In this country we are obsessed with winning, with being on the winning side. Perhaps this obsession is most easily illustrated by team sports competitions. If "our" team loses and loses and loses, we frequently say, "What is wrong with THEM?" If "our" team wins and wins and wins, we frequently say, "WE are doing okay, aren't WE?"

Not all people in all nations share our obsession with this kind of winning. In fact, many people in many nations never think about winning from our perspective. They never win politically. They never win against disease. (They often lose children to death in ways we regard as unnecessary.) They do not even win against hunger.

In November we held national mid-term elections that involved numerous local and state offices. Where I grew up, it was common to hear friends ask each other after an election, "Did you lose your vote?" Some people had so much desire to be on the winning side that who was winning would determine their vote. In fact, if you did not vote for a winner, you lost your vote!

I personally think this obsession with winning may be a factor in the decision too many American Christians make about living the Christian life on a real world, everyday basis. Thinking from the criteria of a winner by the standards of our society:

If a person wants to be on the "winning" side as defined by our society, Christian existence is not the way to live.

This morning I want you to see something (and see it clearly) from the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in Ephesus.

  1. Let me begin by asking a question: "Does God know what He is doing?"
    1. Allow me to anticipate three answers.
      1. The first response would be what I would call "the response of the insulted."
        1. "I can't believe you asked that ridiculous question!"
        2. "Of course God knows what He was and is doing!"
        3. "He is God! He always knows what He is doing!"
      2. The second response would be what I would call "the response of the startled."
        1. "I never thought about that before."
        2. "You mean that God was and is trying to accomplish something?"
        3. "You mean that God has a purpose and an objective in what He does?"
      3. The third response would be what I would call "the response of the short answer."
        1. "Sure, God knew what He was doing."
        2. "He was and is saving us, destroying our sins, establishing the church."
        3. "Our forgiveness was and is the foundation of everything God did and does."
      4. To those who give the response of the insulted, I want to say, "It is okay to ask that question."
      5. To those who give the response of the startled, I want to say, "Think about it."
      6. To those who give the response of the short answer, I want to ask a question: "Was saving us all God was doing? If we accept His forgiveness, does that accomplish His entire purpose?"
    2. In the first three chapters of Paul's letter to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul wrote about what God accomplished in Jesus Christ.
      1. In chapter one:
        1. Paul said God's intentions in Jesus Christ are older than the creation (1:3,4).
        2. In fact, what God accomplished in Jesus Christ is the source of every spiritual blessing available to us (1:3).
        3. Through Jesus Christ, God made it possible for us to be adopted into God's family (1:5).
        4. Through Jesus Christ, God made our redemption possible (1:7).
        5. Through Jesus Christ, God lavished grace upon Christians (1:8)
        6. Through Jesus Christ, God made it possible for Christians to understand His objectives (1:8-10).
        7. Through Jesus Christ, God gave us an inheritance (1:13,14).
        8. If we are to see what God is doing, we must realize what God did in Jesus Christ (1:15-23). (Paul: my prayer is that you will see what God is doing, what is happening.)
      2. Chapter two:
        1. In Jesus Christ, God gave life to people who had been destroyed (killed) by evil (2:1-10).
        2. In Jesus Christ, God made it possible for anyone from any background from any nation to be part of God's people (2:11-21).
      3. Chapter three:
        1. Basically, Paul said, "You simply must see and understand what God always intended to do through Jesus Christ, and you must understand that what God intended to do--He did!" (3:1-15)
        2. God did what He eternally intended to do! (See 3:11)
        3. Paul was so in awe of what God did and was doing in Jesus Christ that he prayed this prayer for the Christians in Ephesus.
          Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 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. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

  2. Just as Paul wrote about God's meaning in Jesus Christ in the first three chapters of Ephesians, he wrote about what it meant for the Christians at Ephesus to be in Jesus Christ in the last three chapters.
    1. A primary emphasis in those three chapters is a basic contrast.
      1. The primary contrast is the contrast between who they were before they were a part of Jesus Christ and who they are now that they are a part of Jesus Christ.
      2. When they understand God did something incredibly special when He allowed them to enter Jesus Christ, they must also understand that they can no longer think and act like the people who do not belong to God.
    2. To focus us on that contrast, I want you to read Ephesians 4:20-24 and think carefully about Paul's statement.
      But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
      1. There are several things I want you to notice in Paul's statement.
      2. In context, Paul said they could not continue to live and act like those people who had not come to God.
      3. When they were taught about Christ, they were not taught to live and act like the people who do not belong to God.
      4. Belonging to Jesus Christ makes you a different person--the life you live really differs from the lives of people who do not belong to Jesus Christ.
      5. And that is just exactly what a person who belongs to God wants.
        1. You don't want to be that old person who was ruled by evil, who was a slave to temptation, who was deceived by your physical desires and appetites.
        2. You have a new way of thinking that makes you a different kind of person.
        3. God took the evil "you" and created something that never before existed--a "you" who wants to be righteous and holy.
      6. Please note that God did not force them to be people they did not want to be.
      7. Please note they wanted to be as much like God as possible, letting His nature become their nature.

  3. In chapter two when Paul discussed the incredible things God did through Jesus Christ, Paul made this statement in Ephesians 2:10.
    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
    1. If you are a Christian, God did not forgive your sins just for your pleasure of being forgiven.
      1. God re-created you in Jesus Christ--He made something out of you that never existed before.
      2. As a Christian, you are God's workmanship--in the same sense that a craftsman makes an object.
      3. God designed each of us as Christians to be people who do good works.
        1. That is what God always intended.
        2. Before you were ever born, this was God's intention: "Any person who accepts what I did in Jesus Christ will be committed to living a life that does My good works."
    2. God forgave you and me so that each of us could do God's good works.
      1. God did not save you or me to live any way we pleased.
      2. God did not save you or me for us to be a selfish, self-centered people.
      3. God did not save you or me so we could "Christianize evil" and thereby justify any lifestyle we wanted to live. ["I can merely put a Christian 'spin' on any evil I do."]
      4. God saved you and me for each of us to become more and more like God.
      5. God saved you and me for each of us to devote our existence to doing the things God wants.

Being a Christian involves the desire to become what I was born in Jesus Christ to be--the Christian wants to grow and to mature in God's own nature. The Christian wants to live the life God wants and to do the things God wants done. The Christian does not want to act or live in ways that oppose God.

Christianity is for people who want to grow closer to God. Christianity is not for people who have no intention of living and acting like people who belong to God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 December 2002

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