LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 19 January 2020
Sermon Text: Ephesians 2:11-22
I. Called to be aliens to the world
II. Called to be members of one family
III. Called to grow together in Jesus
We’ve come to the third message on discipleship, and today we’ll consider an important aspect of this subject, discipleship – that is, we’re ‘called into God’s family.’ Someone might wonder what our sonship in God’s family has to do with discipleship, but our sonship through Jesus is the basis of Christian discipleship. In other words, knowing that we’re now members of God’s family is an important and essential foundation of discipleship, and this understanding enables us to enjoy our life as Christians, as Jesus’ disciples. So, if anyone is confused with or misunderstood this fact that we’re called into God’s family, he’d most likely struggle in faith and would not fully enjoy his life in the Lord Jesus. I pray that, at the end of this message, everyone here may see what this means.
A biblical example of this I’d point out is the older son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. When his younger brother came back home after some years’ of squandering his life and money, and when he found out that his father was holding a banquet for his not only prodigal but also debauched brother, he became extremely angry and refused to go into the house. This older son was angry, as Lk. 15:28 describes, and that Greek word used there is the same word used in Jesus’ parable in Mt. 22. There, the ‘anger’ is of a king toward his servants who had refused to come to the king’s invitation to a feast. Not just that, but also they captured the king’s messengers, treated them badly and killed them. So, the king in a great anger sent his troops to kill them all. Coming back to Jesus’ parable, the older son was angry in a similar manner – in his heart, he was killing and murdering all in the banquet. To this son, his father came and comforted him, saying this, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” This older son had no understanding of his sonship in his father’s house, and all he had been doing so far was not different from the works of any servant.
The point is that if a Christian understands his/her sonship in God’s family, what he does in faith will make his heart joyful, what she continues in faith will add more and greater joy to her soul. This is, in fact, what we’ve heard over the last two Sundays. To remind you briefly, Christian discipleship is what we think and desire and do as Christians – it’s as simple as that. Moreover, as Jesus’ disciples, we’re called to disciple others and that we do by being what we’re supposed to be and by continuing what we’re supposed to do as Christians. Our call into God’s family is the groundwork of all these of discipleship. And we’ll look into it with the text in Eph. 4:11-22.
I. CALLED TO BE ALIENS TO THE WORLD
First of all, I’d like you to consider this point, that is, ‘we were once aliens to God, but now called to be aliens to the world.’ Understanding this is the starting point of our Christian discipleship.
Before we believed in Jesus, we were enemies of God, we were aliens to all and everything of God and Christ. We were separated from Christ and alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, that is, Christ’s church, as v. 12 of our text passage says. We had nothing to do with God or Jesus. But, now, our status is no longer the same; we’ve been moved to be near the Lord, together with Him as a people who belong to Him. In this sense, we’re called to be aliens to the world.
This is a radical change of our status. Regardless of anyone’s perception or approval, this is the fact for all Christians, Jesus’ disciples. By and through faith in the Lord Jesus, we no longer belong to the world but to God and His family. So, we’re aliens to the world. This means that all things and values and delights of this world no longer appeal to us. All delicacies of this world which used to not only attract your eyes, but also make your heart indulged in and craved for, give you no inspiration at all. Why? Because you and I are in the house of God, having Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, and because all that are in God’s house are ours, exactly as the father in Jesus’ parable said to his older son in Lk. 16:31, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Christian discipleship begins from this understanding, that is, we’re now aliens to the world.
Having said, guess that there’s a Christian who doesn’t fully understand this radical change. What could be his attitude toward the things of the world? He would still consider the worldly values are worthy things to pursue, so he could strive to earn them. This is different from any Christian’s work and labour in this world. Whereas a Christian’s labour in this world is his execution of God’s call in order to bring glory to God and Christ, a person’s pursuit of worldly values is for his own bodily pleasure which will die together with him in sin when his time is up. So, a Christian who doesn’t fully grasp his changed status in faith, would rather like to continue with what he used to do in the sinful world. But he is on God’s side through faith; he is now an alien to the world, having been moved to God through Christ, but his eyes are still fixed on the opposite side, his heart is still occupied with various things of the world that are saturated in sin and marinated with idolatry. So, you could imagine how much struggle and difficulty he’d have in his heart and life.
Such a Christian does not know the pleasures the things of God and Christ provide. To him, reading God’s word is boring, compared to reading magazines or watching blockbuster movies; praying to God in Jesus’ name seems to be necessary, so he does pray but out of need rather than of joy and pleasure of opening his heart to God in petition; attending worship services and bringing tithes and offerings to the Lord feel obliging rather than exciting with a thankful heart for what the Lord has done and been doing for him; fellowship with other Christians can be done in church on Sunday rather than always and everywhere because he thinks that hanging out with this world seems much more fun.
Truth is that, through faith we’re Christians, and being a Christian means discipleship, and our call is to be aliens to the world. We’ve got nothing to do with this world; no pleasure can this world give to us as all that are in God’s house are ours and sharing them with fellow members of God’s family is our new and full pleasure. In this way, our Christian discipleship begins from understanding of our changed status in God’s family, thus, aliens to the world.
II. CALLED TO BE MEMBERS OF ONE FAMILY
The next point we must appreciate is removal of enmity toward each other and bestowal of brotherly love among Christians in God’s family. We were once enemies of one another as much as we were enemies of God, and there was the wall of hostility among us. But Christ has called us to be members of one family, brothers and sisters to each other in Him. And this is an essential and foundational element of our discipleship.
Someone might consider this change light or trivial, insignificant. But that’s a great mistake, misunderstanding of how radical and amazing this change is. I said, ‘radical’ and ‘amazing,’ because this change is extreme and mind-blowing. Let me explain it with the example of enmity Jews had for Gentiles or non-Jews. But, this is a typical antagonism held by every tribe and nation against others. I’d like to quote William Barclay, a Scottish minister and theologian, ‘The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that He had made … It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world.’ What a barbarous and cold-blooded hatred!
The fact is, however, such is a typical contempt, hostility, every tribe and nation hold toward others. For example, consider who might be any nation’s greatest enemy; it’s always its closest neighbouring nation with an assumption that all other nations have the exact same potential to be the worst enemies.
Moreover, this enmity is not only among tribes and nations, but also among individuals. Ever since the Fall of Adam, all in Adam’s race have always been hostile toward each other. So people in our time call cities as ‘urban jungles’ or ‘jungles for the fittest,’ talking about something like ‘the law of the jungle and our world,’ stating life in the world is not an ‘easy game.’ Life in the midst of fellow humans is a survival.
But such enmity is broken down among Christians because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, abolished it by dying on the cross. He has bestowed His love onto whom He saves through faith. Thus, children of God, Jesus’ disciples, are now able to love one another, calling each other fellow members of God’s house – in other words, brothers and sisters in Jesus! This is not fake, nor joke; this is more serious than any agreement mutually signed and exchanged between the heads of two nations. This is not temporal but eternal; this love is more permanent and unchangeable than the law of the nature of the present era because when Jesus returns, there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth unaffected by sin.
Once you understand your membership in God’s household, once you appreciate and exercise this Christian love toward one another, that is exactly what discipleship is all about. All the law and commandment of God is summed up in this love, that is, ‘our love for our neighbour as ourselves.’ Even our Lord Jesus calls us as His brothers and sisters in Mt. 12:50, saying, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister.” Once we were enemies of God and Christ, but now we’re called to be His own, thus, to be aliens to the world, and by being members of God’s household, we’re to love one another as our enmity has been broken down by the Lord Jesus!
With this love, we can love our fellow Christians which is what we’re supposed to be in Jesus and that is what Christian discipleship is all about. As we’re engaged in our mutual love, that is how we also disciple others in the world.
Another important area this second point leads us to seriously consider is the importance of Church membership. If we’re called to be members of God’s family, we never belong to any other family than this. So, our membership in a local church – in our case, it’s St Columba’s – represents our eternal membership in God’s family. As water baptism that is visible represents the Holy Spirit’s invisible anointing work of salvation onto us, our eternal membership of God’s family that is invisible is represented by our membership in an earthly local church that is visible. In this sense, anyone who denies his/her local church membership misunderstands or has no idea about our call to be members of God’s family.
III. CALLED TO GROW TOGETHER IN JESUS
One more important matter together with church membership is each one’s submission to the church authority. Christ Jesus set in His church some office bearers such as ministers and elders and deacons. Also Presbytery and Assembly are set by churches, following the biblical principle. As all Christians listen to the Father’s words and obey them in reverence, awe and joy, they should also be attentive and obedient to their spiritual leaders in church. Listen to the words of Heb. 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Again, church leadership represents the guiding, protecting and serving hands of the Father in His family.
This explains, in fact, our third and last point, that is, ‘once we were hopeless, but now we’re called to grow together in Jesus.’ God’s calling is always closely associated with growth in faith to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ Jesus. In v. 15 of our text passage, the purpose of Jesus’ calling us is to ‘create in Himself one new man’ and vs. 19-20 explain further, saying, “(we are) … members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” and vs. 21-22 continue, saying, “being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together.”
This growth has a stark contrast between our former hopelessness. When we were aliens to God, there was no hope because we were separated from Christ and without God in the world, as v. 12 says. Our former state was the exact description of ‘Sheol’ of the OT and ‘Hades’ of the NT – that is, the ‘place’ or ‘abode’ of the dead where there’s no hope as there’s no life. But, being called by Jesus through faith in Him and by His grace, we have life in Him, and as all living beings do, we grow – not as a lone cactus in a desert, but as branches of a beautiful and healthy tree on God’s holy hill, budding leaves and flowers and bearing rich fruit in season.
For this purpose, God gave His church the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, as Eph. 4:11 say, and that ‘to equip the saints, members of God’s family, Jesus’ disciples, for the work of ministry, for building each other up in Christ.’ So, discipleship is our obedience to the authority God set over Christ’s church. But do remember that those in spiritual leadership in church are ‘servants’ of Christ who serve all under their care as Jesus the Lord came to serve. His example was His washing of the disciples’ feet, teaching them in Mt. 20:26-27 that “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” After all, His life and death was the example of serving.
Someone might question and say, ‘How could our obedience to our leaders make us grow in faith and discipleship?’ A simple answer to such a question is this: ‘If a Christian does not obey to his church’s leadership that provides biblical oversight, how could he grow in obedience to the Lord who is the Head of His Church?’ We’re called to grow together in Christ the Lord.
I want you to consider the Christianity of our time and look around; it’d be not too difficult for you to see Christian churches in decline. All faithful Christians say in unison that it’s a time for another reformation. But the reality of many churches goes the opposite way and many in them say that ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ is what really matters’ and that is what Christian discipleship is all about and should focus. But that’s not true.
True disciples of Jesus should clearly know the fundamental basis of our call as we’ve considered today, that is, we’re called to be members of God’s one family and to grow together in Jesus. This world advocates individualism, it preaches self-centredness even in Christian faith and church; but that’s not what we’re called for. Instead, we’re called to be aliens to the world and all its principles. We’re to attain the unity of the faith as Jesus’ disciples in God’s family, growing together with brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. ***