I have a particularly bad joke that I enjoy telling from time to time. It involves a man arriving at heaven’s pearly gates (please do not derive any actual biblical theology from this) only to confuse the welcoming St Peter by being unable to remember who he is. A conversation develops whereby the stranger can recall certain events of his earthly life – a father who was a carpenter, large crowds following him wherever he went – and the tension of the joke is that these memories point towards who: Jesus? Well it turns out that the stranger is Pinocchio. I did warn you it was a bad joke. It’s my last one for a while. But I think about it sometimes when I meet Christians who are living in a way contrary to how the Bible describes: just like the stranger at the pearly gates, they can’t remember who they are. And it’s no joke; in fact, it’s a great tragedy, a spiritual epidemic, if you will. One that we need to do something about.
This is why, in part, we have been going through the Book of Ephesians in our most recent preaching and teaching series. We have called the series In Christ: a phrase used by Paul in one way, shape or form more than 20 times in Ephesians and more than 160 times in his letters as whole. Paul uses it to describe the present spiritual realities of the believer; to be a Christian is to be in Christ. What we enjoy and experience as believers, moreover, is rooted in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the ongoing work of the person of the Holy Spirit. To be in Christ, Paul tells the church in Corinth, is to be a new creation, a new creature: your old life has gone and your new life has come (see 2Corinthians 5:17). We therefore often call these truths the realities of the new creation. They are realities: facts, not fictions, not feelings. They are objective and unchangeable spiritual truths that the pages of the New Testament reveal apply to us as Christians.
What’s more, we are in Christ now. It’s not a spiritual state we will attain when we die or when Jesus returns. That is why, for believers in the Lord at least, it is true to say we happen to live in two places at once. Paul opens his letter, for example, by announcing he is writing to ‘the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus’. The believers were living in Ephesus and in Christ at the same time. This first spoke of the place in this time space world that they call home (as I call Cardiff home today). This is where they and we live out all the necessary aspects of our temporary lives on earth. We have jobs to do, bills to pay, children to raise, homes to maintain. Right now you may be studying for an exam or planning a holiday or preparing to visit an elderly relative or even thinking about when you might walk the dog. These are all everyday aspects of life that people go through here on earth. But at the same time, the believer is in Christ. We are joined to the Lord Jesus in our spirits, our inner man. We are, Paul tells us, seated with Christ in heavenly places; heavenly places being a phrase Paul uses repeatedly in Ephesians to describe the invisible realm of spiritual reality that affects the visible realm we also live in. According to Paul, in Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing! In Him we were chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. In Him, too, we have the forgiveness of our sins. And so, so much more.
These spiritual truths, these new creation realities, are laid out for us in Ephesians. Paul paints an awesome picture of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ and the cosmic significance of the church as a result. If you haven’t done so already, I’d recommend you taking some time to read and reread it. Take note of how often Paul uses phrases like ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ or ‘in the Lord’. The book is full of them – especially the first three chapters. These are truths that apply to us, that apply to every Christian. And take some time, too, to watch and/or listen to our sermon series so far: I’m certain it will do you good. Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be posting articles here on the church’s blog that will delve a little deeper into Ephesians so keep your eyes peeled for more In Christ related material.