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First Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, January 10, 2021


Who You Say I Am


Text: Ephesians 1:3–6

In 2017 Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan wrote the music and the words to the song, “Who You Say I Am.” It was released in 2018 by Hillsong. I love the words to this song and I sometimes let them echo in my mind. Contained in these words is the joy of the gospel message for those who have been set free through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This truth has never been more relevant than today. Knowing who we are in Christ can’t be taken away by legislation or threat, because God has revealed through his word our identity. I want to share with you Verse 1 and the refrain.

VERSE 1

Who am I that the highest King would welcome me I was lost but He brought me in, Oh His love for me, Oh His love for me

Who the Son sets free, oh is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes, I am. In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me, I’m a child of God. Yes, I am.

 

BRIDGE

I am chosen, Not forsaken I am who You say I am You are for me, not against me I am who You say I am.

I believe that it is vitally important for Christians to know who they are because of whose they are and what he has done for them. Those who have come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus and have decided to follow him wherever he leads should expect the enemy to tempt, challenge and attempt to discourage them at every turn. Whenever that liar attempts to place doubt in our minds that we are a child of God then we can say without fear or doubt that, “I have been chosen, set free by the blood of the Lamb and I am who he says I am. I am chosen by God, not forsaken, God is for me, not against me.” Amen!

What a wonderful declaration of faith and praise to the living God who is Lord over all of creation. It’s a wonderful song of praise that has its roots in our Epistle reading this morning. We read Ephesians 1:3–14 which taught properly would take a minimum of 12 weeks. Today we will briefly consider Paul’s opening words to the church in Ephesus from Ephesians 1:3–6.

First, let’s identify Paul’s purpose in writing this section to the church in Ephesus. He began by identifying himself, his apostolic authority and the Christians in Ephesus as the recipients of the letter. Then he in essence burst forth in a doxology of praise to God in verses 3–14.

When we read this section in our Bible it appears to be 7–8 sentences, depending on the translation and a series of commas breaking up those sentences into a readable narrative. It breaks into three sections: praise to the electing Father (vv.3–6), to the redeeming Son (vv.7–12) and to the sealing Spirit (vv.13–14).

However, in the Greek verses 3–14 are one long sentence of worship and praise to the intimate union God has established between Christ and his chosen, forgiven, and sealed people. Some have suggested that Ephesians 1:3–14 is a wonderful summary of the theology of the Apostle Paul. David Guzik in his Commentary on Ephesians suggests,

As an opera has an overture, setting the tone for all the melodies that will follow, so Ephesians 1:3–14 sets the tone for the rest of Ephesians.

When we come together to worship the Lord we have singing, readings from God’s word, singing, the sermon, confession of faith, prayer, repentance, singing, the offertory, the opening of the Liturgy (the Sursum Corda), singing, and the Lord’s Supper, Post Communion Prayer, singing. I must confess that I became so used to this that I no longer considered why we do it that way.

This week I focused on what Paul’s reason might be for opening most all his letters with what can be seen as a doxology. Every part of our services should remind us of all that God has done for us in Christ.

James Montgomery Boice wrote in his commentary on Ephesians,

The sermon is important. We learn from the sermon. But doctrine, if it is rightly understood, leads to doxology. If we discover who God is and what he has done for us, we will praise him.

Let me give you an example of how a very ordinary part of life given to God in praise can bring us to the heart of God and changes what we are doing into an offering of praise.

For many years I went to the gym several days a week to work out. Even when I was on the road I knew where some local gyms were at various places I went. Usually, they were located in old quonset huts or rundown buildings. These were places for the hardcore weightlifter with no frills, but I liked it because it was available without membership and also cheap. Lifting weights hurt but I used to call it a “good hurt” because I knew it was worth it when evidence of the benefits showed in how I looked and felt. I used to find it amusing that every gym I went to had two things in common, they had mirrors all along the wall so that you could admire yourself (or turn away wishing you hadn’t seen that) and loud music playing. Not opera, or lullabies or soft listening but music to get the body moving and ready to workout. Well, I still work out, and it still hurts—not like the “good hurt” from before, but more like I need three Ibuprofen.

I’ve realized that, like before, I needed to discipline myself to do it because I benefit from it. I’ve lost weight and feel more toned and energetic. Recently, I added contemporary praise music to my workout, and it changed everything because by doing that I brought my Lord into my workout with me. I praise him as I workout and now it’s more of a pleasure than a burden.

To be honest I used to feel the same way about church. I went because it benefitted me, and I assumed brought me closer to God. I don’t feel that way now and I know it’s not because God changed, but I did. The word of God through the power and witness of the Holy Spirit transformed my understanding of God and how he loved and blessed me through Jesus Christ my Lord. I love to praise him in song, in prayer and in feeding upon his word. This is a large part of what Paul was writing to teach the believers in Ephesus.

Over the past 20 years or more we have seen our beloved country continue to walk further and further away from the standard of belief wherein we were originally formed. The foundation that we were built upon was the laws of God and the authority of his word. As we have walked further and further away from that standard we have declined in our morals, become deeply fractured along cultural and ideological beliefs, and all but ceased being one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I wanted to mention that because the past few months have shown us the results of that decline. My intention this morning isn’t to reflect on the current political and social climate but to point out that during Paul’s time the church in Ephesus and all the Christian churches within Asia Minor were the vast minority, the new kids on the block, and yet in a time of danger and persecution the church of Jesus Christ flourished.

Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia and among the top five cities of the empire in the first century. Ephesus was considered the most glorious of the cities, and the temple of the goddess Artemis (Diana) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The apostle Paul stayed there for 2–3 years planting a church and raising up leaders there. It became the center for evangelism in the western part of Asia Minor.

It’s important to realize this because Paul had initially gone into an extremely dangerous pagan culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was no Christian example or context to point to in that culture. He took Priscilla and Aquila with him, but more importantly, they took the power and authority of Jesus Christ and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s life was constantly in danger and at one point he was imprisoned there but the church grew and flourished. Now years later he wrote from prison in Rome towards the end of his life. But it’s important to note that he was writing to a thriving Christian community. What an encouragement it must have been to Paul.

Like his letter to the Romans, Ephesians gives us a window into Paul’s theology. Unlike many of his letters, Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus at a time when he was not having to address a local crisis or serious spiritual problems. What makes this letter stand out is that it contemplates the mystery of God’s relationship with the church. He presents the church as God’s new humanity, where his people can have a foretaste of what renewed relationship with God in Christ is like. It points to the renewed unity and dignity that God designed man to have originally. That’s why Paul knew it was so important to start with praising God. It is the foundation of who we were/are meant to be and where we will find our greatest purpose. Praise refocuses our lives and attention to the glory, the majesty and wonder of God and that is where Paul chooses to begin the letter to the Ephesians.

Let’s read Ephesians 1:3–4,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

The first order of worship, prayer, or any action of life should be to acknowledge that God is worthy of our praise, honor, glory. There is no true sacred/secular dichotomy. We must always remember that it is God who is the first cause of all things good and wonderful, whether it be at work, play, in business, in relationships, in all of the culture, or at church. We should praise him for who he is, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is everything to us. Our salvation, hope, wisdom, joy, our provision, our healer and defender, the only way to the Father, and true life as it was meant to be. It is because of the blessing of the Father who sent us his Son as the atonement for our sins that we are blessed with “every spiritual blessing” in the heavenly places.

Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Our thanks are due to God for all temporal blessings; they are more than we deserve. But our thanks ought to go to God in thunders of hallelujahs for spiritual blessings. A new heart is better than a new coat. To feed on Christ is better than to have the best earthly food. To be an heir of God is better than being the heir of the greatest nobleman. To have God for our portion is blessed, infinitely more blessed than to own broad acres of land. God hath blessed us with spiritual blessings. These are the rarest, the richest, the most enduring of all blessings; they are priceless in value.

Throughout the entire section from verses 3–14 Paul was saying that the blessings listed come from God the Father, become ours in Jesus Christ, and are applied to us by the Holy Spirit. God the Father is the subject of nearly every verb in the section, and the phrase “in Christ” or “in him” occurs throughout. It’s a wonderful example of the workings of the Trinity on behalf of those who are “in Christ.”

There are two ways to understand what Paul meant by “spiritual blessings.” He could be speaking of spiritual as opposed to material blessings or that the blessings come to us by means of the Holy Spirit which he affirms in verse 14. I suspect that the first meaning applies here in verse 3.

We were meant to have an intimate relationship with our creator and to know him more fully each day… forever. We should hunger for that because it is our greatest need. To have no desire to receive God’s spiritual blessings is to live at the level of animals. An animal’s activities are limited to eating, sleeping, entertaining themselves, and reproducing. Even though each of those activities is a part of human life, we were created for something much higher and with a much greater purpose. We were made in the image of God and were to join him in subduing the earth and having dominion over it. The goal was to make the earth a place for God to dwell with us and heaven and earth would be joined as a place for God’s glory and our delight.

Paul wanted this understanding to be the encouragement that the church needed to press forward with the gospel message. God was willing to not only pour out spiritual blessings but to bless us with every spiritual blessing available to us in heaven.

Did you know that? Do you want that? Are you praying for that?

What we are witnessing in our culture right now is the effect that ignoring and even rejecting God’s spiritual blessings can have. Many of us have witnessed men and women acting like animals in their rage and deception as they riot, destroying property, looting and setting fires and even killing. There is no hope for this to stop through legislation but only through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The government, no matter who is president, cannot accomplish this and it was never intended to. It is and has always been the call of the people of God, the church. Only a revival and a powerful awakening by the Holy Spirit can save this country but it will take God’s people praying for God to pour out all the spiritual blessings upon his people in America. It is literally the only hope we have.

In 1876 Robert Lowrey wrote the hymn, “Nothing but the Blood.” The lyrics are powerful, but I’ll just share the refrain:

Oh! precious is the flow,
          that makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know
          Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Years ago, I met a man named Ron Dupre’ who had once been the Sergeant-at-Arms with the Hell’s Angels in Los Angeles. He held had a black belt in karate and was state champion in Arizona and California. He was around 6' 3" and probably weighed 270 lbs. The motorcycle club called him “Loco” because he was so violent and dangerous. No one wanted to see Loco go off on them. There was simply no taming him, but when I met him, I heard the testimony about how Jesus Christ did. As I stood there talking with him, I was incredibly grateful that Jesus had. He was now a man of love and humility who wanted to share the story of how Jesus transformed his life. His motorcycle brothers couldn’t believe it but they were not going to make fun of him either.

We have been settling for far less than what God is willing to pour out upon us and now is the time to acknowledge that upon our knees. Why would he hear us and grant our request? I think it’s because he has been waiting for his people to ask him because they have come to the end of their strength and abilities.

Paul assures those who are Christ-followers that God is willing because that’s what he had planned for us before the foundations of the world. Let’s read Ephesians 1:4 again,

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

We should not attempt to change what Paul has written here. He makes it clear that believers are chosen by God, and they are chosen before they were even a thought to their mother and father. They were chosen before God created the world—before they even had a chance to do anything to justify themselves before him. There are many who find this offensive and the great light of this truth seems to cast some shadows; namely, in trying to reconcile human responsibility with divine sovereignty. God’s decisions are his own and the purpose of this light is not to cast shadows but to guide our steps. The light of God’s choosing gives us assurance as to the authority of His plan and assures His love towards us. The reasons for God’s choosing are not capricious, nor are they random.

Paul wrote in another doxology of praise in Romans 11:33–36,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
          “For who has known the mind of the Lord, 
              or who has been his counselor?”
          “Or who has given a gift to him
              that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be the glory forever! Amen

Though God’s plan and choices are not known to us, we know that they are altogether wise and good, but the reasons are all in Him, not in us. However, the fact that the Bible teaches this undeniable. John R.W. Stott calls God’s choosing “A Divine revelation, not human speculation,” and Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones refers to this teaching as a “statement, not an argument.”

Paul gives the reason that God chose his people, “that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” We are chosen not only for salvation, but also for holiness. Any understanding of God’s sovereign choosing that diminishes our personal responsibility for personal holiness and sanctification falls far short of the whole counsel of God. Having saved us, he places within us the Holy Spirit that we might be able to follow the commands of God that we were previously unable to follow because of our spiritual blindness.

In verse 5 we understand why he chose and what it meant for those in Christ.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

This is the Father’s destiny for His chosen—that they would enjoy adoption as sons. God’s unfolding plan for us not only includes salvation and personal transformation, but also a warm, confident relationship with the Father.

When the apostle Paul wrote about adoption it must be noted that he was a Roman citizen and was largely ministering to those who lived under Roman law. In the 1st century when a man was adopted into a family that was not biological, it was usually as a young man. He had been chosen by someone who was looking for an heir who would continue the family as if he had been born into the family. Once adopted he had no more identity to his birth family, and he became the heir of all that his adopted father owned. The transfer was complete, and a new identity was given. That’s what God predestined for those who he chooses to adopt. John R.W. Stott made this observation,

This high position in the family of God gives us something in Jesus that Adam never had. “When people ask us the speculative question why God went ahead with the creation when he knew that it would be followed by the fall, one answer we can tentatively give is that he destined us for a higher dignity than even creation would bestow on us.

This brings back full circle to why God has lavished his love on his beloved and it’s so that we can be the image-bearers that we were originally intended to be.

“To the praise of his glorious of His grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” This family aspect is pointed to again. We are designed for the joy of praising God because of who he is and who we have become because of his grace and love. The word used for “blessed” (chariot) is the same that the angel Gabriel used in his initial greeting to the virgin Mary. It means “highly favored” or “full of grace”. Paul is saying that this is granted to every believer. Why would he do that? Don’t you imagine that Mary asked the question, “Why me?”

Early 4th century Early Church Father John Chrysostom, when speaking of the work by which God makes us “blessed in the Beloved” said,

It is as if one were to take a leper and change him into a lovely youth.

This is the point that the Apostle Paul wanted the Ephesians to grasp. There were so many reasons to sing the praises of God and I don’t know that we will ever realize how true that is, this side of Heaven but none is more important than praising him because of his unmerited favor and grace.

It’s time that we take our intended place within the family and go looking for those who don’t know about the grace and mercy of God. There is not a greater way to praise the Lord than acting in love and obedience for his grace lavished on us. The world needs to know that there is a loving God but there is also the reality of Hell. We have our work cut out. Let us be found faithful to our Father's will and our Savior's sacrifice.

Let’s pray.


©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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