Saints in Strange Places
Last Sunday we began the book of Ephesians and I want to encourage you – settle down and get comfortable, because we’re going to be here a while. Last week we didn’t even make it through the first verse, we stopped after the first 11 words:
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
We talked about the fact that Paul never set out to be an apostle, but Jesus interrupted his life and MADE him one. Paul saw God directing the whole course of his life according to His divine will and Paul didn’t resist it, he embraced it.
There was a lot to think about in those first eleven words.
But we’re going to pick up the pace a bit this morning, there are six chapters to this book and we’re not going to get very far covering eleven words on a Sunday morning. So, this week we’re going to stretch things out a bit and cover twelve. Twelve words. Which will also wrap up verse one.
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:
Last week we looked at Paul who was writing this letter, this week we’re going to look at the saints in Ephesus who are receiving it. Who are they? And why should we be reading their mail?
Well, I know it’s Sunday and there could be other things running through your mind, so let me be clear: they weren’t a football team, they’re not playing the Chargers today. They weren’t from New Orleans, they were from Turkey, and football didn’t exist at the time. But the football team actually gets it’s name from a religious group – the saints of the church – the kind of people Paul was writing his letter to in Ephesus.
You’ve heard of these kinds of saints, right? You’ve heard of Saint Patrick, and Saint Nicklaus, or as the Dutch called him: Sinterklass, Santa Claus. You’ve heard of Saint Mary and if you came in from Beltway and drove down 236 you passed Saint Matthew’s Methodist. We are familiar with saints that don’t play football. So, let me ask you a question, when Paul addresses this letter “to the saints who are in Ephesus,” how big do you think that group was? How many ‘saints’ do you think there were in this church?
Two? Three? Was it a super holy place and maybe they had ten. Ten saints, all in the same church, at the same time? Man that must have been some incredible place, right?
Actually, we don’t know exactly how many there were numerically, we don’t have a membership roster or a head count, but we do know how many there were categorically. Are you ready for this? It was all of them. All of them. Every Christian in the church in Ephesus was a saint.
You see, it turns out that our modern idea of what a saint is, is all messed up. When we start to think of saints as really special people, people worth having holidays for or naming building or cities after, we’re actually way off base, because according to the Bible there’s no such thing as a Christian who is not a saint. It’s dual status. If you are one, you are the other automatically.
So you can start referring to each other as Saint Dave, Saint Cindy, Saint Steve, Saint Anna. And that’s cool. It’s legit. It’s 100% theologically accurate. Now, you might not have your own glass candle with your picture on it at the grocery store, you might not get your own day on the calendar – I can’t help you there, but if you are a Christian, you are also a saint. You could maybe even list that on your resume, some people might find it impressive.
But before you get too carried away, let’s see if we can learn a bit more about what it actually means to be a saint. The Greek word, the word Paul first used when he wrote this letter is hagios.
In fact, saint, sanctify, sanctification, hallow, holy, holiness – are all translations of the same Greek root: hagi.
Hagios was a word the Greeks used to talk about some one or some thing that was “devoted to the gods.” It actually comes from the realm of Greek Pagan religions, it was not a Christian word, it’s been around longer than Christianity. So, if you went to worship at a Greek temple and you left something there at the altar of a god, it was hagios, devoted to that god. Priests and others worked in the temple were hagios, dedicated to the god. Or if you built a temple for a Greek god, the temple would be a place that was hagios, dedicated to religious purposes.
The basic, fundamental point is: this thing or this person is now in a relationship with a god or gods, it has spiritual purposes and that makes it different. That makes it hagios, or holy.
Now that concept is SUPER important for us to understand. Because, remember, this is a Greek word, it was used to talk about pagan religious things. So, to be holy did NOT mean to be pure, all kinds of immoral and impure things happened in these Greek temples, to be hagios just meant to be set apart for religious use instead of non-religious or secular use.
It was a difference of category, not a difference of quality. You don’t belong in that group, you do belong in this one.
When the Bible calls you a saint, a hagios, it’s not saying you’re this super spiritual person. It’s saying you’re in the category of things that have been set aside as dedicated to God. You’re for His use, and not for the world. According to one Greek language scholar, neither Greek nor Latin had the idea of something that was holy being morally superior, it only meant being set apart. Christianity brought the idea of moral superiority into sainthood, because only Christianity can make that true – that we do become morally cleansed and empowered as Christ has His way in us.
So let’s talk about that for a minute – let’s talk about how we become saints and the effect it has on us.
The Bible says God calls us to be holy (Rom 1:7). He calls us to be set apart. We receive an invitation to holiness, to sainthood, from Him and the transformation occurs at the moment of our salvation. There’s no delay, you don’t start off on probation, you don’t have to pass a test, you don’t have to hit some milestone. There are just two categories: saints and aints. You’re in one or the other. We start off as aints, but when Christ saves us, we go immediately from being outside to coming in and we suddenly, instantly, are transformed categorically and become saints.
If you’re taking notes on all of this, make sure you note this, because it’s important: note the fact that it is God who moves us from one condition to the other. If you like technical terms, we call it positional sanctification – you’ve moved from the position of aint to the position of saint, and you are now a hagios, someone set apart for God, someone who is consecrated to God. You become, categorically, a non-secular person, a distinctly religious person, because you have been set apart for God, His worship and service, and it is God that does the moving!
Last week we saw that Jesus said He would MAKE Paul a minister, and we marveled at the authority and sovereignty of it, and we said how great it would be to have God reach down into our lives and MAKE us something He wants us to be, that we wouldn’t have to struggle to submit, obey, and follow, but that He would just MAKE us what He wants us to be. Well, here is one in which He does. God MAKES us holy, He makes us saints. He does the work of transferring us from one category to the other. And if God has reclassified you, you ARE reclassified.
So let this really sink in, because you’ve got to know it. If you are child, a teen, a young adult, single or married and you are a Christian, you are a saint. When the Bible speaks to saints, it is speaking to you. When you go out these doors and talk about saints other ideas are going to come to mind, and you’re going to think, that’s not me – that’s not what I’m like, but I’m telling you, if we’re using the Bible as our dictionary, you are a saint.
Here’s where we get confused today: most people think you can identify a saint by looking on the outside – saints are clean and shiny and super righteous or super pious people. You’ll know them by their appearance or actions. Well, yes, there should be some external fruit proving the nature of the root, but what makes a Christian isn’t how clean we are on the outside, it’s how clean we are on the inside – has Christ come in and washed away your sin?
There is no secondary, better, higher class of Christians that we call saints. When we begin to think of saints as ‘better Christians’ we minimize ourselves and make excuses for our ways. We justify ourselves because we say, “Well, I’m no saint…”
Um, actually, you are. If you belong to Christ, you are. Again, you are either in the position, in the category of saint or you are not. But if you are in the position, then over time you’ll also find yourself becoming more and more saintly. If Christ is in you, you’re going to begin looking more and more like Him as times goes on. The change inside of you will radiate outward.
Which is one of the main themes of the book of Ephesians – what God is making out of you – Paul is writing this letter because he’s so excited to tell the saints what God has done for them and is continuing to do. He’s writing to help them understand all that happened when they became saints.
So, let’s not miss that. Let’s not miss the fact that this letter is written to the saints, which means all the ordinary Christians in Ephesus, which would also include people like you. Don’t miss the fact that the book of Ephesians is not addressed to the seminary professors in Ephesus, it’s not addressed to the religious leaders in Ephesus, it’s not addressed to the pastors or missionaries or people in fulltime ministry, this letter is addressed to anyone and everyone in the church who was a Christian. These were things that any average Christian should know and understand. And that means you can, and should, understand them too.
Now it might not be easy, if you sit down to read Ephesians you might run across things you don’t understand. Maybe you’re a new Christian, or maybe you don’t understand some of the terms, maybe you don’t know who Paul is, or what an apostle is, or where Ephesus is, that’s OK. Ask. Other Christians will help you. The church will help you.
You see, this letter is addressed “to the saints in Ephesus,” that’s plural, more than one, which is another it’s a very interesting point. You see, Paul always uses the word hagios in the plural – he never speaks of an individual saint. And the point of this is that it emphasizes our belonging: to God and to each other. We often talk about Christianity as an individual experience, and it is: we are all saved individually, there are no mass-produced Christians, it is intimate, a relationship between God and us.
But it is also corporate. When you become a Christian you join something that is larger than yourself, you join a family and you join the Church – capital C, the global church of Christ and you join a church, little c – the local church the church in Ephesus, or in Fairfax.
This idea that we, as individuals, are saints together with others is so important that it was captured in the Apostle’s Creed, one of the early summaries of what Christians believe. Some of you are familiar with it:
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
So this idea, of being part of a communion, a saint among saints, in a family, a church that is greater than any one of us, is important. It means we will never stand alone, and that’s helpful in light of the next thing we see here in the opening address of the letter.
Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:
These saints are in two places at the same time – they are in Ephesus and they are in Christ Jesus. They have a physical location and a spiritual location and they were in both locations at once.
Paul says these saints who were “in Ephesus” were also “faithful in Christ Jesus.”
What does that mean to be “faithful in Christ Jesus?”
Well, there are two answers: it means you have faith, and that you have proven to be faithful. It means you believe things about Christ. Christians are people of faith. We are people who have been possessed by God, people who have been moved by God from one category to another, but we are also people who believe things to be true. We live by faith. We are OK with things we can’t clearly see because there are other things we do see and know and the things we know compel us to accept the things we don’t.
I’ve never seen heaven, but I’m certain, by faith, that I’m headed there. I can’t point to Heaven, but I can point to the changes that God has made in my life, the amazing ways He has changed me and preserved me and guided me, and that fortifies my faith in Christ Jesus.
So, there’s a component of faith that includes my belief, but faith without works is dead, and so you can see the faith in a Christian’s life through their fidelity, their faithfulness. If forced to choose between Ephesus and Christ, I choose Christ. I am faithful to Him, and even when I falter, I marvel at the fact that He always remains faithful to me.
In fact, someone once asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” And he responded: “Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
Here’s what he is saying: stop believing in yourself, stop trusting in yourself, stop thinking you’ll somehow earn a place in Heaven, and believe in, trust in, have faith in, what Jesus Christ has done. Receive the place he has for you, in Christ Jesus.
Now that phrase “in Christ” is one we’re going to see a lot of in Ephesians. It’s one of Paul’s favorites expressions and it’s absolutely central to his view of theology. He uses it almost 200 times and 36 of those references are in this letter, more than any other. Which isn’t really surprising since he’s trying to tell the Ephesians about all that God has done for us. Paul is using the term “in Christ” to communicate something very binary to us: I was outside of Christ, and now I am inside.
And that is absolutely essential for us to understand. I need to the see the world, I need to see Ephesus, from my position in Christ. I need to look out through the spiritual walls of Christ and see things from here. I am in Ephesus, but I am also in Christ and that changes things. It means I am not alone, I am with my Savior and I am with the other saints.
Think about that. And let me tell you a little bit more about Ephesus. Ephesus was on the coast of what we call Turkey. In the ancient world it was called Asia Minor, and Ephesus was the capitol city, it was a big city and a famous city in both the Greek and Roman empires. At one time the amphitheater in Ephesus was the largest in the world. And it was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Temple of Artemis as she was called in Greek, or Diana as the Romans called her.
So, if we could say it this way, I know it means nothing to most of you, but the city of Ephesus was a really big deal. It was easy to get caught up in what was going on around you because there was a lot going on.
And this is where the saints lived. Here in Ephesus.
Now, what should that mean to you and me? What should it mean to those of us who live here in the shadow of our nation’s capitol? I think it means something very important – it means that it is possible to do both things at the same time – to live, physically, presently, in the midst of a big city, a capitol city, full of politics and commerce and trade, shopping and dining, and culture and still be faithful in Christ Jesus. In fact, not only do I believe it’s possible, I believe it’s God’s will.
I think God wanted a church in Ephesus, just like He wants churches in the greater Washington DC area, He wants little embassies for Christian ambassadors scattered all over the area because He wants Christians to live in the city and be faithful in Christ Jesus at the same time.
But how do we do that? Do you ever feel the tension between the two? Do you ever feel this city, our city, our area, pulling you away from God? Or, do you ever worry about being too isolated from the things happening in this city and not having enough influence for God? How do you coexist in both realms: a citizen of the United States, or China, or Guyana, or Mexico, or South Africa, or wherever your passport says, and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven? Or, let’s bring it down to another level: a student at Lake Braddock High School, or George Mason University, an athlete on the travel baseball team, and a Christian.
The two can coexist – you can be both in Ephesus and in Christ, in fact, you must be. But you must keep them in order, you must let your identity in Christ shape your experience in Ephesus. And not vice-versa. That needs to be our goal, that’s the mission we need to keep alive in our hearts and not lose sight of. God has brought you here to DC, or allowed you to be born in the suburbs of DC, He sent you to the school or put you on the team, but He has also called you to be faithful in Christ Jesus at the same time.
The problem is, we all tend to drift toward one kingdom or the other – we become focused on Heaven and withdraw from earth, or focus on earth and withdraw from Heaven. The trick is to stay balanced – valuable in one because of our position in the other.
So let’s ask the hard application question: are you worth more to your family because you are faithful in Christ Jesus? Are you worth more to your friends because you are faithful in Christ Jesus? Are you worth more to your workplace – to your workers, to your students, to your customers, to your readers, to your patients, to your teammates, are you worth more to them because of your identity as a saint? Is Ephesus being blessed because you are in it and faithful in Christ Jesus?
They might not appreciate it immediately, but is it true, really true, that you are working for their good because you are faithful in Christ Jesus?
Jesus said He is the vine, we are the branches; He is the head, we are members of the body, and he has placed us here in our current situation to be His ambassadors. We have the privilege of representing Jesus Christ to the people in our lives and the city where we live.
We are called to be the saints in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.
And as we continue on in the book of Ephesians we’ll learn more and more about what all that means. We’ll discover incredible things that God has done and learn about all the blessings that come to us in our position in Christ. But let’s also remember that these aren’t just church things, they’re real things, intended to play out in the real world. We live in the eternal and the physical at the same time.
And now we’re going to do something that illustrates that point. We’re going to receive communion. We’re going to participate in an ancient Christian ritual that uses things here in the physical world to remind us of essential spiritual truths. Those of us in this room who are saints are going to hold in our hands reminders of the body and blood of Christ Jesus, and remember what His life and death mean for us. We’re going to be challenged to consider, how does the spiritual reality of something that happened so long ago in a place so far away, impact our lives here and now, and then to go out there into the world, into our Ephesus and be found faithful in Christ Jesus, because we’re saints.
Let’s pray. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament Vol 1. 16.  The possible exception is Phil 4:21 where Paul speaks of ‘every saint” but even there the idea behind ‘every’ is that they’re part of the corporate body of Christ.