Freedom in Christ – Grace and Mystery
In our pursuit of Jesus, we have discovered that freedom is one of the spiritual blessings that is ours. Ephesians 1 -2 gives us a solid foundation for our study of God and now in Ephesians 3 we begin our transition from the theology of Jesus to the practical expression of our faith in Christ found in Ephesians 4-6. This chapter is pivotal for several reasons. First, Paul tells us of his complete devotion to the person of Jesus Christ and to his calling. And secondly, he ends the chapter with a beautiful prayer of freedom that is ours to know and experience.
The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed Paul’s life forever. It was more than Paul coming into intellectual understanding of the Scriptures as related to the Messiah. It was not just passing emotion or a supernatural experience. He tells us it was a vision of heaven to which he was not disobedient. Now in Eph 3:1, Paul introduces himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”. Paul was once a persecutor of the church and had thrown many people in prison and now he is a prisoner. Paul gave up everything for Jesus Christ; in other words, he was a prisoner. That is where he found he freedom. Not in ministry, relationships, visions, but in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul’s prison is not one of bars but total surrender to his Master. This leads Paul to describe his “administration of God’s grace” – the teaching and preaching of the gospel.
In essence, Paul is summing up what he has stated in the two previous chapters by using the word “grace”. There are different definitions of grace that have been given over the years. Biblically speaking grace refers to the favour of God freely given to mankind and is realized in one’s salvation. Grace cannot be earned. Grace allows for second chances and more. And grace is our means to salvation, which Paul describes in Eph 1:3-14; we are chosen, adopted, redeemed, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
The is a powerful record of God's grace touching the life of Abram in Gen 15. God comes to him in a vision to make covenant; “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Ge 15:1); this is the extension of God’s favour and grace. Abram enters into conversation with God in the vision and bemoans the fact that he is still childless. God tells him that his descendants will be a numerous as the stars. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6); this is grace in action. And then we have an incredible picture of grace in action. Abram prepares a sacrifice but then falls into a deep sleep and while he was sleeping, resting, doing nothing, God spoke covenant grace over him and passed between the sacrifice as fire. In other words, it was the favour of God freely given to Abram thereby confirming covenant. God wants us to rest in grace just like Abram did.
This is the stewardship of grace that Paul is speaking to the Church in Ephesus about.
Paul also uses the word – “Mystery” seven times to the church of Ephesus in describing Jesus and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why is this important? In Greek and Roman spirituality, there were “mystery religions” that gave new converts secrets, special knowledge, wisdom or revelation. One would have to advance through different levels in the spirit realm to gain more insight into their mysteries. This is often true of the cults of our day where one has to advance to new stages of spirituality. Paul uses the word mystery which had significant spiritual meaning in his day and gives it new meaning. “This [mystery] is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6). The mystery of Christ is made known by revelation and grace, not by the fanaticism of the mystery religions.
The mystery religions of Paul’s day saw the spiritual realm as truly significant. They believed that in order to get to their “gods”, little g, you had to pass through the various levels of lessor gods in the heavenly realms. Paul desires to preach the gospel of grace to them by again using a catch-phrase that the Gentiles would understand – “In heavenly places”. “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this [mystery], which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:7–11). Here is what I believe Paul is saying. Paul is committed to his task of preaching the gospel of grace and now he is telling the believers it is their turn. The ekklesia in Ephesus was to make known, (declare, pray, worship, and live as we will see in Eph 4-6) to ruler and authorities, which refers to the spiritual enemies of God (Eph 1:21, 6:12).
We have looked at grace and mystery and in heavenly places and we may have forgotten that the theme is Freedom IN CHRIST. The next verse again captures freedom for us… “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12). Paul has laid out before us systematic theology, right thinking about God and our relationship with him. We must know God by grace through the Faith of CHRIST – the mystery of revelation – and be with God in freedom and confidence. True freedom in Christ is bold and confidant in the Presence of God. We know that we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed and filled by the Holy Spirit and have purpose in life.
As he leads us into Eph 4-6, Paul uses prayer as a bridge between these two sections. Theology and practice are often wrestled out in prayer where our head knowledge becomes heart knowledge and something that we experience in our relationships in life. That’s next week’s message. Let’s pray…