“But God…made us alive with Christ….and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5-7).
Ephesians can be broken into two parts where the first 3 chapters are basically about what God has done for us in Christ, and the last three chapters (4-6) are about what we are to do in response. We are in the middle of a rich, lyrical celebration of the benefits of salvation found in verses 4-10.
In today’s reading we find 3 amazing verbs that Paul has coined pointing to 3 things God has done for Christ: made him alive, raised him up and seated him on his heavenly throne. This refers to Christ’s resurrection (“made alive”), his ascension (“raised up”) and enthronement/exaltation (“seated in heavenly realms”).
But Paul adds the Greek prefix syn (meaning “with”) to each of these verbs, thus linking us with these significant events in Christ’s life. Thus, we read that God has “made us alive with Christ,” “raised us up with him” and “seated us with him in the heavenly realms.”
Here’s a point often missed in Christian teaching today: Our destiny is not to use Christ to help us reach our full potential; the Christian life is about losing ourselves and slowly being conformed to the image of Jesus. As one ancient writer put it: “God became a man that man might become like God.” The goal of Christian faith is not to be rescued from our sins by Christ so we can get on with our own lives with some newfound freedom. The goal is experiencing a profound solidarity with Christ, finding our life from this day forward inextricably bound up with his life.
So, we read:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Are we starting to believe our lives are mainly about us? Have we drank so deeply from the barrel of American individualism that we actually believe that God wrote and sanctioned the preamble of our constitution? Now I certainly hold many truths to be self-evident and among them are that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. The Apostle Paul would agree so far, too…but that’s when he would get off the Enlightenment thought train.
For Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that characterize core American values have the all-important Self at the center, and Paul’s greatest values are much more, well, let’s just say, “cruciform.”
Instead of a right to Life, he follows Jesus in suggesting that the true path to Life is through a death to self. “If a man would find his life, he must lose it” (Jesus). Paul says,”My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). He said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24).
As for individual Liberty, Paul says that true freedom is found in being Christ’s slave. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1) and “those the son has set free are free indeed” (John 8:36) but Paul believes this is not a freedom from all restraint but rather the freedom unto unhindered servitude to Christ our Lord. By dying for our sins, Christ has purchased us at a great cost, and our life is not my own; it is now “hidden in him” (Col. 3:3).
Finally, and most contrary to our American sensibilities, the faithful Christian is not mainly concerned with “the pursuit of happiness” nor is such a pursuit some unalienable right in God’s eyes. According to Holy Scriptures, human beings were placed on earth not to pursue their own happiness but rather to pursue God and to seek His glory and further His agenda. We are in pursuit of holiness!
Oh, God created us for exhilarating joy and happiness! No doubt about that. But this never comes by pursuing happiness as an end in itself. Rather, such happiness comes as a byproduct of pursuing God and making him supreme in our affections. As St. Augustine famously said: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Or in the words of Paul:
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things [I once pursued] and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).
All of this leads to the second part of our passage today — verse 7. Now that our life and destiny is completely bound up in Christ’s life and destiny, and we have celebrated our salvation in Christ, we can ask the big question: Why did God save us? For what greater purpose have we been made alive, raised up and seated with Christ? Is it to set us on the path to claiming our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of personal happiness?
We read that “God…made us alive with Christ….and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5-7). He has done all of this for the purpose of displaying to all the unfathomable riches of his grace and kindness. He wants our lives to be living billboards of his sacrificial love, his amazing grace, his boundless mercy toward those who deserved his righteous judgment.
So, a few questions to ponder:
1. Are you pursuing the American Dream of Self-actualization, or a life of solidarity and union with Christ?
2. Is your faith real enough to elevate your perspective to the heavenly realm? Are you seated with Christ or still crawling with your nose to the ground?
3. Can you say with Paul that your greatest desire is “to know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead?”