The second half of verse one is still a part of the Apostle Paul’s address to the church in Ephesus, and it has been rumbling around in my mind for over two weeks now.
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
To the saints…the saints …saints…
My first time reading through chapter one in this study, like many times before, I quickly read over these words without fully applying their meaning to my understanding. Almost like I was programed to only engage in the text after the address. But as I read through D. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ God’s Ultimate Purpose I was struck by his view of this address and the importance of it. He says,
“We find ourselves confronted here, then, by what the New Testament teaches is the basic irreducible minimum of what constitutes a Christian. I am emphasizing this because it seems to me that it is the primary need of the Christian Church at the present time to realize exactly what it means to be a Christian. How was it that the early Christians, who were a handful of people, had such a profound impact on the pagan world in which they lived? It was because they were what they were. It was not their organization, it was the quality of their life, it was the power they possessed because they were truly Christian (Lloyd-Jones 24).”
The “irreducible minimum” is then: saint, faithful, in Jesus Christ. As I hope you’ve already noted, I’m writing as honestly about my own heart, mind, and soul as I study this thoroughly, and so I must admit that my first reaction to the word “saint” was: no, that isn’t me. I’m justified and being sanctified, yes, but a saint I am not that term only defines the Apostles or martyrs. It is not that I do not embrace what scripture says about me, but rather my keen awareness of my deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of this cognitive dissonance, my heart sprang to life and engaged in prayer in order to honestly, critically, and humbly proceed with reading what Lloyd-Jones had to say next:
“The first thing to say of a Christian is that he is a saint…The first thing it means is that we are people who are set apart (Lloyd-Jones 25).”
He goes on to draw the connection between the people of Israel, their distinction among the nations, how God separated them unto himself and the Church. They were different; God intended for them to be a peculiar people, chosen and holy. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say that the phrase in Galatians 1:4 “to deliver us from the present evil age” is equal to the one word “saint” in Ephesians 1:1b. A saint is one who has been delivered from the present evil age.
“The Christian today, like the children of Israel of old, while he is in the world is not of the world; he is a man like other men, and yet he is very different…This not only means that we are set apart in an outward sense, it means that we are set apart because we are cleansed inwardly. A saint is someone who has been cleansed in many ways. He has been cleansed from the guilt of his sin, cleansed from that which excludes him from the presence of God…The saint is one who has been cleansed also from the pollution of sin…Every Christian is a saint; you cannot be a Christian without being a saint; and you cannot be a saint and a Christian without being separated in some radical sense from the world (Lloyd-Jones 26-27).”
We cannot miss this drastic statement and the implications. Paul wasn’t writing to moral, nice folks in Holland, Michigan. He was writing to Ephesians (read Acts 19) where the temple of Artemis was and the people made their living by selling her products and promoting the worship of idols. These people were unashamed of their cults, sorcery, and other pagan practices. They were hopeless, and this is one of the locations that God chose through the power of His Holy Spirit to use Paul to proclaim the gospel. The people believed and verses 18-20 (still Acts 19) says that they confessed, divulged their practices, brought their books (cult related, sorcery, magic) and burnt them – in the sight of all. Verse 20: “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” The people Paul is calling “saints” are not people who have earned this distinction by birth, nationality, religion but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit. And the same is true today.
Now that is a convicting truth with an “already but not yet” feel to it. When I place myself into the address and receive this truth into my soul – I am humbled. I have been cleansed outwardly and inwardly only by the Holy Spirit and I am a saint. I must accept this calling to be distinct and holy.
My burden for this text is not only that I would receive and live out this truth but also that the Church would be a separated, distinct, holy gathering.
As W.B. Godbey says:
“Ekklesia, from ek, out, and kaleo, to call, means Church throughout the Greek New Testament. If you do not remember that definition you will fall into utter bewilderment on the Church idea, led astray by the Churchism of the present day, which is utterly variant from, and antagonistical to the New Testament ekklesia, which consisted only of the souls called out of the world, and separated unto God. Hence, all worldly churches are simply Satan’s counterfeits…This is the glorified Church of the First Born, ‘without spot or wrinkle.’ The members of this Church are not joined in, but born into it, by the supernatural intervention of the Holy Ghost. This is none of your worldly Churches, as the very word for Church, ekklesia, means the called out of the world; while hagiadzoo, sanctify, means to take the world out of you (Gallagher 61).”