to the rim with the life of Christ.
This is not just us trying to get along or being civil with each other; instead the glue that keeps us together and the thing that sets us apart is our family experiencing “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”!
Whatever Jesus has is flowing into our family! Whatever is in the head goes into the body.
When you think to what Jesus had, you know it was not wealth, great kingdoms nor a luxurious life of ease. None of this is flowing into us.
What he had was incredible, mind-boggling and fantastic power!
This was power to heal the sick, to free those in bondage, to turn situations around, to speak prophetically into people’s lives, to teach with great authority and provide great miracles.
His whole life was a life of power. When he commanded, demons obeyed. When he laid hands on people, they were healed. When he forgave, they were forgiven. When he set people free, they became free. Jesus had incredible power.
Paul says that this power has been poured from the head into the body as our inheritance. It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!
“His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” vs. 19-21
This power that raised Jesus from dead that Paul calls incomparable is among us who believe.: “His incomparably great power for us who believe.”
It was as though when he rose up to heaven on Ascension Day, that the mantle of power that he had while on earth flowed from the head into the body.
We Remain Optimistic!
The hopefulness we feel and the sense of optimism we have is not rooted in our circumstance.
This is a weird and wonderful family, with the rough and tumble of trying to grow up and get along, usually with three steps forward and two steps back.
Our optimism isn’t always because of what we see and what goes on. If this is where our focus is we would never feel hopeful.
Our hope and enthusiasm are rooted in the life and power of Christ flowing into us. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is among us this morning.
So we lay hands on people and they recover. We pray for people and God answers. We take authority over strongholds and they come down. We preach and teach with great authority.
Jesus in our midst is the reason for our optimism this morning!
Welcome To The Family – A Father’s Dream
A Lot of Water Under The Bridge
A lot can happen in 10 years, folks. A lot can go wrong but a lot can go right as well. 10 years is a lot of water under the bridge. A lot of things change in 10 years.
We saw it coming back to Niagara after years away. People who have gotten older, kids who have grown up, friends who have moved on and even places that look different from back then.
When you are up front and personal you don’t always see the changes but step aside long enough and you will have noticed how things change.
Paul had been gone for 10 years when he stepped back into the picture, which inspired him to write what we call “The Letter to the Ephesians”.
He barely knew the old place. So many new faces, so many folks he didn’t know. The place had changed dramatically from when he was last there 10 years earlier.
Seeing the hustle and bustle of a growing community and perhaps sensing some of the growing pains of having to shove over a bit to make room for newcomers inspired Paul to write The Letter to the Ephesians.
Against the backdrop of the inevitable tension of a growing family he puts his thoughts to pen and the first thing he acknowledges is the legitimacy of the growth and additions to the family that he has now seen first-hand.
You know what; legitimacy may actually be the wrong word. He doesn’t need to defend the legitimacy of what he is seeing as though some didn’t belong.
Rather he begins by highlighting the enormity and the miraculous of what actually happened there.
This was an incredible thing. People were becoming Christians and followers of Jesus against all odds. Not just by one’s or two’s but by the dozens if not more.
To get a sense of the scope of this you will actually have to look into the historical book called The Acts of the Apostles to see what was going on there:
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” Acts 19:8, 10-12, 20
This became known as the Revival of Ephesus as all sorts of people were coming into the family of God.
Every one of them was an incredible miracle of God.
Every time someone becomes a child of God you need to realize how great a miracle that was and still is. It is as though heaven and earth were moved when someone comes into the family of God.
A Father’s Wish!
That’s what Paul starts out with in his letter and in doing so he reaches way back into their past and talks about this ancient desire of God to see them brought into God’s family.
He says: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world” Eph. 1:4
All these people coming into God’s family was God’s plan. You coming into God’s family are totally God’s greatest wish for you.
Long before this world came into being God thought of you!
God singled you out long before you were ever born so that someday you would become acquainted with his Son in order that he would bring you into God’s family.
“God put us and Jesus together in his mind. He determined to make us (who did not yet exist) his own children through the redeeming work of Jesus (which had not yet taken place)”
Talk about matchmaking! Ever try to put two people together in your mind? Well, that’s what God did with you!
In fact, “matchmaking” is too weak a word to describe this. Paul uses a far stronger word, predestination.
“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” Eph. 1:5
While matchmaking is wishful thinking with maybe a little bit of tinkering or setting up, predestination takes this to a whole new level.
The idea behind predestined is something that is sketched out long before it appears.
You know, when they built a new road it is staked out before the pavement ever goes down or when a new building is to be built markers are put into the ground.
Sketching something out before it actually happens. That’s predestination. That takes matchmaking to a whole new level!
That’s what God did for us. In his mind since he matched us up as his children to come into the family of God, he put markers all along the journey.
It’s like dropping hints of what could be. God has repeatedly put markers along the path of our lives so that we would bump into him until one day we get that we are to be in his family.
Whether someone realizes this or not, the reality is that everyone has bumped into the divine markers at some point along the path of life.
The hope is that people bump into God enough times until they realize that God actually wants to bring them out of their current life and into his beautiful family of God.
Notice who that is done: “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” vs. 5
He wants us into his family. Not only to be in his family but to be family; to be sons and daughters of God.
"Adopted into the family of God", that’s the Father’s heart for us; that we would be children of God.
And as his sons and daughters his dream is for us to look like him, to have our Father’s eyes. To look like him, act like him and to behave like him.
Saw it last week with my uncle. He is the younger brother to his older brother, my uncle Fritz. It was uncanny as I saw him walk away how much he walked like his brother and looked like him from behind. I thought I was looking at Uncle Fritz.
You know what I mean; how many of you look like someone in the family – your dad, mom or some other relative.
The same thing with our Heavenly Father. Of course, he wants us to look and acts like him. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than for his children to be a chip of the old block and in his spitting image.
And that’s what it means when Paul wrote in verse 4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
Becoming holy and blameless is what it means to look like our Heavenly Father.
An impossible feat and a tall order. I can never be that. Oh really? It’s not as impossible as you think.
Notice how God goes about bringing you into his family: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will” vs. 5
This is how the Father sees us coming into his family. Not only is it his will but also his great pleasure! He does it with great gusto and enormous excitement.
No reluctance whatsoever. No doubt in his heart. No second thoughts.
God never says: “oh no, there is too much work with him”. He will never say: “how someone like that will ever become like me”. You will never: “she is just too far gone for any change to happen”
There is no restraint, resentment or uncertainty. With great “pleasure” does God express his desire and will for you to be in the family of God. With great delight and anticipation does he welcome you into his family.
In case you are wondering where such confidence comes from, notice where it’s rooted: “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.”
“To the praise of his glorious grace”! It has nothing to do with your ability or potential but everything to do with his amazing grace.
He chose you not because you have what it takes. Honestly, you don’t have it; none of us do it!
It wasn’t because you were the cream of the crop or because of some great hidden inclination in you to be like Him.
He chose you because he wanted to showcase his amazing grace so that when we become like Him in our thoughts and actions our Father would say, “That’s what my grace did”.
That we among the first to applaud God’s amazing grace as we say, “Look at what you’ve done in my life. Just look at me now. I once was dead but now am alive”
So, in many ways, the worse someone is the greater God’s grace can be displayed. That is why God looks for the least likely among us of which I am chief!
Made Possible By The Son
Added into this idea of bringing us into God’s family is not only the pleasure of a Father who wills it but also the work of a Son who makes it possible.
God’s amazing grace may be free but it’s not cheap! The grace of God may have turned your life around but to do so much blood had to be shed.
“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.” Vss. 7,8
Again you will notice how the riches and the power of God’s grace have been richly lavished on us willing us as children of God to take on his nature and characteristics.
But notice that for us to be that way meant being released from that old way of being was made possible only through the blood of Jesus.
“In him we have redemption through his blood”
Redemption speaks of having been released from chains. When we came into God’s family the chains of the old way of life fell off. Jesus set us free! His blood made it possible for the old to fall away.
So we are not coming in shackled to an old nature. We are literally born new into God’s family. Even though it’s called adoption, it’s so much more than that.
Because when you adopt, as great as that is, you know that it’s neither your daddy’s blood in your veins nor your mom’s DNA in your bones. Try as much as you like, you will never have your father’s eyes or your mother’s temperament.
In your veins runs the blood of another. That’s the limitation of adoption.
When it says that you have redemption through Jesus’ blood it means that you were released from that old nature.
When you become a child of God you are not just adopted in but you receive a blood transfusion.
His blood will come into your veins. It’s like being born again. You become a rightful child of God and thus you have your Father’s eyes to proof it.
Notice what else: “In him we have the forgiveness of sins”
The forgiveness of sins is like saying that any character flaws and blemishes from the old life are continuously washed away!
I love how both “redemption” or being released from the old life and “the forgiveness of sins” or having the character flaws from that old life washed away is “through his blood”!
His blood redeems you and forgives you.
All of this is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us”!
The Father’s grace makes his son’s blood available for our redemption and forgiveness of sins. Who does that sort of thing?
For that to click in and for us to get that takes incredible grace. We didn’t just wake up one day all smart and figured it out.
We were so stooped in our old family and in our old way of living that we never could have seen that. In fact, God could have hit us over the head with this offer to come into his family and we still would not have gotten it.
Not because we were stupid but because we were blind. Our old way of living kept us in darkness. That is all we knew until God’s grace broke open over us!
I love what it says next: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will” Vss 8-9
So God’s grace gave us wisdom and understanding so that his dream of us being born into his family would no longer be a mystery to us.
As Karl Barth said: “So long and intensively does he shower grace on them that finally they cannot help but sing paeans to his splendid grace”
He just keeps showering and showering his grace on us until the hard soil of our heart is moist enough that we get it!
Applied By The Spirit
Who is it that does the showering of God’s grace but the Holy Spirit.
“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” vss. 13-14
“When you believed” refers to you believing that Jesus brought you into God’s family through his blood.
When you believed that and thus were brought into God’s family, at that moment the Holy Spirit moved into your life and you were marked with the seal of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit helps you figure out life in the new family. He will help you become more and more like the Father and the Son.
Even though you start out with his blood in your veins and his new nature in your DNA, it’s going to be a lifelong quest to have everything about you become more and more like Jesus.
Helping you in this will be the Holy Spirit. He will give you the spiritual strength, he will point out character flaws, and he will cause you to feel bad when you mess up and a host of other things.
He becomes the seal on your heart that says you belong to God.
No matter how long the road ahead might be, no matter how deep the shadows of your former life may linger on and no matter how much work still needs to be done to live up to your calling as a child of God, the Holy Spirit is that seal on your heart that says you belong to God.
A seal speaks of ownership and reminds those who question legitimacy that you really belong. Because sometimes there is going to be doubts and moments when you question whether you really belong.
Sometimes it will be your old family whispering you don’t belong.
Sometimes it will be a religious Pharisee who will claim you don’t belong because you don’t have the right name or the right connections.
Sometimes it might even be your own failures that will make you want to run away.
But it’s not about name nor connections nor how far you have come but about the will of the Father for you to be destined as one of his children.
It will be the Holy Spirit who will not only help you believe that you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and thus a legitimate child of God but also empower you to live out that new life.
He is your seal and he is your deposit: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” vss. 13-14
The Holy Spirit is the down payment that guarantees ultimate ownership by God.
I may not be perfect yet. It may look like three steps forward and two steps back. And I may have my doubts sometimes. But in my heart is the Holy Spirit who is the deposit guaranteeing my inheritance!
Let me wrap it up this morning.
Long before you were ever born it was God’s intention to have you be in his family.
When you said yes everything about you changed. Whatever you were was cancelled. Whatever sins you had were washed away and however great this great mystery might have been, it was demystified.
With his blood in your veins and his DNA in your bones you are slowly being transformed into the likeness of our Father and his Son. You have our Father’s eyes and thus legitimate.
None of this was because of you. All of it because of God’s amazing grace. So that we would be among the first to rise up and applaud the amazing grace of God!
That’s why this whole section ends with six words: “to the praise of his glory” (repeat it with me).
In the words of Karl Barth: “The praise God’s people are to give is the enthusiastic applause and cheers of captives who have been given freedom”
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.