Becoming human: life in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

It’s easy to spend thousands on books and courses to help you become a better human. We’re preoccupied with how I can reach my potential and have the best life I can.

There’s a fatal flaw in that approach. What if my boss is a tyrant, or my spouse is a control freak? I can learn to disassociate, to isolate myself for my own sanity, but human flourishing is something we can only do together. Who can show us how to develop a better life together?

Let me recommend a book. It’s called Ephesians. It’s the good news that God is working to restore not just me but all of us together to become all he intended.

Truth is, we feel like we’re not truly alive in a world where evil dominates the nations. God changed all that when his anointed ruler joined us in our death, and was raised to life as the rescuer and ruler of the people who are raised to life in him. Staggeringly, God extended his benevolence beyond the Jewish border, restoring life to the nations in King Jesus.

Did you get that? God is raising the whole of humanity out of our dead existence into life in the resurrected king! The old divisions and power fights no longer have meaning. Before Jesus, Israel was called to represent God’s human restoration project to the nations, but she had lost her national identity. Jewish people speculated about what God would do to the nations when he restored his people, and most of it wasn’t nice.

But when God finally resolved this mystery, he did far more than anyone had asked or imagined. God extended the kingship of David’s son to include the nations. The Messiah ended human hostilities and restored peace to the planet by extending his kingship to the nations — “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people, members of his household” (2:19). No one had prayed for or even imagined this solution to the human problem.

The good news is that this is what God has done (Ephesians 1 – 3). The final three chapters spell out how we respond, what it looks like to live together as the global community of King Jesus.

How this works in practice

Jesus’ kingship spells the end of our political differences. We’re equal in him, so there’s no place for Neo-Nazi attitudes (as if Jews were inferior) or Zionist attitudes (as if Jews were superior). All humans have equal citizenship in the peaceful reign of the Jewish Messiah. He calls us to live together as humanity reunified in him: one body, in one Spirit, with one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, because God’s life permeates us all (4:1-6).

Jesus’ kingship is not subjugation; it’s empowerment. In the politics of this world, people are required to pay tribute taxes to their leader. It’s what David did when he defeated their enemies (2 Samuel 8:2-6), and it’s what their enemies did to them (2 Kings 23:33), so it’s the language of Messianic victory over the nations in Psalm 68:18. But when Jesus received power, he did so much more than anyone imagined: instead of taking tribute, he gave gifts to his people — gifts of empowerment, appointments to share with him in enacting his royal reign (4:7-11).

The servants of King Jesus are commissioned to empower the rest of humanity to experience his restorative kingship (“the knowledge of the Son of God”). Humanity was designed to image our heavenly king (Genesis 1:26-28), and for the first time we’ve seen that fully realized — in Jesus. Participating in him (in his leadership) transforms us (“matures us”) into the full expression of what it means to be human (“the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”) (4:12-13).

As King Jesus leads us towards this goal, his transformation of humanity is staggering:

  • We start out as naïve toddlers who don’t understand what’s wrong with the world, tossed from pillar to post by the crashing waves of power that break over us. We’re pommelled with cunningly devised propaganda from political persuaders who promise us a better future if we will trust them to lead us (4:14).
  • Jesus exposed those lies by declaring the truth of God’s kingship over the world, even when it was not to his advantage (John 18:37). In giving his life, he established a community founded on the truth of God’s kingship expressed in sacrificial love. Heaven confirmed this truth by raising him from the dead. Our resurrected king now calls us to be the authentic expression of the community he loves, the implementation of his government on earth. As we live out this message sacrificially, it has the ring of truth that other political messages lack: “truth spoken in love” (4:15).

Imagine a global community where each part exists to support the other, a healing community where each part is healed with authentic love, a corporate organism that’s growing into the house of the living God, the expression of his sovereign love in practice (4:16).

What a vision God has for the world! How do we participate? Stay tuned. The rest of Ephesians is the game plan.


What others are saying

Michael Gorman, “A letter from Paul to Christians in the US” (Christianity Today, 2019):

To be in Christ as an alternative community is to be a living exegesis, or faithful interpretation, of the gospel. It is to become like Christ and therefore, in a profound sense, to become the gospel by becoming communal commentary on it. That, brothers and sisters, is true fellowship—participation in God’s work. …

You see, the crucified Jesus was a Christophany — revealing what the Messiah is like. But it is also a theophany — revealing what God is like. And it is also an ecclesiophany — revealing what the church is supposed to be like. And ultimately it is also an anthrophany — revealing what human beings are meant to be like.

Bryan Stone, Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007):

The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church — to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ.

Related posts

Our blog posts on Ephesians:

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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