We all, at least some of the time, are in circumstances we don’t like. The apostle Paul found himself in a circumstance he didn’t like 100% of the time: PRISON. Yet he thrived in those limiting circumstances. This was evidenced by the fact that he was inspired of God to write parts of the New Testament as well as lead some officers of the Roman empire into a personal relationship with Christ. How? Paul never forgot his primary identity was: in Christ. He never calls himself a prisoner of Caesar, instead he refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ. In other words he never saw circumstances beyond his control as limiting God’s will for his life. While in prison his relationship with the Lord was so dynamic, he referred to some of his experience as a revelation. Who of us would not embrace negative circumstances in order to have direct revelation from God. So the next time you have circumstances that seem to limit you, never forget God controls circumstances beyond your control. And in those circumstances we can find God‘s will. Then you won’t just survive the negative circumstances, you’ll have an opportunity to thrive in those circumstances.
Identity is so important. I once was Christ less, hopeless and godless, but at 15-years-old Christ became real to me. I understood that he had died in my place and made peace with God for me. This gave me personal access to God I had never known. When I became a Christian, God didn't jump out of heaven and shake my hand. There was not a chorus of angels singing in the background, but I did sense His peace. What Christ did for me in that moment was awesome. He created for me a destiny built on the foundation of the apostles and Christ. I was no longer a stranger in God's kingdom. I was a fellow citizen with millions of Christians. I had a new destiny: heaven. It was not something I earned, but Christ brought me near to God through His blood. I discovered who I was in Christ was the foundation for what I did for Christ. If you don't put your who before your do, then you may be guilty of moralism. Where do you put your faith? Is it what God has done through Christ in your life or is it your good works? Our standing before God is a gift received not achieved. I choose the gift plan, how about you?
I went through officer candidate basic training at Fort Lewis Washington. If you don't know, a drill sergeant has complete control over your life for 10 weeks. When you eat, when you sleep, when you shower, when you train, when you go to class, etc. I'm sure every troop in basic training feels like the drill sergeant picks on him, but after doing 20 push-ups on many occasions I felt my paranoia was justified. But everything changed after I graduated from the officers' candidate boot camp and received my Lieutenant status. Suddenly this drill sergeant was under my command. He immediately saluted me. Now any second lieutenant knows a drill sergeant knows a lot more about the military than he does and, so, the lieutenant is simply the person that negotiates the commands received from headquarters to the troops in the field. A smart second lieutenant always asks the sergeant what he thinks the best plan is for the battle ahead. But my point is that in a moment the drill sergeant who was over me suddenly became a sergeant who was accountable to me. Likewise, the moment you become a Christian, you are changed in relationship to the world, the flesh, or the devil. They had control over you up until that moment of faith. Once you're in Christ, you have been given the power over the world, the flesh and the devil. In a moment your position in life and eternity changed, before you had little choice but to obey your old sergeant, the WFD, but now that you are "in Christ" and by faith in Him and the word of God, the world, the flesh and the devil are under Christ's control. They do not have control over you but are subject to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Being "in Christ" transformed you from death living to life living "in Christ". If you abide in Him and He abides in you, ask what you will, and it shall be done. Your new position in life takes you out from under the control of the WFD, as you surrender to the control of Christ. Don't let the devil convince you he is still under his control. Since you are "in Christ" you are no longer under the devil's command to having authority over him.
The first half of Ephesians 1 is a great reminder that God has called and adopted us into His family and wants to unite all things in Him. The second half of Ephesians 1 is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and here we see a beautiful picture of how to pray for one another. Even though this is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, it is still just as meaningful and applicable today. We too can pray like Paul and experience the greatness and power of God. This Sunday we will look at Paul’s prayer and even take time to pray for one another, so together we might experience the name that is above all names.
Our obedience crisis is really an identity crisis. So, in what ways have we failed to understand our new identity in Christ? We must remember that our relationship with Christ is not something we earned. We are changed by His grace and have been forgiven by His grace. Why then did Christ do this great work on our behalf? First and foremost, remember it's a mystery (see Ephesians 1:9). But God’s mystery is found in His grace, His mercy, His kindness, His purposes, His promises, and in the inheritance He gives us. How all these things work together for our eternal benefit is a mystery that may only be revealed in heaven. This Sunday, I hope to give us a taste of what that mystery might include. It is not a mystery that all these benefits deserve our praise and worship. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live the Christian life. Let's find our new identity and our other benefits in Christ. This Sunday we will look at a full platter of God's benefits that help us to become all that God wants us to be.
As children most of us discover the harder we work, the more the benefits. So as adults we feel the need to work. And more people could benefit from a good work ethic. But as Christians we may say to ourselves "it may have been necessary to respond with the work ethic to life's challenges as a child but now I want to explore, by faith, new ways to follow Christ." So often we work for and pray for what we already have "in Christ." In the book of Ephesians, especially the first couple of chapters, we will learn that our identity "in Christ" is foundational to be a maturing Christian. By faith we're joined with Christ in his death and resurrection. When we focus on rules, we may think rules give us power. But when we focus on our identity "in Christ" we find supernatural power. I hope to show, for most of us, how our obedience crisis is an identity crisis. For example we cringe at the idea of being a "saint" yet we are saints "in Christ." Sixty-two times the scripture affirms this new relationship. So if I'm a saint, why do I have difficulty in doing right? If you focus on your ability to obey, you will have only partial success. Instead focus on Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit who works within you. The better our identity "in Christ," the more faithfully we follow Christ.