Our Identity in Christ – A Study through the Book of Ephesians: Part 1
By Glenn Ansley
Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God to the saints who are in Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…
Paul understood what it meant to be set free from sin and bondage. He had experienced the redeeming power of our Lord Jesus Christ through one of the most breathtaking encounters recorded in the New Testament. This great leader and founder of the early church had not always been a disciple of the Lord. In fact, he had dedicated his life to defeating the Christian movement. Paul, previously named Saul, traveled the Roman Empire putting to death those who professed to be followers of Christ. Acts chapter nine gives us the account of Saul’s conversion. He was on his way to Damascus with orders to put to death anyone he found associated with Christ. It was on this road that Jesus appeared to Saul and consequentially changed his life forever. This change took place in Saul’s heart, but manifested itself through his actions. Saul, now called Paul, would spend the remainder of his life as a dedicated apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is important to note that by the time Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he identified himself foremost as an apostle of Christ Jesus. He was no longer recognized as Saul from Tarsus, but as Paul the apostle. Christ had set him free from his previous life of confusion and sin. He had a new identity manifested not only in his name, but his actions as well. Out of the thirteen New Testament letters that are undisputedly identified as being written by Paul, he introduces himself as an apostle of Christ in nine of them.
The word apostle comes from a Greek word that means, “to send out.” When ascribed to someone as in the case of Paul, it carries the meaning of, “one being commissioned by another” or “one who bears the authority of the one who commissions him.” In short, Paul identified himself as a messenger of the Lord. His identity and reason for living was to share the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ to everyone around him. Previously Saul of Tarsus had been commissioned by the Jewish leaders to strike down the rebellion they labeled Christianity. Now, however, Paul understood that he had been rescued from his prior life and was commissioned to spread the love of Jesus Christ. He viewed this as his God-ordained duty and would one day die on account of his loyalty towards Christ.
I encourage you to evaluate your current lifestyle. Have you been redeemed as Paul was? Have you been rescued from the life you were previously living? If so, Christ demands for us to place Him at the center of our lives. Satan will try to distract us from our one true reason for living. He will encourage us to continue our lives in the same manner we did before accepting Christ as our Savior. The truth is, everything has changed. The apostle Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He wants us to know that life is no longer about money or popularity. Life is not dictated to us by the clothes we wear or the friends we make. Life is defined solely by the fact that we are Christians. We are apostles of Jesus Christ… and that is why to live is Christ! Satan, on the other hand, will constantly teach us that life is about money, popularity and being up on the latest trends. His foremost desire is to create a large canyon between Christ and us. Do you find yourself constantly battling low self-esteem or inferiority complexes? May I suggest that you change your outlook on life? No longer identify your self-worth by those around you, but as Paul did, I challenge you to find your identity through Christ Jesus alone.
…by the will of God…
It is only through the unmerited grace of God the Father that Paul was rescued from the life of sin he once lived. As noted above, Paul’s calling was not always as an apostle of Christ. Rather, his highest duty in life was to persecute and kill those who followed Jesus. Addressing the Ephesians, Paul is careful to remind them that he has no right to take credit for the work God is doing through him. Paul is fully aware that God would not have been wrong to condemn him forever to hell. It was only God’s grace that kept him alive. In fact, Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The thought of Christ dying on the cross so that he could be transformed into a new creation never left Paul’s mind. It is a reoccurring theme throughout the life of his ministry. On several occasions Paul was the first to admit that his life had been forever changed. Nothing he could do or say would have saved him from death the day that Christ met him on the road to Damascus. It was only the will of God that created a living Paul out of a dying Saul.
It is important that we don’t forget this principle has not changed even today. If you are a child of God, it is not on account of anything you have done. 2 Peter 3:9 says it is not the Lord’s wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. We are saved from our past lives solely due to the will of God. This is an amazing testimony to those around you. If you truly live your life Christ-centered, as Paul did, friends and family will want to know what you have that they don’t. It is important that you never water down the truth. A good family, rich grandparents, or luck of the draw has nothing to do with the life you live. It is only by the will of God that you may claim a peace and separation from your previous life of confusion and sin. When we fail to give God the glory for what He has done in our lives it hinders our relationship with the Lord. Satan is aware of this and will do everything he can to build up pride and self-glory within our spirits. We must recognize this trap and daily guard ourselves against it. Always remember the life you live is on account of the will of God.
…to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.
At first sight it may not appear that Paul’s greeting to the Christian’s at Ephesus holds any profound truth. A closer examination, however, will reveal that it exists as a backdrop to the main thesis of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Two things can be taken from this scripture. One, we are no longer sinners in the eyes of God, but rather, saints… continually experiencing sanctification by God. Two, if we live our lives as saints, rather than sinners, faithfulness will be the motive behind everything we do.
The word “saint” that Paul uses to address the Ephesians comes from the Greek word for holy. When used to describe a person in the New Testament, the word saint implies, “those who are cleansed by the blood of Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, and thus separated from the world and consecrated to God”. In effect, by calling them saints, Paul is stressing their separation from the world. Just as he had been completely changed into a new creation, the Ephesians also should consider their lives permanently changed. They are no longer to be called sinners, or children of the world. They are, by the grace of God, set apart and are new creations. It is no consequence that Paul addresses them to be saints. It is a purposeful action taken by him to reinforce their true identity in Christ.
You also, are no longer considered a sinner. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, the Bible teaches that you are a new creation. Unfortunately many Christians today believe that the word saint must be reserved only for those who have done miracles or lived lives of extreme purity. Christians have been led astray to believe that they are nothing more than sinners saved by grace. I disagree, and anyone diligently studying the scriptures would discover that they also paint a different picture concerning our identity in Christ. To say that I am a saint is no more than agreeing with the Biblical text of the New Testament. As we have seen, Paul continually greets brothers and sisters in Christ as the saints of the Church. Furthermore, Christians are referred to as saints by the author of Acts and Revelation. The Word of God says that once you have become a child of God, you are holy before the Lord. This, by mere definition, means that you are God’s “holy ones”.
To say that I am a saint, however, does not mean that I am without sin. This is where Christians have been led astray. In honest attempts to clarify this subject, we have been taught that we are nothing more than sinners saved by grace. The problem lies not in our admitting that we are still prone to sin, but in our wording. As Christians, we are not to view ourselves as sinners saved by grace, but rather, as saints that continue to fight the temptations of sin in a fallen world. Consider this example. If I am a policeman that one day rescues a girl from a burning house, that does not make me a fireman. I am simply a policeman that rescued a girl from a burning house. Furthermore, this means that as a policeman, my first and foremost duty is to be a policeman. It will only be occasionally that I participate in the duties of a fireman. In the same way, if you proclaim to be a sinner saved by grace, it will be very difficult to remove yourself from the concept that you are enslaved to constant sin. Only occasionally will you be able to live your life as one governed by the grace of God. This is why the Bible teaches that we are no longer sinners. Once we have accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are new creations… the holy ones of God… saints. Only after the truth has been revealed in our own lives will we find it easier to live a life of faithfulness. If I am able to refute the lie that I remain a sinner simply saved by grace, and grasp the overwhelming truth of what it means to be a saint of God, then I will be one step closer to living a holier life unto the Lord!
When all is said and done, we find that the Apostle Paul has an enormous wealth of knowledge to offer us by reading and understanding the book of Ephesians. Within the first verse alone we witness his amazing insight into the identity of a believer. This life we live must be governed by three simple principles. Christ should be the center of everything we do, Christ should be glorified as the sole reason we are entitled to the live the life we live, and Christ has died on the cross that we may be called saints rather than being referred to as sinners saved by grace. Accepting these truths will change the way you live your life as a child of God.