Ephesians 1:1-2

Sermon preached on November 6, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

Have you heard of the birthday problem? It asks the question,

"How many people would you need to have at a birthday party so that there is a better than 50-50 chance that two of them will share the same birthday?"

Most people would intuitively guess a large number—the first answer that might pop into your head could be 183. That seems about right. But 183 is no where near right. Indeed, half of that, 90, is still too high. And half of that, 45, is still far from the mark. Indeed, the correct answer is 23. If you have 23 people in a room, you have more than a 50-50 chance that two of them share the same birthday. That number seems way too low, but if you do the math, that's the answer. If you have a group of 60 people, the chances are nearly 100% (actually 99.4%) that two people within that group will share the same birthday.

I don't know about you, but it took me awhile to get my head around that. At first, 23 seems way off. Most of us don't intuitively see it that way. Our common sense guess is all wrong—it's way off.

That's exactly that way it is with us as we look at God's grace. Only we do the opposite there—without thinking about it—we tend to act like it's a lot lower in our lives that it really is. I know when I was growing up, I was a little bit smart. I know that my general impression about it was, "Well, that's just the way I am." That's basically how I thought about it. I believe that's the way that most people are. If someone is good looking, beautiful or handsome—how do they think about it? I think most people would simply say, "That's the way I am. That's just the way it is." If someone is good at a sport, whether it's hockey, soccer, basketball, running or biking—how do they think about it—they think it's natural, that it's just the way that they are.

I watched a few minutes of a TV show on
food eating contests this week—I couldn't watch all of it because it was so disgusting. They have a lot of different ones—some involve hot dogs, pies and food like that. But one that they have in Texas, near the Mexican border—is different. It's a jalapeño eating contest. They eat as many hot peppers as they can in a certain time. The guy who won ate something like 250 in a few minutes. They had an interview with him and asked him how he got into it. He said that when he was in high school he was in the Spanish Club and they had a jalapeño eating contest. It was to see how many someone could eat in two minutes. He said he won the contest. He ate 40. He said the person who came second ate 6. Then he said something like,

"It was then I realized I have a real talent for this."

His response is typical. Most people, even Christians, tend to see things that way. That's our intuitive gut feeling. We accept the talents we are as the norm, as just the way things are.

Now if we thought about it. If we did the Biblical math, we'd see that those things are all about God's grace. The answer would be 100%.

Now to help us see things that way, and live our lives with that understanding, I'm going to look at the first part of Ephesians. For that part of Ephesians is, as John Calvin tells us, chiefly about,

"commending the grace of God."

It's about God's initiative in our salvation, in good works, in bringing the Gentiles in—it's all of grace. Calvin tells us that Paul's aim is,

"to lead them to gratitude to God for so many favors, and to testify to that gratitude by consecrating themselves wholly to him…"

Thus the great lesson of our text is:

all good things you have are the result of God's grace.

Paul sets the tone in his opening sentence. He writes,

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus
by the will of God,"

Paul begins with himself and shows that he had received great grace.

Why was Paul an apostle? It wasn't because he sought God—it was because God sought him. You'll remember the story of Paul's conversion. After he had held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, he was filled with anger against Christians. In Acts 9:1 we read,

"Saul was still breathing out murderous threats
against the Lord's disciples.
He went to the high priest
and asked him for letters
to the synagogues in Damascus,
so that if he found any there
who belonged to the Way,
whether men or women,
he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

It was at that point that God's grace reached out to Paul and saved him. As he neared Damascus, a bright light flashed around him and Jesus said,

"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

It was there that Jesus converted Saul. He then told him to go into the city and wait to be told what to do. Then God appeared to Ananias in a vision and told him to go and lay his hands on Saul and heal his blindness. When Ananias argued, God said to him, (Acts 9:15)

"Go! This man is my chosen instrument
to carry my name
before the Gentiles and their kings
and before the people of Israel."

God took the initiative, saved Paul and made him the apostle to the Gentiles. It was God's doing. It was all of God. That's why Paul writes, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God." His apostleship was, as Charles Hodge writes,

"a gift, or grace from God,"

As Paul put it in Romans 1:5, referring to Jesus Christ,

"Through him and for his name's sake,
we received grace and apostleship
to call people from among all the Gentiles
to the obedience that comes from faith."

It was all of grace and it was through Jesus Christ and for His name's sake.

Some Christians today will try to put the emphasis on salvation on man's decision. I hear it all the time. They will say something like,

"God will not force anyone to become a Christian against his will."

In a certain sense, they're right. That's correct. But how they interpret it is wrong. They are basically saying that a man has to change his will, by himself, before God will do anything to save him. That's incorrect. God doesn't force anyone to be a Christian against his will. The point is that God changes his will. God changed Paul's will. As Augustine wrote, (St. Augustine on the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises and Moral Treatises: Nicene and Post-Nicene, p. 248)

"God's mercy ... goes before the unwilling to make him willing."

Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul summed up his whole life, his apostleship, his hard work—and gave all the credit to God. He said,

"But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.
No, I worked harder than all of them—
yet not I,
but the grace of God
that was with me."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, (God's Ultimate Purpose, p. 14)

"we should always contemplate our salvation in this way. We must not start with ourselves and then ascend to God; we must start with the sovereignty of God, God over all, and then come down to ourselves."

Secondly, we see that

Paul spoke about the Ephesians and how they received grace.

Paul continued,

"To the saints in Ephesus,
the faithful in Christ Jesus:"

Today's society usually thinks about saints according to the Roman Catholic conception. Saints are super Christians though whom God has worked miracles.

But that's not the biblical meaning of the term. According to the Bible,
saints are those who are set apart by God. Paul is here addressing not a elite minority in Ephesus, but all the Christians there. In chapter 5 he has a section addressed to husbands, another addressed to wives. In chapter 6 he has a section addressed to children, another to parents, another to slaves, another to masters. So it's clear that this is addressed to everyone at Ephesus.

So as John Stott writes, when Paul refers to the saints at Ephesus, he is not, (God's New Society, p. 22)

"to some spiritual elite within the congregation, a minority of exceptionally holy Christians, but rather to all God's people. They are called 'saints' (that is, 'holy') because they had been set apart to belong to him."

The literal word here is 'holy'. Christians are the holy ones.

The thing to be noted here is that God makes people holy. He sets apart people to Himself. We do not make ourselves saints, God makes us saints. Someone who is a Christian is someone who has been 'born again' or 'born from above'—from the spirit. As Charles
Hodge writes,

"the… saints, are those who are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and thus separated from the world and consecrated to God."

We see this clearly from chapter 2. Chapter 2 describes how God took the Ephesians, who were dead in trespasses and sins, who were by nature objects of God's wrath—and made them alive in Christ Jesus. God did that. Then the chapter goes on to describe how God destroyed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, by abolishing in his flesh the law and its commandments and regulations. God has now made one new man out of two by the work of Christ. Then Paul says, (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints
and members of the household of God,"

They were fellow citizen with the saints. In other words, they are all saints—both Jewish and Gentile Christians. They are all one in Christ.

It's very clear from Ephesians 2 that God has done that. It's all of God. All of grace. The Ephesian Christians were saints because God made them saints.

We also see this in Paul's next designation of the Ephesian Christians.

The Ephesian Christians were the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote,

"To the saints in Ephesus,
the faithful in Christ Jesus:"

They were the ones who trusted in Jesus, who exercised faith in Him.

But where did this faith come from? Did it come from them? In Ephesians 2:8f Paul made it very clear that this faith was a gift of God. He wrote,

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—
and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God"

Thus Paul's very introduction mentioning his himself and the Ephesians, shows that what they had was all of grace.

Then Paul writes something very interesting. He tells them that

what they need is grace and peace.

What do they need more than anything else? He writes,

"Grace and peace to you
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ."

H. H. Esser writes, ( NIDNTT)

"the use of charis at the beginning and end of the Pauline letters is much more than a mere polite cliché. 'Grace' is not just a good wish for salvation; it is qualified as the grace of Christ…"

What is grace? John Stott tells us that grace is God's, (Stott, New Society, p. 27)

"free and undeserved mercy"

It is God showing kindness to those who don't deserve it and pouring out blessings on them in spite of their unworthiness. H. H. Esser writes, ( NIDNTT)

"For Paul charis is the essence of God's decisive saving act in Jesus Christ, which took place in his sacrificial death, and also of all its consequences in the present and future (Rom. 3:24 ff.)."

Grace encompasses all the consequences of Christ's work on the cross.

The word '
peace' in the Scripture has different meanings. John Calvin suggests that peace here, is not so much tranquility of conscience, but the peace that we have as the result of God's initiative in reconciling sinners to himself. Paul speaks about that in Romans 5 when he says that we have,

"Therefore, since we have been
justified through faith,
we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
into this grace in which we now stand.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."

John Eadie says that 'peace', (Ephesians, p. 7)

"denotes that form of spiritual blessing which keeps the heart in a state of happy repose. It is therefore but another phrase, or rather it is the result, of the previous xaris."

It is peace in its widest form, including not being filled with fear in the face of our enemies, not being troubled when facing danger or death, not losing hope when everything seems against us. No, the peace that we have is the peace that is the result of being saved by Jesus, of being adopted into His family, of knowing that our sins have been washed away, that Christ's righteousness is ours, and that we are now in a state of peace with God. As Charles Hodge writes, (Ephesians)

"Peace… means well-being in general. It comprehends all blessings flowing from the goodness of God."

Now the great question is:

Why do we need grace and peace?

What would we be like without grace and peace? It is horrible to contemplate because without grace and peace we would have nothing good.

Without grace we would not see anyone believe.

In Acts 18:11 we read that when Apollos arrived in Achaia,

"he was a great help
to those who by grace had believed."

Without grace we would not see any conversions. Our evangelism with be completely without success.

Indeed, without grace we would not do anything good at all.

I've already quoted from 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul said that Paul said that he was what he was because of grace. It was all the result of God's grace. He knew there was nothing good in him apart from God's grace. As he wrote in Romans 7:18,

"I know that nothing good lives in me,
that is,
in my sinful nature."

In 1 Corinthians 3:10 Paul talked about how he was able to do so much good for the church. He wrote,

"By the grace God has given me,
I laid a foundation as an expert builder,"

Paul's conduct among the churches was exemplary. Why was that? In 2 Corinthians 1:12 Paul tells us that it was because of God's grace. He wrote,

"Our conscience testifies
that we have conducted ourselves in the world,
and especially in our relations with you,
in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.
We have done so not according to worldly wisdom
but according to God's grace."

It's interesting that when the gospel was preached in Antioch, the Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to investigate. Here's how Luke puts it in Acts 11:23,

"When he arrived
and saw the evidence of the grace of God,
he was glad and encouraged them all
to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts."

In other words, everything good he saw was attributed to the grace of God. These people had been saved, translated from darkness to light, and we behaving as Christians—and Luke gave all the credit to the grace of God.

We see the same principle taught in
Romans 12:6 where Paul taught that every spiritual gift Christians have is the result of grace. He wrote,

"We have different gifts,
according to the grace given us."

Without God's grace, we would not have one spiritual gift. In the New Testament everything is traced to God's grace.

Without grace would we grow in our faith?

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, (Acts 20:32)

"Now I commit you to God
and to the word of his grace,
which can build you up
and give you an inheritance
among all those who are sanctified."

It's the word of God's grace that builds us up. Indeed Paul states here that

without grace we Christians would be lost.

It's God's grace that gives us an inheritance among those who are sanctified. Without it we would not persevere. Why do we persevere in the faith? It's because of God's grace. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6,

"being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."

Peter is only in heaven today because Jesus prayed for him, that his faith fail not. (Luke 22:32) Without God's grace we would not persevere.

Indeed, without God's grace we would have no hope.

In Romans 4:16 Paul wrote,

the promise comes by faith,
so that it may be by grace
and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring"

Without God's grace all the promises in the Bible would be no good to us. We would not be able to take one to heart.

Indeed, without God's grace, Christ could not have died for us. In Hebrews 2:9 we read,

"But we see Jesus,
who was made a little lower than the angels,
now crowned with glory and honor
because he suffered death,
so that by the grace of God
he might taste death for everyone."

Without grace would we experience anything good, would our lives be one punishment after another?

Remember how Jeremiah put it in Lamentations 3:22,

"Because of the LORD's great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail."

Every day we fail to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength—so every day we deserve punishment after punishment.

But God does not treat us as we deserve. He sends grace our way.

I could go on and on—but the point is that grace and peace is what we need. Without them—we are nothing.

Lastly, we need to note how these blessings come to us.

The Father and Jesus Christ are the source of grace and peace.

It's interesting that in these first two verses Paul mentions Jesus Christ three times. He's an apostle of Christ Jesus. It's written to the faithful in Christ Jesus. He prays that grace and peace would come to them from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It's accurate to say that Paul viewed Jesus Christ as central to the grace and peace that he wished for the Ephesians. It came through Him. As Jesus said in John 14:6,

"I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

The exclusivism of Christianity is an affront to the world today. As Philip Ryken writes, (The Message of Salvation, p. 55)

"To the secular mind, anyone who claims to know the absolute truth, not to mention the only way of salvation, is utterly and hopelessly conceited. In the words of one young man, 'I get real angry at these Christians who tell me that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I mean, what kind of arrogance is that?"

People don't like the exclusivism of Christianity.

Unfortunately some professing Christians are proposing a way around this problem. They say that God is love and must have a plan for saving more people than are Christians.
Ryken writes, (p. 55)

"some theologians who identify themselves as evangelicals are promoting Jesus as the One Ultimate Reality who unifies all the diverse religions. According to this view, the spiritual supermarket is full of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and many other worshippers who are really 'anonymous Christians'. They are saved by Christ, even though they do not know Christ in a personal way at all."

Ryken is correct in rejecting this. How can it be? What does Romans 10 tell us? (Verses 9f)

"if you confess with your mouth,
'Jesus is Lord',
and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,
and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
As the Scripture says,
'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—
the same Lord is Lord of all
and richly blesses all who call on him,
for, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.
How, then, can they call on the one
they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one
of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear
without someone preaching to them?
And how can they preach unless they are sent?"

Romans 10 makes clear that we are saved by faith in Jesus. You can't be saved by Jesus without knowing Him, without trusting Him. No, as Paul says here,

"Grace and peace to you
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ."

The grace comes to us through Jesus Christ.

If you're not a Christian, you need to trust in Jesus. He's your only hope. You need grace. So far you've experience much of it. All the good things you've experienced have been because of God's grace. But it will not last. The day of judgment is coming. All God's goodness to you so far has been designed to lead you to repentance. As we read in Romans 2:4,

"Or do you show contempt
for the riches of his kindness,
tolerance and patience,
not realizing that
God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"

Don't show contempt for all the good that God has showed to you already. Go to Jesus and find fullness of grace in Him. That's what you need. You need to be saved. You need grace. Only Christ can give it to you. Go to Him now.