Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 03/14/1999
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in manner worthily of the calling with which you have been called."
In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul gives us a grand vision of God's eternal purpose, expressed in various inter-related ways: to bring honor to his Son by the salvation of sinners; to bring blessing to those sinners by joining them to Christ and each other; to sum up all things in Christ; to create in the Church an eternal Temple to the glory of Christ; by so doing to make manifest his manifold wisdom to the powers and authorities in the heavens; to receive glory in the Church through Jesus Christ. The Apostle thus rebukes our small and unworthy thoughts of salvation and shows it to be part of a cosmic plan of great glory centered on Christ. He shows us our position in Christ and our purpose in holding that position as living stones in the walls of the eternal Temple God is building for Christ's glory, all accomplished by the Gospel of salvation by Grace alone received by Faith alone. Now in 4:1 we turn to the question, "So what?" and the answer to that is "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in manner worthily of the calling with which you have been called."
What is it then to walk worthily? What is this worthy walking? The rest of the Book exists to delineate the answer in great detail. But what we must see today is the relationship of those details to the doctrinal basis laid for them in chapters 1-3. We could summarize it thus: the Calling is the key to the Walking. To understand what it is to Walk worthily, we must first understand the Calling with which we are called. So what, in the light of God's eternal purpose, are we called to be?
In the first place, we are called to be SAINTS (1:1, 4). And what is a saint? We will be misled if we think of the popular notion of saints derived from Roman Catholic spirituality, where a saint is an especially holy, outstanding, extraordinary, super-spiritual person. In the NT, a saint is not a member of some special class of super Christians; the word is simply a synonym for a Christian, period. It means one who is "holy," which simply means one who is set apart. Think of the temple vessels in the OT. They were set aside and consecrated for the service of God in temple worship. You could not use them any more for common, ordinary tasks. They had been made special by their dedication to God and his service. To call Christians "saints" is to say that they are supposed to be the human versions of the same idea.
To realize that we are called to be saints is to transform our whole way of looking at salvation. We tend to have a human focus when we think of salvation: God will forgive us, save us from hell, and then, by the way, I suppose we'd better live right in response to these favors. But the Bible has a Godward focus, as we see in 1:4. He chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless before him in love. And, oh, by the way, in order to achieve that holiness I suppose we'll have to forgive them, justify them, and save them from hell. The same elements appear in both views, but they change roles; what changes is which is the cart and which the horse. So let's look at it biblically: We are called to be saints. We are not called to be forgiven and then, almost as an afterthought, made holy. We are called to be holy, and then, as a means to that end, redeemed, justified, and forgiven. The very center of our identity, or our calling as disciples of Jesus, is to be saints, i.e., to be set aside, i.e., to be different.
To what then are we called as saints? We are called to holy eccentricity, to biblical nonconformity, to evangelical idiosyncrasy. In a world given to rebellion against God's authority and indulgence of its lusts, in a world that worships money, sex, prestige, and power, in a world without truth, standards, or ideals, we are called to be Messianic Misfits. We are called to be saints--to be set apart--different--holy. This difference is not defined by a list of things we cannot do or cannot enjoy (though it may involve some). It is defined by the fact that we march to the beat of a different drummer. His tune? "So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God" (3:17-19). We are called to be saints!
In the second place, we are called to be SONS (1:5, 1:11, 2:12-13, 2:18-20). Again, we make into an afterthought what for God is the primary thing. As if God thought, "Now that we've saved them from hell, we've got to do something with them. OK, let's adopt them!" No. He said, "I want to adopt them as my sons and daughters. Well, in order to do that, we'll need the Cross." Salvation--the Cross--was not primarily so you could escape eternal punishment; that is a mere fringe benefit. It was so you could have God as your Father and your fellow believers as brothers and sisters.
To be called as sons and daughters means that the focus shifts from your individual fire insurance to the family of God. I am not concerned to deny the importance of individual salvation--far from it--but rather to emphasize the centrality of the family of God in that individual salvation. Your calling has to do with your relationship to something much bigger than you: the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul's perspective as we have been seeing it here is not that God saved a bunch of individual and then decided to put them together. Rather, the creation of the Family, the Body, the Church, as a Temple to the glory of his Son, was God's primary intent--and you were called for that purpose. The Body was not put together for the sake of the members, as we usually conceive it; the members were called for the sake of the Body, its ministry, and its witness.
Our calling as Sons means at least two things for how we conceive the life of walking worthily. First, it means that a worthy walk is about manifesting the family resemblance. Bearing the fruit of the Spirit to the end of Christlike character--that is the true "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?). Second, it means a church-centered life. It is the Body that glorifies the Son far more than you as an individual. to paraphrase President Kennedy, "Ask not what the Church can do for you; ask what you can do for the Church!" Once again we see a sheer reversal of our normal way of thinking as American Evangelicals. Why else are we going to be talking so much in the coming chapters about spiritual gifts? It is so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known and so God might have glory--in the Church! (3:10, 21).
But there is a third aspect: we are called to be Saints, we are called to be Sons, but we are also called to be STONES (2:19-22, 3:10). God's ultimate purpose is to sum up all things in Jesus Christ (1:10). It is to glorify his Son through the salvation of sinners and the building of them into a Temple to the praise of Christ. When all that is temporal has been worn out, used up, and swept away into the dustbin of time, what will remain for all of eternity is that Temple: a monument to his mercy, a museum of his love, in which we will be the trophies, the exhibits saying forever that God is a God of Grace. Coming into that Temple, angels will stand in awe, cherubim will cover their faces, and men will stand in amazement, for its architecture will focus the entire history of the universe in such a way that everything points to Jesus Christ. And we--you and I--will be the living stones out of which this structure is constructed.
If we are called to be Stones, then the focus of our life must be the focus of Ephesians: "To Him be glory in the Church and in Jesus Christ to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (3:21). Everything in our lives--our choice of friends, of a mate, our careers, our hobbies, our pursuits, our interests, our priorities, our allotment of time and resources, must be evaluated, given value, accepted or rejected, emphasized or de-emphasized on this basis: does it bring glory to Jesus Christ? For he is the cornerstone, and therefore every stone in the building must point to him.
What then pulls all these three identities that Paul gives us together? As they are described in Ephesians, Saints, Sons, and Stones all function as SIGNS, pointing us--and through us all we meet--to Christ. We are the means through which God's purpose will be accomplished. God's work in our lives as seen in the Church is the means by which his Son will be glorified, his purpose for the cosmos fulfilled. Therefore, do not be distracted. Forsake your small and unworthy thoughts of salvation and renew your focus; catch the vision! As saints, sons, and stones, we are to function as signs. What do people read there? Let it be the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
How can I convey the staggering importance of walking worthily of this calling that Christ has given us? My powers of rhetoric fail. Nothing is more important that understanding what our calling is so that in the light of that understanding we may understand and follow Paul's three chapters of instructions for walking worthily of it. All our dreams (unless they relate to this), the rise and fall of empires, the clash of armies, the masterpieces of art, yea life and death themselves pale into insignificance in comparison. And God manifest his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us--to make us part of it.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams