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Ephesians for Catholics, Protestants and Every Christian

dan delzell opinion page

Much of the New Testament consists of letters written by the apostle Paul around the middle of the first century. These epistles to believers in the early church have instructed millions of Christians for nearly 2000 years. And the book of Ephesians is one of these treasured letters inspired by the Holy Spirit. The revelation of truth contained in this epistle is needed today more than ever by Catholics, Protestants and every Christian.

A New Testament scholar described Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians as "the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of the Christian faith." Paul wrote this letter to "the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus." (1:1) The word "saints" here is synonymous with "believers." Ephesians contains rich food for the soul as it lays out the foundation for the Christian faith leading to a vibrant life of discipleship.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you have been "adopted" (1:5) into God's family and "included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. Having 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 - to the praise of His glory." (1:13,14)

Make no mistake about it: this marking and sealing by the Holy Spirit takes place when a person believes the good news of the Gospel. Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)

And so regardless of whether you identify as a Catholic, Protestant, or with some other label, you as a believer in Jesus Christ have been given a guarantee that God will bring you to heaven one day. The Holy Spirit is the "deposit" who was given to you "when you heard the word of truth" and "believed." Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth: "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God." (1 Cor. 6:19) This reception of the Holy Spirit takes place at the moment of conversion, which of course is the moment a person begins to rely upon the cross for salvation and receives Jesus Christ as Savior. The apostle John wrote, "Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12)

It becomes apparent when reading Ephesians that Paul didn't dangle salvation in front of the saints like a carrot on a stick. Paul never promoted this all-too-common doctrine: "Do a little more and hopefully you will be saved one day." That sort of teaching is rampant in religious circles and has actually been around for centuries. But this is not the message of Scripture.

Instead, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to build the saints up in their faith by writing: "In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." (1:7) And so eternal life for the believer begins at conversion and never ends.

One day the Lord will bring His children home to heaven, just as Jesus told the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) What did the thief do to merit eternal life in heaven? Nothing at all. He simply trusted the Savior and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42) "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace." (Romans 4:16) When a person is converted he is instantly saved, redeemed, justified, born again and forgiven. This occurs on the front end of a person's relationship with Christ.

Paul informed the saints in Ephesus that God "chose us" (1:4) and "in love He predestined us" (1:5) to be His children. The doctrine of predestination is a deep mystery, but it is presented in Scripture to give believers the assurance of their salvation. Predestination has nothing to say to unbelievers. In other words, the Bible does not teach "double predestination." No one is predestined to hell. Anyone who is thirsty can come to Christ and be saved. As the apostle Peter wrote, "The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17)

Paul extols the love of God in explaining why the saints in Ephesus were already "seated with Christ in the heavenly realms." (2:6) "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." (2:4,5) It is a done deal. "You have been saved." You are now "alive with Christ," as compared to back when "you were dead in your transgressions and sins." (2:1)

And what brought about this new life in Christ? "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (2:8,9) As with any gift, you can either receive it or reject it. Those who receive God's free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ are instantly converted. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)

Once you have crossed over to God's family through faith, your sins are forgiven because you now "have redemption through His blood." (Eph. 1:7) Notice that your redemption was not secured through your works, but came because "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) The blood of Christ gets applied to your sin through faith, and not as a result of works. Good works are the fruit of faith, but they are powerless to wash away sins. Only the blood of Jesus has that kind of power.

And so Paul wrote: "Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." (2:13) And what has this blood accomplished for the saints? "You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." (2:19) This means you belong to God today, tomorrow and forever, and the "deposit" of the Holy Spirit has been given to us "guaranteeing our inheritance." (1:14)

Paul didn't want "the faithful in Christ Jesus" (1:1) to worry about "losing their salvation." That troubling approach does not build up the body of Christ. At the same time, Paul didn't hesitate in his epistles to write stern warnings to those who "sow to please the sinful nature." Paul made it abundantly clear that people who choose to live for sin rather than for Christ "will reap destruction," (Galatians 6:8) and will not "inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:10)

In addition, Paul warned those in Galatia who were trying to be saved through obedience to the law: "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." (Gal. 5:4) But that warning is a far cry from Paul telling "the faithful in Christ" (1:1) in Ephesus to live in fear of losing their salvation. Such an approach is foreign to the New Testament.

While Catholic theologians (and some Protestant theologians) teach that believers can lose their salvation, other Christian theologians teach that those believers who backslide into a life of deliberate sin will eventually turn again to God in repentance and faith. In any case, all Christian theologians can agree with Paul that "a man reaps what he sows" (Gal. 6:7) and apart from repentance and faith, there is no salvation regardless of whether or not a person claims to have once believed in Christ.

In fact, Paul made this exact point crystal clear to the saints in Ephesus when he wrote, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words." (5:5,6)

In a number of Paul's epistles, the early chapters are spent building the believers up in the certainty of their salvation through faith in Christ alone. And once the foundation has been laid, Paul moves on to instructions for holy living. This is certainly the formula Paul employed in his epistle to "the saints in Ephesus." (1:1)

After all, Christians "are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works." (2:10) There is no such thing as a believer in Jesus who doesn't do good works. Such works are the fruit of faith. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. (see John 15:1-8) I addressed this issue in a previous article entitled, "Salvation Without Good Works Is an Oxymoron." No wonder Paul would go on to give "the faithful in Christ Jesus" (1:1) in Ephesus dozens of specific instructions, such as:

-"Be completely humble and gentle." (4:2)

-"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit." (4:3)

-"Be made new in the attitude of your minds." (4:23)

-"Put off falsehood and speak truthfully" (4:25) to one another.

-"In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." (4:26)

-"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths." (4:29)

-"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." (4:30)

-"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice." (4:31)

-"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (4:32)

-"Live a life of love." (5:2)

-"There must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." (5:3)

-"Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking." (5:4)

-"Live as children of light." (5:8)

-"Be very careful, then, how you live." (5:15)

-"Do not get drunk on wine." (5:18)

-"Be filled with the Spirit." (5:18)

-"Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything." (5:19,20)

-"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (5:21)

-"Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power." (6:10)

-"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." (6:18)

-"Be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (6:18)

These are some of the good works that flow from faith, which explains why these instructions were given to the saints. As a believer in Jesus, you are a saint. You have redemption through faith in Christ's blood and a guaranteed inheritance in heaven. And you have been called by God to live a holy life, or what Paul referred to as "the obedience that comes from faith." (Romans 1:5)

The book of Ephesians has instructed Christians for many generations because "the Word of God is living and active." (Hebrews 4:12) Paul explained it this way to the young pastor, Timothy: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2:Tim 3:16,17)

Paul's ministry and Timothy's ministry were on the list in Ephesians 4 where the Lord "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13)

Spiritual unity in the faith is God's will for His church, and spiritual maturity is God's will for every believer. This is why God sent a "love letter" to His children comprised of 66 books written over a period of 1500 years. Thankfully, "all Scripture is God-breathed." (2 Tim. 3:16)

By the way, here are some related issues I have previously addressed:

"Can Catholics Have the Assurance of Salvation?"

"Why the Early Church Celebrated the Lord's Supper Every Week"

"5 Tips for Raising Children Who Love Jesus"

"Why Priests Should Be Allowed to Marry"

"What Would Jesus Say to Churches Today?"

"Why Purgatory Is a Dangerous Doctrine"

"What Millennials Needed From Parents and Church"

There is no question that the book of Ephesians is just as necessary for believers today as it was for the saints in Ephesus nearly 2000 years ago. Once you receive Jesus as your Savior through faith, you are instantly "seated with Christ in the heavenly realms." (Eph. 2:6) The Holy Spirit comes to live inside every Christian to guide us and teach us the meaning of Scripture. He is "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance," (Eph. 1:14) and we have been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph. 2:10)

Christians live for the Lord "to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." (Eph. 1:6,7)

Paul concluded his magnificent epistle with this final word of blessing: "Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love." (6:24) And that is exactly what the grace of God produces within believers: an undying love for Christ and a sincere love for one another.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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