In ChristMay 13, 2018, Speaker: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Ephesians 1:1-14) Part of the Ephesians sermon series, preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service
Title: In Christ
Date: 6th May 2018
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Brothers and sisters. Today, we shall begin the sermon series on Ephesians. We have set the theme as New Self, a term found in Ephesians 4:24. Allow me to put the term in context. 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
So there is a 3 part process to this New Self. You need to be taught the truth that is in Jesus. Then you need to change your mind in terms of attitude. And lastly, you live by this New Self. Each of these processes is absolutely crucial. To understand the truth. To be committed and transformed in your mind. And then to live it out. The term New Self is the same in meaning as the terms New Creation or New Life found in other parts of the Bible. Essentially, you live a life as if you are a new person, or as if you now have a new found identity. Brothers and sisters, do you want a new life?
Sometimes, when we hear testimonies of life transformations, we can appreciate the wonder of a new life for someone who may want to discard their past. Maybe it is a past life of drug addiction, maybe it is a life of sexual immorality like St. Augustine. Some life transformation stories are about a rebellious teenager, or maybe a gangster boss in a mob. For people like that, it is by the divine grace of God that a person can have a new life, be a new creation, and put on a new self. The promise of a new beginning is wonderful. To some of us, such testimonies of a new life in Christ would be truly inspirational. But at the same time, I believe there will also be some of us who may be contented with their current life. Do we need a New Self? What if I’m perfectly fine with my life the way I am right now? That is a legitimate question, and something I hope to address with a familiar story to us. It is the story of Paul, who was previously called Saul. There was a time when Paul was Saul. Saul represented the old life, and Paul represented the new life. Paul talked about his past life in Philippians 3: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Paul is saying that when he was in his old life as Saul, he used to feel perfectly at ease with himself and even in his relationship with God. Would Saul at that time think that he would need a new life as Paul? I don’t know for sure, but I would guess not. In simple terms, he was doing just fine. He had status and recognition amongst his fellow men. He had no emotional baggage or any need for further affirmation with God. He knew what to do with his life and he was living it to the full with great zeal. He was not seeking for a new life nor yearning for a new beginning. In fact, his life was seemingly running along smoothly until the day he met Jesus Christ. The details of his encounter with Jesus can be found in Acts 9, 22 and 26. On that fateful day on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus Christ and from then on, he began a new life.
Like any good life transformation testimonies, I now have to contrast for you what is Paul like in his new life. Paul described his new life in Christ in 2 Corinthians 11: 23 (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
This is the moment in the sermon where you should raise your hand to correct me. Pastor, did you just give Paul’s testimony out of order? I think you got the ‘before and after’ all wrong! In a typical Christian testimony, the ‘before’ is supposed to be suffering, and the ‘after’ is supposed to be smooth-sailing. Your Saul to Paul story is the exact opposite! Brothers and sisters, I am not mistaken, and you have heard the story right. In fact, as Paul is writing his letter to the Ephesian church, he was writing it in prison! In his old self he used to send people to prison, but now in his new self, he writes letters in prison. So why am I telling you this story? Remember the 3 part process to the New Self? Know the truth, commit your mind, then live your life. My first job is for you to know the truth. But maybe you can’t handle the truth. You would say to me: Pastor, if your aim is to convince me to put on the New Self, you are doing a terrible job. With more testimonies like that, Jubilee will never become a mega-church. But brothers and sisters, do you know why I need to tell you this story? This is my main point for today: Paul gave thanks for his new life, his new self. Now that you know the story of the Saul to Paul transformation, why would anybody give thanks? Yet our entire passage today from verse 3 to 14 is one huge statement of thanksgiving from Paul to God. The day he met Jesus was the best day of his life. Now that we know the effects of the ‘before and after’, we need to know why. Why Paul? Why do you give thanks for your new life? Because this new life is based on a solid concrete truth: Jesus Christ.
Paul gave thanks to God because in Christ he knows God wants him back. Jesus Christ is the clearest absolute expression from God that he wants him back. Think about it from the perspective of the Jews, judged and exiled to a foreign land. Even though they may be back in Jerusalem with a temple and the laws, it may all very well be a one sided relationship. For all the zeal that Paul possesses, he does not know if his offerings or obedience or religious fervour meant anything to God. But now in Christ, he has his biggest wish answered. He saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, that’s a solid concrete truth that God wants him back, and Jesus Christ is both the messenger and the Word itself. Think about the prayers which you wonder if God ever listened. Think about the times which you wonder if you are fighting the evils in this world alone. Think about the doubts and fears you might have towards judgment day. God, are you there? Are you listening to us? Do you even care about us? All that changed the day Paul met Jesus Christ. Paul gave thanks to God because in Christ he knows God wants him back.
And there is more! Paul gave thanks to God because in Christ we are now God’s children. The salvation is not just personal to him but also open to the entire world. The redemption is far beyond his past expectations of just the Jews. No matter who you are, we can all now put our hope in Christ. To God we can say: “Not because of who I am, But because of what You've done. Not because of what I've done, But because of who You are.”  In Christ, we are saved from our sins, to be holy and blameless in his sight. Paul could have claimed earlier that he was already faultless before the law (Philippians 3:6). Many of you similarly could also be upright, blameless human beings. But Paul knows the story right from the beginning in Genesis. God’s redemptive grace needs to be a solution for all humanity, no matter who you were, you can live a new life in Christ, so long as you choose to turn back and remain faithful. Paul saw Jesus with the resurrected body. That a solid concrete truth. Think about the state of humanity today. Think about the millions who are lost in their own world, and not just whether your own salvation is secured. Then perhaps you might realize the magnitude of God’s plan. Paul in his old self as Saul, may have felt pretty smug about his own righteousness legally speaking. But that’s just human efforts. All that changed the day he met Jesus Christ, a solid concrete truth from God. Paul gave thanks to God because in Christ we are now God’s children, far and wide.
And there is more! Paul gave thanks to God because in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit as a seal. In Christ we know God wants us back. In Christ we know we are already back. But what happens if one day God changes his mind? What is our assurance for the future? This is where the Holy Spirit plays a key role in our Gospel. Paul said to the Ephesian Church: 13When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. The Holy Spirit living in us is also a solid concrete truth.
We now know why Paul gave thanks for his new life, his new self. In Christ, he saw for sure God’s heart, he saw for sure God’s plan and he saw for sure God’s guarantee. And knowing what God has done in Christ, made him want to commit his life to his Gospel. But what about his smooth-sailing life as Saul? Is the Gospel really worth all the sacrifice? Let’s hear it from Paul in Philippians 3: 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.10 I want to know Christ.
When Paul met Christ, and realized that Jesus has fulfilled everything that he had been striving for, Paul could be bitter and refuse to face the new reality. And that's what a lot of the Jewish leaders chose to do. But thankfully he didn't, because what God has given was real and solid. He was fervently studying and following the laws, persecuting Christians everywhere in order to reconcile with God. And one day God revealed: I have sent my Son, Jesus Christ. He is all you need. Paul committed himself to the real concrete truth, and made the Good News his life mission. Everything in the past is now rubbish and gone.
Brothers and sisters, today is the first sermon of our Ephesians sermon series. I have one job: to teach you the truth in Jesus Christ. I hope the experience is like the day Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. That was the day he knew the truth about God. And then he committed and renewed his mind. And then began the life from Saul to Paul. My hope is that you also do the same. Some of you may have regrets in your life. And you feel you have driven yourself to a corner and you are stuck in your life. I’m here to tell you that there’s no such thing. What is impossible with man, is possible with God. He is the God of Creation. In Christ, you are a new creation, a new life, a new self. The power to change is in God, but the choice to live a new life is in you. I also want to address the others who feel things are fine the way they are. No they are not. If things are fine we would not need missionaries like Paul. If things are fine with you, then the Lord has blessed you abundantly. But the world needs to hear the good news too. You need to commit to a new life living for the word. I cannot guarantee that your new life will be smooth sailing. But I have full confidence that one day if you look back to this decision, you will give thanks. Not to me, but to what God has done in Christ.
See Acts 26:4-5
Ephesians 1:1–14 (Listen)
1:1 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 to himself 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.