Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/30/97
" . . . In whom [Christ] also you trusted, after listening to the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise."
We have learned some amazing truths in the 12 short weeks we have spent in Ephesians. We have seen that its theme is the eternal purpose of God to bring glory to his son and shalom to his creation through the salvation of sinners and the formation of them into his Church. We have seen its purpose, to motivate us to walk worthily of our calling by giving us a mind- and soul-expanding vision of that purpose. We have seen how the Great Blessing, vv. 3-14, introduces the whole book like the overture of a symphony. We have seen the great privilege it is to be the recipient of God's grace, chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed, and taken into his confidence. Last week we saw that this privilege is not the exclusive possession of a few initiates of even of the nation of Israel, but that you also are included. Every spiritual blessing is available to all who listen and believe. It is available to you.
The question then that faces us is this: Do you know these blessings? Are they a part of your life? Have you been set free from sin by Jesus' blood to live for his glory? Do you know God as your father by adoption? In other words, are you a Christian? Are you saved?
This is a question we must take seriously, whose answer we should not assume, for our eternal destiny depends on its answer. Either the meaning of your life is summed up in Christ, or it must be discarded as eternally meaningless. It may seem strange that I should put the question thus here, in the midst of the gathered assembly of his people. But too many people have told me, "I thought I was a Christian for years, but I wasn't. Then I really met the Lord." Being a member of the church, even a Bible-beliving church like this one, is no guarantee that these things have happened and are happening in your life. So let's look at the question afresh.
How do you know the answer? How do you know if you are truly a Christian? V. 13 has the answer. Let us first notice what it does not say. It says nothing about having been raised in a Christian home. It does not mention an unthinking and uncritical acceptance of your parents' religion. It has nothing to say about church membership. It omits to mention whether you have lived a good moral life compared to your neighbors. There is not a single word about having been baptized, having gone forward at an altar call, knowing all the right language. All these things are important, but they do not make you a Christian. Some of them are the results of being one; none are the cause.
What does make you a Christian? A supernatural and miraculous work of God, so far-reaching in its scope that it began before the foundations of the earth, so intensive in its effects that it changes your identity from that of a sinner to a saint, your purpose from self gratification to his glory, your destiny from wrath and judgment to eternal life, and your present condition from slavery to sin to the glorious liberty of the children of light. It is a work so costly in its execution that it cost the blood of God's only begotten and supremely beloved son. So the question really is, has God done such a work in your life? And the question practically is, how can you be included in that work? Well, how were the Gentiles Paul was addressing included? There were three steps. They listened; they believed; and they were sealed. We will deal with the first two today and save the third for next week.
First, they "LISTENED to the word of truth." What does this mean? Certainly not just that the physical vibrations have taken place in our eardrums. Some of us have heard the Gospel 1,000 times, but we've never really heard it. You can tell this if your inward attitude is "Yeah, I know, Jesus died for our sins, ho hum, whatever, big deal." A person who can say that, even inwardly, has never really heard the message. But the time comes when the aweful and terrifying truth of it grips you. It becomes a fire in your bones. It is as if you are hearing it for the first time. Those were your sins; he died for you; this is real. You know that an hour of decision has come for you; you are personally addressed by the message, and you know that you must do something about it, commit yourself one way or another.
You realize for the first time, in other words, that the Gospel is a "word of truth." You can no longer dismiss it as an opinion of the preacher with which you may or may not agree. It is no longer merely venerable words on the pages of an ancient book which you may or may not revere. It can no longer be a plausible or even a probable theory for you to debate in your mind. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart and mind to see clearly and undeniably what before you could only guess at. It is simple there, like a solid, massive boulder in your path, and you have to deal with it. You hear it for the first time as "the Gospel of your salvation." YOUR salvation. For the first time, you really hear the message, really listen to it. Has there ever been such a time in your life, such a moment of truth between you and God?
If there has, then (and only then) you had the potential to move on to the next step: "Having also BELIEVED." What does it mean to believe in the biblical sense, to have saving faith? Good synonyms for this belief include faith, trust, reliance, persuasion, conviction, acceptance, ratification, commitment. This is not "Here is a box I might check on a poll," but "I stake my life on this!" It is not "I am of the opinion that this rope would hold me," it is the act of swinging out over the crevasse with all your weight entrusted to it. Faith therefore is the spiritual hands by which we cling to Christ as the physical hands would cling to a rope while we swing over the bottomless chasm of eternity.
In other words, when you finally hear--when you are confronted inescapably with Jesus Christ at the Lord of the universe and your only hope of spiritual life, do you say, "Go away and leave me alone" or "YES! I will follow you to the ends of the earth. For, yes, I believe that you died for me. And yes, I do trust you as my Saviour and my Lord." That YES is faith. It can only happen after you have really listened to the gospel as the word of truth, the message of your salvation. If it does, both that listening and that response of faith are the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10), a miraculous work by his Holy Spirit in your life. Without it you cannot be saved; without it you have not been saved. But with it you can grab hold of eternal life: predestination, adoption, redemption, the mystery of his will, the promise of the glory of his grace.
Now, it is quite clear that faith in this sense is not something that sinners are capable of. That is why Paul will insist in 2:8 that even the faith by which we are saved is the gift of God. Yes, you have a part in it--YOU must listen, YOU must believe. But not you alone. For faith in this sense--saving faith--is a part of the great work of God which makes someone a Christian. Has he done such a work in your heart? If not, do you desire it? That desire itself is the first sign that the work has begun! You must pray for him to do that work in your heart, and never stop until he has. For he has promised: "If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me." And "He who cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams