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"Remember Who You Are: Prompts for Spiritual Amnesiacs"

Sept.30/18 Eph.1:15-2:10


Memory is a wonderful thing. The older you get, the more memorIES you have, but often the less your ability to REMEMBER specific things becomes. We need lists and calendars and device notifications to help “jog” our memories.

             Even worse is when someone has the condition known as amnesia, when perhaps due to a blow to the head in an accident they at least temporarily forget who they are, where they are, and so on.

             A heavily booked commercial flight out of Denver was canceled, and a single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the front and slapped his ticket down on the counter. "I have to be on this flight and it has to be first class!" he insisted. "I'm sorry, sir," the agent replied. "I'll be happy to help you, but I have to take care of these folks first." The proud, belligerent passenger was unimpressed. "Do you have any idea who I am?" he demanded in a voice loud enough for the passengers behind him to hear. Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and picked up her public-address microphone. "May I have your attention, please?" she broadcast throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is.If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate." As the man retreated, the people in the terminal burst into applause. (!)

             Now, that was not a real case of someone forgetting who they were. The passenger definitely forgot his manners. Real amnesia, where you actually DO forget your identity, is far more serious.

             Sometimes we who claim to be Christians develop what might be called “spiritual amnesia” – it seems we forget who we are, in Christ. Our behaviour doesn’t line up with our beliefs. In today’s passage from Ephesians, Paul writes to counteract such “spiritual amnesia”. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul reminds the church who they were; who they are now are already, through faith in Christ; who they will be eventually; and, who they are becoming in this life, with God’s help.


First, let’s look at “The Way We Were” (if some of you suddenly have Barbra Streisand’s voice floating through your head, stop it!) ;). The picture Paul paints is quite a contrast to what could be called the popular ‘human potential’ movement. We inhabit an “I CAN” culture: secular humanism would give young people the impression that people are basically good and you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it. For instance, here’s a paragraph from Humanist Manifesto II written in 1973:

“The next century can be and should be the humanistic century.Dramatic scientific, technological, and ever-accelerating social and political changes crowd our awareness.We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets.Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”

             Sounds pretty positive, no? Yet some have observed that the 20th century, the one after philosopher Nietzsche boldly declared “God is dead”, was the bloodiest one yet. Journalist Malcom Muggeridge stated, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

             In the first 3 verses of the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul offers a sobering description of our fallen state, cut off from God, in bondage to sin, being commandeered to destruction by our own innate impulses. Eph 2:1-3 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

             Let’s break that down in chunks. “You were dead” - the ‘you’ is plural, as in southern States drawl, “Y’all were dead.” How? “Dead in your transgressions and sins.” Again in v5, “even when we were dead in transgressions.” God is against sin [news flash!]. Sin cuts us off from a Holy God. Habakkuk 1:13a “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

             We were spiritual ‘road kill’. You walk up to a dead coon or groundhog splattered across the pavement, poke it with a stick – it doesn’t move. It can’t, it has no life in it, no ability, nothing. That’s how much spiritual potential we had before we were saved. Our likely future? End of v3, “We were by nature OBJECTS OF WRATH.” God’s wrath. And we deserved it 100%. Although we had been created by Almighty God and blessed with various abilities, each one of us at some point turned away from God and sinned. We thumbed our nose at the very one to whom we owed the gift of life itself. Romans 1:20f explains why all people become liable to God’s wrath: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

             The mechanism of us getting in such a sorry state is in vv2-3: we “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air”; we got caught up in “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [Gk ‘flesh’] and following its desires and thoughts”. We weren’t following Jesus – we were following this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Satan), and following the flesh’s desires and thoughts. The world, the flesh, and the devil – your 3 big enemies. Don’t always blame it on the devil - temptation can also come from the world and your very own fallen flesh.

             The world - its siren call assaults us constantly through advertising and the media. 1Jn 2:15f “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world— the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world.” Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and boastful pride of life – all these run against love for God the Father.

             The flesh: you are “born with the bents”, from Adam & Eve and the Fall on down. Our whole human race is infected with sin-proneness, our hearts incline to evil. Romans 7:5 “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature [Gk ‘flesh’], the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” Reaching for that extra Nanaimo bar, being seduced by that immoral person (in real life or on the screen) is NOT going to help your integrity or longevity. Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature [Gk flesh] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Then Paul adds a classic list of ‘deeds of the flesh’ concluding, Gal 5:21b “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

             Do you hear that, church? If you practise immorality, discord, dissensions, envy, drunkenness - you WILL NOT inherit God’s Kingdom. Wise up! You can’t have it both ways. Are you going to follow Jesus? Or follow your fallen impulses?

             Don’t follow the “spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph 2:2). That’s Satan, a living personal evil being, a fallen angel, Scripture takes seriously. 2Cor 4:4a “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers...” You wouldn’t want to be blind physically; yet many are blind spiritually. 2Tim 2:26 talks about “the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (‘them’ being those who oppose the Lord’s teaching servant)

             In short, captive in our sin, following the passions of our humanness, we were fit for only one ultimate destination: hell. To be cut off from God forever, punished for despising and rebelling against Him. But Christ’s grace intervened.


Eph 2:4-6 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...”

             Isn’t that a wonderful “but”?! “But because of His great love for us...” Literally, as NRSV puts it, ‘love’ is emphasized twice in the original language: “Out of the great LOVE with which He LOVED us...” Sheer richness of mercy, not because we deserved it in the least! V5b “It is by GRACE you have been saved.” Again in vv8f, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” You are here today, hearing these words, being drawn to God in your spirit, for no other reason than that God loved you – not because of any merit on your part, just because He loved you! It’s that simple. Grace - undeserved, unexplainable, unjustifiable GRACE! (Can I get an ‘Amen’?!)

             Who are we NOW positionally and practically? Positionally – in God’s eyes, we’re already in heaven. V6 “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...” (For a great commentary on the book of Ephesians read Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand - this is the “sit” part; not ‘look busy - Jesus is coming’, but SIT...Jesus has done what’s necessary to save you forever.Don’t try to take away from that by your busy-ness!) Col 3:1 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Notice the past tense the sacred writer uses in describing this - raisED us up, seatED us with Him, you HAVE BEEN RAISED with Christ. It’s done, already.

             Positionally, that’s where you are, in Christ in the heavenlies. Practically, you’re still plunked here on earth, to be a ‘demonstration model’, showing off God’s goodness by your life. You’re heaven’s “advance agent” or ambassador. Eph 2:10 (Who are we?) “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You are God’s workmanship, what He’s made, His masterpiece, His craftsmanship, His “oeuvre d’art” (‘painting or piece of sculpture of high quality’). The sort of thing your mother might have put high up on the glass side of the china cabinet for maximum visibility ‘cuz it was so pretty.


Who we are now (already) gives a glimmer of what’s to come, who we will be in eternity. God has already showered His love and grace upon us in saving us from destruction and eternal punishment, even though there was not a smidge in us of goodness that deserved it. Even more is to come hereafter! Eph 2:7 “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” How God wants to show His grace to us is just begun to be shown to us in this life – much more to follow!

             Savour that phrase, “the INCOMPARABLE riches of His grace...” Incomparable here translates the Greek hyperballo (from which we get hyperbole, excessive, exceeding) - hyperballo is literally ‘to throw over’. Back on the farm we had a red shed. We didn’t have video games back in the sixties so we had to go outside and play. My two older brothers and I would stand on opposite sides of the shed and throw a baseball right over the roof, trying to catch it on the other side even though you didn’t know exactly where it was coming. That’s God’s “incomparable” grace – right over the top! Beyond the bounds, incomparable riches.

             So far we’ve talked about The Way We Were (lost!); Who We Are (Already); Who We Will Be (eventually, in glory). But my main emphasis today is Who We Are Becoming, and for that let’s turn back to the last part of chapter 1.


Vv15-20 in chapter 1 are what Paul prays for the church – so he wants to see these things develop, they’re not all there yet. Vv16ff “remembering you in my prayers...[17]I keep asking...[18]I pray also...” I see SEVEN THINGS.

             1) [We are becoming] A people of faith, hope, and love. Remember 1Corinthians 13, the famous wedding chapter? Say 1Cor 13:13 with me: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.But the greatest of these is love.”

             Well, guess what? They’re not just for the happily married couple; they’re for the church, too! They’re right here in this passage. 1:15 “ever since I heard about your FAITH in the Lord Jesus and your LOVE for all the saints...” 1:18 “...in order that you may know the HOPE to which He has called you...” What about it, Huron Chapel? How do we measure up in faith, hope, and love? Have we “arrived” yet? Are we showing FAITH by how we rally around and get ready to donate to support those feeling called to go on a mission trip to PNG? Are we trusting God enough to COMMIT to serving on that Sunday School teaching team or on Greeter duty so our church can continue to offer programming and be a “safe place” Sunday mornings?

             Do we have HOPE in the Lord, or are we preoccupied with worry about how the next bill is going to get paid? Are we eagerly telling our neighbours about the good things happening here, or reluctant to invite them because of a toxic atmosphere? What can WE do to help change that?

             Do we really exhibit “LOVE for ALL the saints”?f (Yes, I’m not making this up, the text specifically says ALL!) Even that person that kind of grates on our nerves, pushes our buttons? Maybe if we invited them over for lunch we would start to understand them better and find common ground.

             2) Second, Paul prays that the church becomes PEOPLE OF THE SPIRIT – not just fall-on-the-floor laughing charismatics (though if that’s what a person really needs, God can arrange it) or warm fuzzies; the Spirit here is operational in our spirit / intellect too. 1:17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND REVELATION, so that you may know him better.” When Jesus predicts the coming of the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 He uses verbs like teach, remind (14:26), testify (15:26), convict (16:8), guide [into all truth], speak, tell (16:13), making-known (16:14f) – verbs with some degree of cognitive content. As we read our Bibles, the Holy Spirit the Author shows us things beyond the words on the page; wisdom, revelation, unveiling.

             3) We are a people who are coming to KNOW GOD INCREASINGLY. 1:17b “...so that you may KNOW HIM BETTER.” A mature Christian is one who has come to know God well, has become familiar with God – both through reading the Bible AND as you see God’s activity interacting with you in your life. Jeremiah 9:24 “...‘but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.” As we get to know God better, we’ll start to understand what He’s passionate about - what’s kind, what’s just and fair, what’s right. Colossians 2:2 [Paul writing] “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order THAT THEY MAY KNOW THE MYSTERY OF GOD, NAMELY, CHRIST...” How do you “know” a mystery?! It’s beyond capturing neatly like a multiplication table. You can’t master a mystery. But Jesus draws us ever onward into the adventure of discovering Him, getting to know Him more intimately, coming to appreciate the depth of His sacrificial suffering and rewarding redemption.

             Beware mere head knowledge, supposing you’ve got God all figured out! It’s very possible to become an expert in theology but a dunce in spiritual alertness. As James points out (2:19), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that— and shudder.” Getting to truly know God involves daily learning / prayer / obedience.

             You likely know OF Niagara Falls. Some of you have even been there: I’ve stood at the railing and been amazed at the pounding cascades. But this week I was talking to someone who for their honeymoon went on the Maid of the Mist, and did the “Journey Behind the Falls” where you can actually go right in behind and look out from the back at the water pouring overhead. They could describe the experience, what it was like, you could tell they had really been there.

             Getting to know God is like that – there’s other dimensions as you go deeper into the mystery and fellowship of your marvelous Creator, as He reveals Himself to you through Scripture and lived experience guided by His Spirit.

             4) We are becoming GOD’S PEOPLE COLLECTIVELY. It’s not just an individual project you can do all by yourself. Our anabaptist friends remind us of the importance of reading Scripture together IN COMMUNITY, which is where small groups are so important!

             Paul writes in Eph.1:18, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints...” What’s God’s inheritance? You-all, collectively, together! You are sitting in the middle of a gold mine in God’s eyes. Ps 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Jesus said in Luke 12:7, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

             You are VALUABLE to God, treasured by Him! And how much MORE when the whole church is gathered together! Robertson comments, “Our riches is in God; God’s is in His saints.” So don’t treat that other church member sitting over there poorly – God views them as part of His inheritance, they’re DEAR to their Heavenly Father.

             It gives God pleasure to brag on His people. For example, Job 1:8 “Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."” Job was making God look good, and God gloried in Job’s faithful living.

             5) We are becoming a PEOPLE OF POWER. 1:19f [that you may know “his incomparably great power for us who believe.That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms...” You have RESURRECTION-STYLE power available to you for God’s purposes! You needn’t be locked into being a victim: in Christ you can become an OVERCOMER! Jesus acknowledged in Jn 16:33b “In this world you will have trouble.But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Later the Apostle John would exhort the church, 1Jn 4:4, 5:4f “You, dear children, are from God and have OVERCOME them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world... FOR EVERYONE BORN OF GOD OVERCOmes the world.This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”

             Even destructive chemical addictions can be overcome (drugs or alcohol), but people need to get past their denial and admit they have a problem. They need to come to the end of their own efforts so they are ready to call out to God for His saving power. It’s when you ‘hit bottom’ you finally realize you can’t do it on your own – it’s going to destroy you if you don’t make a change – you have to come to the place (like the prodigal son) where you ‘come to yourself’ and admit you’ve got to repent and turn to God, whose power alone can break those bonds.

             6) Although we’re a people of POWER, we’re also becoming a PEOPLE UNDER SUBMISSION. Old Testament prophets were often rebuking the Jewish nation for being “stiff-necked” people (a quick word search brought up 19 ‘hits’ in Scripture, almost all referring to the Jews). Note how God’s power undergirds Christ’s priority in 1:20b-22, “[God] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church...” How exalted Christ is! FAR above all rule, authority, power, dominion (literally ‘lordships’), titles. ALL THINGS are placed under His feet. God appointed Him HEAD for the church.

             So, though God empowers you as a believer, have you consciously SUBMITTED yourself to Jesus’ headship? Can you fall in behind the lead goose in the V formation? Or are you way off to one side trying to do your own thing?

             How power is handled in the church ought to look different than how it’s commonly handled out in the world that does not acknowledge God. Jesus emphasized discipleship is all about SERVANT LEADERSHIP. Mk 10:42-45 “Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER them, and their high officials EXERCISE AUTHORITY over them. NOT SO with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your SERVANT, and whoever wants to be first must be SLAVE of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to BE served, but to SERVE, and to give his life as a ransom for many."”

             The cross is the ultimate corrective to our bullying.

             Positions of power and responsibility in the church always require accountability and transparency. Look at what trouble the Catholics have gotten into with sex abuse partly because their governance hushed things up and shifted perpetrators to other posts rather than calling them to account.

             We are becoming God’s people COLLECTIVELY (#4); we are becoming God’s people UNDER SUBMISSION. So power within the church needs to be flowing in structures that have built-in accountability, mutual submission, always subject to Jesus’ headship, receiving the Spirit’s correction sometimes through the agency of other believers.

             I dearly would like to add to Huron Chapel’s Mission Statement for just this year one word, ‘together’, at the end of each line: Loving Jesus TOGETHER, Living like Jesus TOGETHER, Leading others to Jesus TOGETHER. Openness, Transparency, Accountability – let’s keep in step with the Holy Spirit and with one another.

             7) Last, we are becoming people IMPLEMENTING CHRIST’S HEADSHIP. 1:22b-23 “[God]...appointed [Christ] to be head over everything for the church, which IS HIS BODY, the FULLNESS of him who fills everything in every way.” Now there’s a mystery statement to go home and ponder! How am I, how are we (collectively in the church) Jesus’ “fullness”, completing His presence here in this corner of the galaxy today??! This past week we passed out 7 Food Boxes to individuals that needed and appreciated them; that’s part of being Jesus’ ‘hands and feet’ in a practical way. When you sit and listen to a friend going through a tough time, then offer to pray for them, you are bringing Jesus’ presence into that situation very tangibly.

             Eph 3:19 Paul prays Christians will “know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Again in 4:13, the goal of pastors / teachers is to prepare God’s people for works of service “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become MATURE, attaining to the WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS of Christ.”

             Bring it on, Lord!

             In closing – we’re not who we were – God had mercy on this ‘spiritual road kill’. And we’re not yet who we will be – not by a long shot. When He returns, we will be ‘like Him’ (1Jn 3:2). But by Jesus’ grace, we are becoming His people more fully with each passing year, as we keep submitting to His headship and plugging in to His divine power. Let’s pray.