A New Identity
Any TEDS talk fans out there? I want to share a little from one by Bryan Stevenson on the power of identity. Stevenson is a civil rights attorney and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to poor defendants who have been denied fair treatment in the criminal justice system.
STEVENSON'S says his GRANDMOTHER WAS THE matriarch ofthe family. When Stevenson was eight or nine, his grandmother walked across the room, took him by the hand, and said, "Come on, Bryan. You and I are going to have a talk." Stevenson said he would never forget the discussion that happened next.
She sat me down and she looked at me and she said, "I want you to know I've been watching you." And she said, "I think you’re special." She said, "I think you can do anything you want to do."
I will never forget it. And then she said, "I just need you to promise me three things, Bryan." I said, "Okay, Mama. She said, "The first thing I want you to promise me is that you'll always love your mom." She said, "That's my baby girl, and you have to promise me now you'll always take care of her." Well I adored my mom, so I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that." Then she said,
"The second thing I want you to promise me is that you'll always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing." And I thought about it and I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that." Then finally she said, "The third thing I want you to promise me is that you'll never drink alcohol." Well I was nine years old, so I said, "Yes, Mama. I'll do that." [Laughter]
A few years later, Stevenson was in the backwoods near his house with two of his siblings who insisted that he take a sip of beer. Stevenson pushed back and said he didn't feel right about it. "And then my brother started staring at me. He said, 'What's wrong with you? Have some beer.' Then he looked at me real hard and he said, 'Oh, I hope you're not still hung up on that conversation Mama had with you.' And when I asked him what he was talking about said, 'Oh, Mama tells all the grandkids that they're special.””(Laughter.)... I was devastated. (More laughter.)
Stevenson lowered his voice and said, "I'm going to tell you something I probably shouldn't. I m 52 years old, and I'm going to admit to you that I’ve never had a drop of alcohol. I don't say that because I think that's virtuous; I say that because there is power in identity.
The audience, most of whom had been laughing at Stevenson's story about his grandmother, suddenly grew silent as they took in his words. 52 years old and never had a drop of alcohol. The words of his grandmother were taken to heart. His identity was built on that.
There is power in what you identify with about yourself. Power in what you believe about yourself and the world. Everyone of us has lingering statements of things said and done to us. Some fuel us with energy. Some haunt us. We need to find our true identity in the God of the Bible. This is the true identity. This is what should define and guide us. IT is what should override all other voices.
In Christ we have a new identity. IN Christ we are brought into the realities of who God is and what he has done for us. Ephesians 1 might be one of the best places to read that reality and that is what we are looking at today.
We are starting a series on the book of Ephesians. This book is 155 verses. It takes about 20 minutes to read the whole thing. Yet there is immense power in this book. One theologian Klyne Snodgrass said “Pound for pound Ephesians may well be the most influential document in history.” (Merida, Ephesians, 3).
This book was written to the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus was the “mother city” of Asia (Slide 1). It was influential regarding politics (headquarters of the Roman procounsul), commerce (major port city of the west coast of Asia and where the major roads converged)(Slide 2), and even religion (home of the temple of Artemis) (Slide 3), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (built in 550 bc, it had columns 60 feet high. It was a wealthy city. When a fire destroyed the temple of Artemis in 356bc Alexander the Great offered to help pay the cost if they would put his name prominently on it. The city said we don’t need your help and they rebuilt it themselves. It was the largest trading center in Asia Minor west of Tarsus. It had a population of 200,000-250,000 residents. Only Rome and Alexandria were bigger. It had a multiethnic population.
You can see parallels to the city of atlanta Major city but not biggest, major port (Hartsfield), major roadways, influential, diverse, well to do, great history.
Of all the wonderful things they had Paul did not tell them to find their identity in any of this. There was something much bigger and greater. They are to have their identity in the glorious living God and what they have in him.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:1-14 ESV)
Three points to see in this about your identity.
- Blessed in Christ.
This passage expounds on how we are blessed in God and why we are to bless him. We bless God because he has so lavishly blessed us. Do you see yourself as blessed in Christ?
This passage starts with blessing God. “Blessed be God…” That is praising him. We were created to worship. What God has done for us sets us in motion to do what we were created to do-- worship, praise, rejoice, and sing. The Psalmists blessed God. Our worship time this morning is designed to be a time we can bless him and praise him. If you came in today without a reason to bless God then you need to hear what God has done for you. You need your identity in this.
He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. There is nothing lacking in what God has done for us in Christ. Every. He has not left anything out.
Some have said there may be no more glorious sentence in the Bible. Yet, we live and act like we are impoverished and destitute children. Look at what Christ has done for us.
Blessed. We receive what Christ deserves “unending blessing.” Jesus was the obedient child. Imagine if a wealthy grandparent tells a grandchild if you do x,y, z then I will give you everything i have. The child obeys and receives it all. In the gospel Christ is the obedient child. We are the ones who squandered everything away. We did the exact opposite of what they said. The goodnews is that by faith we are “in Christ.” We receive what he earned. We are fellow heirs with him. And it is not a grandparents wealth we inherit, but the inheritance of God. Look at some of the blessings specified.
Adopted. We are children of God. We are in his family. We are not just employees that get paid. We are not a person who wins an inheritance and collects money but has no relational connection. Our status is changed. We are sons and daughters of God. We belong in the family.
Redemption. Redemption is "a releasing affected by payment of ransom; redemption, deliverance, liberation procured by the payment of a ransom"; Someone bought from slavery is redeemed. A captive is released through the payment of a ransom. Once paid they are no longer under the control of the captor. We were once enslaved to sin, but Christ paid the ransom for us. He set us free. Your sin no longer holds you captive.
Chosen/predestined. This is deep waters. Some people don’t like to hear predestined, but it is here in the Bible. It means chosen before hand. To determine in advance. When did he doe this? he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, (Eph 1:4 ESV).
You may say but I chose him. I repented. Scripture affirms that you ought to repent, that you ought to seek him. It also affirms that what comes before that is God’s choosing. But wait, “I have questions on this.” Me too. Scripture affirms we all have a choice to make. It affirms God is sovereign and know the end from the beginning. I don’t know how to rationalize that and people get in trouble when they try to fill in the gap.
God’s Sovereignty<----------------------------------->Human Responsibility
Mystery, Awe, Love
This is an issue that can be and has been very divisive in churches. It shouldn’t be. We need to be emphatic about what Scripture is clear about. We ought to be more gracious in things that are not as clear. This is one of those. But what is clear is Paul connects this topic to seeing the love of God. “In love…” Before you ever did anything he loved you. He knew everything about you and still chose you. Thats love! He knew you.
V10. unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Making known to us the mystery of his will according to his purpose. God reveals his purpose and plans to us here. There is mystery, but there is enough that is clear that it gives us faith in the mystery. Same is true in your life. Paul wrote this book in probably around ad 62 while he was in prison. He is in prison yet he is praising God for what he has in Christ. That is power, even in the mystery of life not going your way. Paul, praising God from a prison. You can praise him from a cubicle, in traffic, in a hard work environment, a difficult marriage, annoying roommates.
everything else. This truths should change how you live. You are blessed.
Too old. Too young. Too fat. Too skinny. Not smart enough. NOt successful enough. Too successful and everyone should bow to you. Nothing in Christ.
- Blessed by God.
We are not blessed by our grandmother. We are blessed by the all glorious God of the universe.
You don’t receive because of how good you have been. You don’t receive it because God knew you would make all the right decisions. You don’t receive it because God saw a spark of greatness and wanted to fan it into flame. God did not do it because he was somehow incomplete without you.
God does it according to his purpose/wll v5. It is ultimately “To the praise of his glorious grace” (v6). He does it to bring glory to himself.
God’s ultimate purpose is not our redemption or our blessing but his glory, and he does these things as it leads to his glory. This all leads to see his great love for us. “In love” he does all of this.
There is a term theologians use to describe God. An attribute they give to God is his independence or his aseity (meaning from himself). It means God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything. God is absolutely independent and self sufficient. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25 ESV)
Sometimes people think God created humans because he was lonely or needed something. Sometimes we treat God as if he needs us. “God how can you make it through a day when my world is so difficult and hard??” Like he needs us to be happy. If this were true it would mean that God is not independent of creation. It means he is dependent on others to sustain himself and find meaning, joy, and happiness. The truth is that God doesn’t need any of that. He is independent of us.
When we see that we see how amazing his love is. It is amazing that he delights in us, that he treasures us, that he loves us. We in fact find our significance in being made by him. It is amazing in Scripture that God actually delights in his people and rejoices over the (Isaiah 62:3-5)
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isa 62:3 ESV) for the LORD delights in you, (Isa 62:4 ESV)
“To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagine.” Wayne Grudem.
It is according to his pleasure that he does this (v5)
And as we are humbled we see how great God is. We receive what we do not deserve. That is called grace. And we are to praise God for his grace. Our identity is one of grace, of confidence in God and not of ourselves. That we are loved, treasured, gloated over. Baffling!
Believe God’s word above all others. He is so much greater than all others. In Christ he delights in you. Stop working like you have to earn everyone’s approval. Sit down relax. Let things
When you sit dejected and depressed, when you feel like a down or a loser, a failure, when you have so much accomplishment and it feels like to little. We find our identity in Christ. You are blessed by God!
- More to Come
Paul praises God for how he is blessed, but there is also a longing for more. There is a present reception of God’s grace, but there is an expectation of more to come.
We have been sealed with the holy spirit who is a deposit of our inheritance (v)
We have a deposit. he first or initial payment of money or assets, as a guarantee for the completion of a transaction or pledge. Our inheritance is secured in heaven, and we have a down payment now through the spirit, it is a down payment of every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. When you buy a house you give a down payment. Here is an initial sum, i ll bring more of this later. God has more in store for you.
This is the gospel and to receive it means to be changed by it. Paul had his name changed (Saul to Paul) and also his vocation (Pharisee to Apostle). The Ephesians had their identity changed too. They became saints, the faithful. A saint is someone who is set apart. They were in the world but not of the world..
They knew that apart from Christ they were homeless wanders, unredeemed and destined for destruction, there was no blessing but only a curse for their disobedience, no forgiveness but only condemnation, no salvation but only destruction. They believe, responded by giving their life for this. Apart from Christ they have every reason to be depressed. But in Christ they have every reason to praise, to sing, to dance and to declare his glory.
These words gave new identity to murders, to adulterers, idolators, hedonist, the abused and enslaved. The gospel speaks a stronger word than any other voice. They were not defined by their past or what others thought.
What are you building your identity around? Jesus! Really consider the question. If Jesus what are you telling yourself. What verses inform what it means. What is informing what you think about yourself.
What are you instilling in others. Your kids. Is there a void of spiritual advice. Is it the success “be a good person….
Too old. Too young. Too fat. Too skinny. Not smart enough. NOt successful enough. Too successful and everyone should bow to you. Nothing in Christ.
You are blessed in Christ. That is good news.