It’s easy to think of the church, maybe especially the local church we are part of, as a pretty insignificant thing. Most of us aren’t very important people and most of our church communities aren’t the centre of things in our wider community.
As we start a new church, we’ve been looking together at what it means to be a church in the New Testament. We recently looked at Ephesians 1:1-14 and were confronted with the reality that the church, even our own local church, is a pretty amazing thing because of God’s incredible grace to us.
For a start, Paul goes to great lengths to remind us that God chose us. It’s true, of course, that we can often point to a time when we responded to the gospel message and put our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 1:13). We might even describe that as the time we chose Jesus. But we always need to remember that God acted in grace to us before we responded. In fact, he chose us ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and he ‘predestined’ us (Ephesians 1:5, 11).
The people of God are a people who have been rescued. Before, we were slaves to sin, but Jesus rescued or redeemed us, i.e. shed his blood to pay the price to buy us out of slavery and forgive our sins (Ephesians 1:7). In doing so, we stopped being slaves to sin and became sons of God by being adopted into his family (Ephesians 1:4).
The chosen people of God are also the changed people of God. Now we are no longer slaves to sin we are in fact ‘saints’ (Ephesians 1:1). The word ‘saint’ isn’t reserved in the Bible for a special class of Christians or a particularly good person, which is probably the popular way of understanding it now. It’s a word with its root in the idea of being holy and set apart for God, because when we follow Jesus we are changed. We were chosen with the purpose of being ‘holy and blameless’ (Ephesians 1:4).
The plan of God, in Christ and through his chosen people is ‘to unite all things in him’ (Ephesians 1:10). Although the church often looks small, divided and insignificant, it is actually part of God’s amazing plan to bring the world back to unity under his great king – Jesus.
All of this is ultimately for the praise and honour of God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 3:10). This honour and witness is before a watching world and watching spiritual rulers.
Throughout the passage, we see that this is all and only because God’s people are ‘in Christ,’ i.e. united to him by faith.
Now that’s a very brief summary of the spiritual reality behind your local church as we find it in Ephesians 1. The Ephesian church, like our church, is part of God’s grand plan for the universe. It’s a plan which means he chose, rescued, changed and united us ‘to the praise of his glory’. It’s a pretty incredible reality isn’t it? When we’re tempted to feel irrelevant or insignificant, we need to remind ourselves of the astonishing spiritual reality, brought about by our Father, in his Son and sealed by his Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14).