This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
The Church Is God’s
In my first pastorate, I started preaching the book of Ephesians in my second year. After I was in the fifth or sixth week of the series, a kindly, older church member came to me and said, “Pastor, may I ask you a question? When you are preaching through Ephesians, you are not trying to tell us what this church should do. Instead, you are trying to tell us what God wants his church to do—what God wants his church to be. Is that right?” That senior saint was so right, and I was thankful that the message of the book of Ephesians was coming through!
God’s Plan for the Church
The book of Ephesians concerns what God is doing in redemptive history by making the church: God is forming the body of Christ, that he might fill them to walk in works of love and to stand firm in Christ’s victory. The church, therefore, is not a simple social construct in the hands of sinners skilled with organizational savvy and robust visions for transforming communities. Instead, from all eternity, God has a plan for the ages that he will accomplish in Christ through the church. In grace, Ephesians reveals how God places us into this great plan.
God is forming the body of Christ, that he might fill them to walk in works of love and to stand firm in Christ’s victory.
The Corporate and Individual
For the individual believer, it is easy to emphasize personal piety and individual discipleship. In Ephesians, Paul shows the significance of God’s workings in both the corporate and individual Christian life. For example, the corporate body of Christ has received the spiritual blessings of redemption in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14), has been rescued from wrath in Christ according to the decree of God (Eph. 2:1-10), and must pursue the peace Christ provides between Jewish and Gentile believers (Eph. 2:11-22). Yet it is the individual believer who receives the Spirit by a faith-response to the gospel (Eph. 1:13-14), who is saved in a manner that no one person can boast about saving oneself (Eph. 2:9), and who must put on the new self, putting off the old self of thievery, unrighteous anger, and malice (Eph. 4:17-32).
The Glory of the Grace God in Christ
Ultimately the book of Ephesians is about the glory of God and his grace. God is glorifying himself through the church so that we will be holy before him with certainty when he consummates all things in the universe in Christ (Eph. 1:12). God glorifies himself by alone guaranteeing our inheritance through Christ (Eph. 1:14). God gains all of the glory for changing those dead in sins into a workmanship he created in Christ Jesus in eternity past—doing so by taking all the credit for salvation and leaving no room for us to boast (Eph. 2:7-10). God’s grace provides the spiritual gifts we use to build each local body of believers into maturing members, families, and employees (Eph. 4:7). For Paul, rugged individualism does not save or sanctify; God alone saves and sanctifies even as he uses our works to do so.
Ephesians invites us to consider what God has made us to be, do, and have in Christ for a display of the gospel to the world. It is worth reviewing frequently so that we do not read the press reports of our own successes and strength, but read the revelation of the accomplishment of Christ on the cross for his bride.