Gospel People

Greetings from the apostle Paul

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God. our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-2).

Paul begins this letter by drawing attention to his own calling and apostolic authority. He will discuss later the calling of those to whom he is writing, but his own was unique. He was called specifically by the voice of Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9), and in Acts 26:15-18 he describes how, in that great episode in his life, he was specifically appointed by God as an apostle who was to reach out to the Gentiles so that they might turn 'from darkness to light', a theme to which he will return in this letter (e.g. 5:8ff).

Paul writes to people who are the saints, that is, Christians. In today's English the word may imply people more 'holy' in their lives than is normal, but here Paul is referring specially to those who are set apart by God to be his people. It is a term that can be used of all Christian people and here it designates those who worship in the churches in Ephesus. These people are also said to be the faithful. In other words, they are people of faith, believers.

The next phrase, in Christ Jesus, is one of Paul's most loved expressions and means a lot more than simply 'being a Christian'. Being 'in Christ' or 'in Christ Jesus' pulls together all that is Christian existence. It sums up all that Christians have and are as 'co-heirs' (Rom. 8:17) with Christ, as his people. It speaks of the huge privileges that are ours, and the great inheritance that is ours. The phrase points to the fact that Christ is truly our representative King. He brings us before God and brings God to us. (We shall see in due course that in many ways what is true of our King can also be said to be true of us. For example, see on 2:5-6.) Being 'in Christ' is therefore an immense privilege for all who are called and have faith in him.

Both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the source of all grace and peace for believers. Grace describes God's amazing and unmerited love and mercy that he shows to all his people. It is experienced in conversion but then also in God's continuing help throughout life, which is what Paul has in mind here. Peace is both the peace with God in which those who are in Christ find they are no longer enemies of God but 'reconciled' to him (Rom. 5:10), and it is also the peace experienced by believers as they know Christ's continuing work in their lives day by day.

Praise for God's blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In whom we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory (1:3-14).

It is difficult properly to convey these next twelve verses in English. In the Greek, verses 3-14 seem almost to bubble off Paul's tongue. He is thinking of the extraordinary grace and blessing that belongs to all who are 'in Christ', and as he does so his enthusiasm pours out in one long sentence of praise to God. (The NIV has inserted full stops at vv. 3, 4, 6, 9, 10 and 12 in order to make this more readable in English.) Perhaps it is worth reading this whole section really quickly without pausing at the stops in order to get a feeling of the joy and enthusiasm Paul experiences as he speaks of such wonderful truths.

Above all, what drives Paul forward in his praise is the thought that God, in his love and grace, should have planned a people who would stand before him and who would receive blessing upon blessing from him, and that all this has happened 'in Christ'. Paul's excitement as he thinks of all the blessings God has given us 'in Christ', is also emphasised as Paul repeats again and again the words 'in Christ' or 'in him' (11 times).

It is worth seeing this laid out below, a little more literally, in order better to understand the weight Paul is giving to the whole glorious concept of what it is for believers to find themselves 'in Christ'.

Praise to the God... who has blessed us... in Christ (v. 3).

he chose us in him (v. 4) to be holy... in his sight

In love he predestined us (v. 5).

to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...

to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has graced us in the One he loves (v. 6).

In him we have redemption through his blood (v. 7)...

He made known... according to his will which he purposed in him... (v. 9).

to bring all things together in Christ, things in heaven and on earth, in him (v. 10)

in whom (v. 11) we were also chosen...

first to hope in Christ (v. 12)

in whom you also are, having heard the word of truth... (v. 13)

and in whom, having believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit (v 13)...

a) Blessed by the Father in Christ (v. 3)

Paul's praise is of God whom he knows as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is of particular significance here because it is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ that God's will to bless his people has actually happened. And Paul says that God has blessed us. He is writing to those who believe and are therefore God's people, and he includes himself as he says 'us'. As we read, therefore, we too may include ourselves, if we have faith in Christ. Through this whole section Paul will talk of 'we' and 'us', because what he is saying is true of all who are 'in Christ'. The passage thus becomes one of enormous comfort and encouragement to us as Christians in the twenty-first century as it would have been to the Ephesian Christians. But more than that, it also therefore becomes a model passage for Christians as we think of all for which we too must give thanks and praise to God.

Christians have been blessed in the heavenly realms... in Christ. Christ is situated at the right hand of the Father (1:20). As the one who has been raised from the dead and exalted to Lord over all, he is seated 'in the heavenly places' (2:6). This is a description of the place where Christ is enthroned and from which he and the Father rule. It describes a reality that is not always apparent to Christians in this age, which is that Christ is glorified (1:20) and has been exalted by the Father. This is the reality that will finally be shown to all people with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth, but the great news is that, though somewhat hidden, it already exists, and Christians are part of it (see on 2:6)! Of course, there is also a heavenly realm from which Satan and his forces attack (6:12) but, at this point, Paul is concerned about the blessings that we have 'in Christ'. Because we are 'in him' we find ourselves experiencing now the blessings of these heavenly realms.

As Christ represents his people, so it is as if they were there with Christ themselves. This is so vivid and real to Paul that in 2:6 he can talk of the Christian's present state as being 'seated with Christ in the heavenly realms in Christ'. The fact that these blessings are spiritual reminds us that all our blessings are in a true sense 'Trinitarian'. In Paul's writing the word 'spiritual' almost exclusively points to that which comes from or is used by the Holy Spirit, and these blessings are applied to the heart and life of the Christian and sealed for the Christian by the Holy Spirit (see v. 13 below). So Paul praises the Father for blessings mediated to us by the Holy Spirit that we have as Christians because we are 'in Christ'.

b) Chosen in Christ (v. 4)

We are now introduced to the great theme of God's election. The awesome electing action of God in salvation is the foundation of all the blessings that belong to Christians. Paul will spell out some of these, but the initial work of God in the election of his people in Christ is, for Paul, the overwhelming blessing. Here in verse 4 we find that God chose us in Christ. But this is added to in the verses which follow with talk of God's will and of how he predestined us. This great teaching reminds us that every spiritual blessing in Christ with which we have been blessed is entirely from God and comes to Christians by his grace. Significantly, these blessings are all of his purpose and plan. Just as Paul emphasised that it was by the will of God that he was called to be an apostle (v. 1), so now it is according to God's good pleasure and will (v. 5) that we are predestined. He will go on to discuss the mystery of God's will later. Meanwhile, as Paul continues his praise, he reflects on why and when God chose us, and how it all came about.

Though we can hardly begin to penetrate the mind of God, yet he has revealed some glorious things to us concerning his purposes and will. It is his will to have a people who will stand before him and be holy or 'set apart' to him, a people who will be wholly devoted to him and blameless (v. 4). Much of this was prefigured in the sacrificial lambs that had to be without blemish and were then devoted to God in sacrifice. It was God's will that such a people should have Christ as their King and representative, for this happens in him.

In the modern world we are often preoccupied with questions of 'success' or 'failure' in our lives. We wonder whether we have done enough for friends and neighbours, for employers and parents, but we are often tempted as well to ask whether we have done enough for God. It is, of course, right and proper to ask whether we are serving God as we should, but our place as 'saints,' as 'holy ones' (v. 1), comes about because this is God's will and our holiness and blamelessness appear not because we are somehow struggling harder than others, or are more 'moral' people than others, but because all this happens in him. This is all about God's will and purpose in which he brings into being this people through the grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves (v. 6).

If we ask why God should want such a people, then verse 6 is as close as we come to an answer—to the praise of his glorious grace. God's ultimate aim is that he reveal his glory, that is, his nature and character. When this is revealed it always redounds to his praise. Paul knows that the predestining, saving work of God has as its goal that God will be glorified for who he is, and here we specially remember that part of God's character is that he is gracious. The idea, slightly modified, is also present in verses 11-12 where 'we' were 'chosen... in order that we... might be for the praise of his glory'. It is also the end product of our redemption, that we 'are God's own possession, to the praise of his glory' (v. 14).

In and through Christ, God calls into being a people that reflects something of the glory of God himself and thus brings praise to his glory. Thus God's aim is that, as his character is revealed in what he does for his people and in how they reflect that character, so his glory will truly be praised.

...before the creation [foundation] of the world (v. 4). In heaven God, in his wonderful plan for revealing his glory to his very great and eternal praise, planned to call into being a people set apart to him, and whose King would be Jesus. Seeing and knowing that we would fall into sin, he 'chose us in Christ'. We can hardly fathom the glory of this truth. In the mind of God, before even the foundation of this earth, God planned a people who would be devoted to him and reflect his image. That plan included the purpose to reveal his grace and love. God saw through the time when all would rebel and sin and turn against him, and before even the foundation of the world, he formed his plan to show his grace and love to us. Right back then he planned that 'in him', 'in Jesus' we would be chosen—in other words, that Jesus would indeed die on the cross and would do so for our sin, representing us. 'In Christ' we were chosen not just because it sounded like a nice idea, but because it was God's plan all along that there would be a people in the world who would be holy and blameless in his sight.

c) Adopted in Christ (v. 5)

The emphasis on God's electing grace and his plan and purpose from before creation comes through in verse after verse here. Verse 5 reminds us that 'love' is at the heart of this grace. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons. We shall see the significance of being his sons, shortly. But this family imagery helps remind us that the nature of God's love is not just an abstract concept. Rather God's love is revealed as he enters a relationship with his people. This relationship was also in accordance with his pleasure and will. Significantly the phrase 'in Christ' here is replaced by 'in the One he loves'. As Jesus is the beloved Son and in relationship with the Father so, in him, we find we too, in love, become adopted as his sons. What is true of Christ our King is true of us who are 'in him', represented and caught up in Christ before the Father: he is the Beloved, we are loved.

i) Sons and their inheritance

It is worth noting the significance that being called 'sons' carries with it. When Paul talks of us as 'sons', he is by no means excluding women. In fact, much the opposite. Paul can speak of God being a father to his 'sons and daughters' in 2 Corinthians 6:18 (quoting Isa. 43:6). But usually when using the word 'sons', Paul has in mind all that Christians inherit in Christ. In Paul's day sons would inherit from the father, while most daughters did not receive an independent inheritance. By saying that we are adopted as sons and relating this to all those who are in Christ, Paul is saying that all men and women (contrary to the norm of Paul's day), and even slaves, are equal members of this family. For a woman or slave as much as for a man, being 'in Christ' means that what is true for the King is true for his people. Christ is the Son who has come into and will come into his inheritance, and we, believing men and women, are adopted sons who also have come into and will come into a guaranteed inheritance (v. 14).

But sonship also implies a family resemblance. In his love for us in Christ, God adopted us to be part of his family. This means we will bear a resemblance to Christ as we live for him. Paul's joy at the thought of this great family, and the fact that all of this has been part of God's great will and purpose for his glory, gives rise to a lovely play on words here which is missed in some versions. He says in verse 6: 'to the praise of the glory of his grace, with which he has graced us in the One who is loved.'

ii) The depth of God's love for his children

As we study what Paul means by this phrase 'in Christ', one thing becomes clear again and again. What God does in Christ for us is the perfect and full expression of God's love for us. To be 'in Christ' is undoubtedly to experience the great depths of God's love for us. So extraordinary was the depth of this love that God would reveal to his praise and glory that, even before the world was founded, God was thinking and planning its demonstration in the lives of us who are sinners. This is to the glory of God who has so generously and freely lavished on us (v. 8) his grace in the Beloved, in Christ.

Our position among this people and 'in Christ' happens through Jesus Christ, and this is in accordance with God's will (v. 5). That is, it was God's plan that Jesus should also be the means to our becoming a holy and blameless people in God's sight. In order to be holy before him and adopted as sons our sin and guilt must be dealt with. Jesus achieves this for us in his life and death and resurrection. It is not simply that Jesus represents us before the Father, but that he has in fact dealt with sin and gained forgiveness for all those whom he represents before the Father. This is not some 'legal fiction' that, as it were, pretends we are alright before God when really we are not. Rather, Christ truly represents a people whom he presents to the Father as holy and blameless because he really has paid the penalty for their sin, and gained their forgiveness. At the heart of this achievement by Christ on behalf of his people is Christ's redeeming death.

Paul knows that only those who are redeemed and forgiven will ever make up part of this people. Thus he refers in shorthand to the great sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He does this with two summary words, redemption and blood.

d) Redeemed in Christ (vv. 7-8)

Redemption has in mind the Old Testament background of Israel being redeemed or freed from slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 is significant for much of Paul's argument here in verses 4, 5 and 7. In Deuteronomy Moses had rejoiced in the way God had chosen Israel. Just as Paul here has given reasons for election that are to be found in the character of God, in his grace and love, so Moses had done the same.

The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:6b-8).

Israel came into existence by the plan and electing choice of God. As Paul has shown that this is born of God's love and grace, so Moses had stressed the same point. God has chosen them (Deut. 7:6, compare Eph. 1:4) because he loved them (Deut. 7:8, compare end Eph. 1:4, 'in love'). He did this by redeeming them from the land of slavery.

i) Freedom from slavery

In the New Testament Christ comes to fulfil all the Old Testament, not just specific promises, but to fulfil all that was being pointed to in the Old Testament Scripture. As Moses was God to Pharaoh (Exod. 7:1) in dealing with this king who put himself up against the King of kings, as the Lord redeemed the people of God out of death and slavery to freedom in the Exodus, so Christ deals with Satan (see Eph. 2:2) and leads those who are his into freedom, redeeming them from slavery (Gal. 5:1).

ii) Transfer from one kingdom to another

Redemption thus clearly implies a transfer of lordships, the removal from one kingdom to another. In Ephesians 5 Paul describes in more detail the contrast between what are the things of Christ's lordship, his kingdom, and the things that are of the kingdom of darkness (specially see 5:5). This link between redemption, the death of Christ, forgiveness and transfer of lordships is more explicit in Colossians 1:13-14: Tor he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.'

iii) A substitutionary and representative sacrifice

Some scholars debate the details of what Paul means by the word 'redeemed'. Is there an understanding here simply of a price being paid, or of a sacrifice, or of Christ dying as our substitute while paying with his life for the death we deserved under God's judgment? Such discussions are interesting but ultimately miss the point here. Paul uses the words 'redemption', 'blood' and 'forgiveness' in close proximity. In this cascading prayer of praise to God, it is surely the case that these words are used as an appropriate shorthand for the whole means by which our election was secured through Jesus Christ. The blood reminds us that this was by sacrifice, even as the Exodus itself was achieved for all the 'sons of Israel' by means of a sacrificial lamb whose blood, when placed on the doorposts of a home, caused the avenging angel to 'pass by' without bringing death (Exod. 12:1-13). But it also reminds us that, in his death, Christ's sacrifice was sufficient and complete as a fulfilling of all that was required by God. All this was in order that we who were by nature objects of wrath and dead in transgressions (2:3, 5) might receive full forgiveness and be received as God's people, holy and blameless before him. Christ's death on the cross for all those throughout all the ages who would trust in him and become his people through God's grace, primarily involved Christ voluntarily taking the place of the sinner under God's judgment (substitution, see Eph. 5:2 and 5:25 and Gal. 3:13). Yet it is also described in representative terms, for again we may say that what is true of the King (who died and rose) is true of his people (who have died and been raised from the dead; see 2:5 and Gal. 2:20).

As Paul is caught up in praise, it is no wonder that he sees this as the riches of God's grace. In 1:18 he specifically prays that we will have our hearts enlightened to appreciate the riches of his glorious inheritance. (These 'riches' are also mentioned in 2:4, 7; 3:8, 16.) It is important to capture the 'feel' of Paul's excitement as he thinks through all that God's grace has achieved for us in Christ. Paul says that God lavished this upon us. The Greek word means something like 'he abundantly gave us', or 'he gave us more than we needed'. Surely here we are listening to Paul's joy! What redemption and forgiveness! What a life we really have 'in Christ'! We can virtually feel the tears arising within him as he sits in prison and thinks and speaks of the riches of God's grace.

iv) Part of God's great plan

God did all this with all wisdom and understanding (v. 8).

Once again Paul remembers that, wonder of wonders, this is all part of God's wise plan and purpose to bring glory to himself.

Sometimes studying the text in detail as we are here can seem very theoretical. We can study Paul's understanding of the saving work of Jesus, students can write an essay, others can speak on what they have learned to Bible study groups or some will preach on the passage. We can analyse the text, and all of this is valuable. Yet Paul wrote this theology with a thrill in his heart, and God's people must share this joy with Paul for it is a joy in God and his abundant grace. It is a joy focused not in ourselves but in him who chose us before the foundation of the world and predestined us in love to be part of his family.

e) The Mystery has been revealed in Christ (vv. 9-12)

In speaking of God's redemption in Christ and his forgiveness, Paul's thought again returns to the fact that this was God's plan all along. Until Christ came, it had remained a mystery how precisely God would fulfil his covenant promises to create a 'holy' people to himself and ensure their blamelessness. What also remained unexplained was how God would bless people from all over the earth, in fulfilment of his promises to Abraham. Thus, when Paul speaks of mystery he specially thinks about how, in Christ, God draws in the Gentiles to his people (see vv. 11-13 below, also 3:3-6, specially v. 6. Also Col. 1:27). This great will and purpose of God has been put into effect, it has been so ordered within God's plan, that it would all happen when the times will have reached their fulfilment.

This time of fulfilment has been ushered in by Christ the King. Now the gospel is going out to all the nations. Now people from all over the world are being saved in Christ. There is a great drawing together of the whole purpose of this world as Christ enters it and brings salvation. But this fulfilment is not yet complete, for Christ will return and bring this work to completion.

We might summarise the thought of verse 10 along these lines: The purposes of the world and its people seemed thwarted when Adam and Eve sinned. Disorder entered the ordered creation. The destiny of men and women was death rather than life. But it was always God's divine will to reveal his grace and love in Jesus Christ and to bring about a great restoration of order and of divine service. In Christ, this is what has happened, is happening, and will happen for the fulfilment of the ages is upon us. It involves all things in heaven and on earth because all that which is set against Christ has also been affected and will be dealt with in Christ as his exaltation as King makes clear (1:20-21).

Paul's joy is that in him (Christ) this mystery has been made known. It was always God's will and good pleasure that through Christ salvation would come not just to the Israelites or Jews but to the nations as well. It was always his will to exalt Christ and to deal with evil. The prophets had foretold this, but now it has been revealed. It is indeed God's plan to 'sum up' all things in Christ (rather than NIV 'under one head, even Christ').

Paul now develops the idea of all Christians receiving the inheritance that is God's will for them. Verse 11 refers to all Christians and Paul summarises the great truth that God has predestined them for a purpose according to the plan. We, who were the first to hope in [the] Christ refers at least to Paul and those early converts in Jerusalem and Judea, but probably to the gospel coming to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. In other words, Paul probably here identifies himself with the Jews who were the first to receive the gospel of the Messiah (Christ). They were called for the praise of his glory (see b) above). But you also, that is, those who had been converted in Ephesus and came from a largely Gentile background, have a part in all this.

Note that Paul equates the word of truth with the gospel of your salvation. As this truth was proclaimed and they heard, so they believed and received an equal standing with those who were the first to hope in Christ.

God is truly to be praised for the way the mystery was revealed. The Gentiles were drawn into the full privileges of being family members, sons, through hearing the gospel and believing in Christ.

f) Marked and sealed in Christ (vv. 13-14)

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that all who are in Christ will receive their inheritance, and it is he who ensures that no distinctions are made between God's people. There are no first- and second-class people of God. We are all awaiting together that final day when Christ returns.

The work of redemption, the actual paying the cost and freeing from slavery to sin and transfer to another lordship, took place on the cross. That is where Satan was defeated, and here is the marvel of the Christian faith. It is firmly and essentially connected to historical reality, to real people, to a real God working in this world in its history, and to a real victory in the death and resurrection of Christ and his exaltation as Lord.

This redemption and salvation are experienced in the life of an individual when the word of truth is heard and people believe. At that point redemption is theirs and is sealed to them by the Holy Spirit. But what the Holy Spirit guarantees is that at the future day when Christ will return to judge, they will be seen to be redeemed. Paul even refers to the judgment day as the day of redemption in Ephesians 4:30. This is a wonderful thought. Christ's return, 'the day of the Lord', 'the day of wrath', the day of 'judgment', as the Bible variously describes it, can be spoken of by Christians as the day of redemption.

This work of the Spirit happens at conversion, when you heard... Some these days talk of a work of the Holy Spirit separate from the work of Christ. But on three accounts here that is shown to be incorrect. First, it is only 'in Christ' that we receive the Holy Spirit at all. Secondly, all who are 'in Christ' were sealed (past tense) with the Spirit, and thirdly, this is what was promised (the Holy Spirit of promise, v. 13). In other words, this is all part of the fulfilment of all covenant promises 'in Christ'. One of those promises was, as we know from Joel 2, that God would pour out his Spirit on all people. All Christians receive the Spirit as they come to Christ and find themselves 'in him'.

The idea of being marked with a seal is taken from the practice of slavery. Slaves were branded with a mark that was burned onto their flesh or even with a piece cut out of their ear. If a slave was sold he or she would have the mark of the new master put on them. Being sealed in him with the Holy Spirit again reminds us of a new Lordship. This is a sign of slavery to a new Lord. There are two lords to whom we can belong as human beings: either we belong to what Paul calls in 2:2 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient', or we belong to God the Father and to his Son Jesus Christ. When Christ the Lord takes possession of a person he has redeemed, he moves immediately to guarantee his slave's new status. He does this with his slave seal—the Holy Spirit. Now it is this Spirit who is at work in us, not any other.

But this slave-mark is also a sign of the Lord's protection. In Roman days slaves would be protected by their master. He was responsible for their welfare. In Scripture the work of the Spirit is undoubtedly about the welfare and protection of Christ's people. Thus the guarantee also means that God's people will be protected and kept for that final day to ensure they are still around to receive the inheritance that is theirs.

Paul returns at the end of this extraordinary outpouring of praise to what it is all about, to what the whole of history has been pointing, to what the election of a holy and blameless people was all for, and it is simply to the praise of his glory.

Further Application

First, we need to focus on Jesus and not on ourselves. How we need to recall the truth of these verses again and again, don't we? They are so practical and direct in their application to all our lives and yet they are full of the very deepest theology. We are chosen and loved and forgiven and redeemed so we can sing God's praise and give him all the glory. We are to be found 'in Christ', so we are inheritors with him of the divine promises and we are sealed by his Holy Spirit. Our whole culture these days pushes us towards focusing on ourselves. The truths to which this passage points take our gaze off ourselves and fix it where it should be: on God our Saviour. In this day and age we first and foremost must focus our hearts and minds on what it is to be 'in Christ'.

Secondly, freedom is not all it's cracked up to be! This passage speaks directly to the modern person seeking after 'freedom', freedom to do what we want, to be our own person, to act in whatever way makes us feel good. In fact, Christians often get really 'messed up' as they tend to define freedom, not in God's way, but in a way that has been defined by people living under another lordship, under the master of lies.

Sadly, of course, when people follow the 'other lord', they eventually discover the life they have lived has not been as rewarding as they had hoped. And they discover that they are not really 'free' for there are lots of people and circumstances that have power over them. Perhaps for some it is the callous employer, or perhaps difficult financial circumstances, or an addiction of some sort. Gradually they discover that the goals of this so-called 'free' world, goals of hedonism, self-promotion and so on are simply a dream.

The Biblical answer is to turn the whole question around. True freedom is found in one place only, by becoming a slave to Christ. At first glance, it seems that this cannot possibly be true because freedom and slavery are surely contradictory terms. But that is where the one true Lord, the Lord of all creation, speaks and says, 'Come to me, and I will give you rest.' In Matthew 11:19 we read: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'

There is an amazing little prayer in the Anglican prayer book and it has these words which beautifully summarise the Bible's teaching on freedom: 'In whose service is perfect freedom.' Paul shows us that true freedom is to be found in following the creator God himself, for then we fulfil our potential, then we know where we belong, there we know where to turn for help, there we know that we can even find the power to live. And it is all in the service of Christ, by becoming one of his sealed slaves, a converted person who is possessed by the Holy Spirit. The Lord protects his servants.

Finally, God's love addresses the alienation felt by so many in our society. 'Alienation' describes the feeling that so many have, that they do not belong anywhere, that they are not significant, that they have no purpose, that they are powerless to change their circumstances. Perhaps some of us have been like that. Perhaps, to some extent, you feel this as you read my words right now. It is at times like this, as we read passages like the one we have been studying, that we should let God speak to us.

This love of God does not depend on whether we are well thought of, nor on whether we have lots of friends, nor on whether we serve God as well as we might. God's love towards us, described here in this passage, is not determined by the sort of people we are or are not. 'He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ' as verse 3 puts it, because that is what he planned to do to demonstrate his love towards us. In Christ alone we find our true belonging as he draws us into covenant with him, as he places us in a family of his people, and as he gives us his Spirit to be with us and to protect us and guarantee our relationship with God himself in Jesus Christ.

Of course, it is one thing to know the theology and another to put it into practice in our own Christian lives. Yet if we call upon the Lord to help us overcome our feelings of alienation and powerlessness, so he, by the power of his Spirit within us, will work to change not just our life and behaviour but even our feelings. And we will come to know that, through his love, we belong.

A favourite modern hymn catches so clearly the joy of these opening verses of Ephesians.

In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my strength, my light, my song;

This corner stone, this solid ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my All in All,

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me;

From life's first cry to final breath,

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Till He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!