Who are you and why are you here? It is easy to lose track of our identity. We start trying to find our identity in all kinds of places. Some will try to find their identity in their work. We often speak this way where we will say that we are a mechanic, a teacher, a salesperson, and so forth as if that is who we are. Some try to find their identity in their appearance. We are too thin, too fat, too tall, too short, too athletic, or too unhealthy as if our appearance defines who we are. We often will view our identity based on what has happened to us. We are unmarried, divorced, rejected, unhappy, broken, defective, hurt, or sad as if these things create our identity. Who are you really? What is your true identity? For quite some time brother Dee Bowman would end his sermons on his gospel meetings telling his audience to know who you are and where you are going. But do we know who we are? I fear that we do not know who we are because the world has placed so many lenses on us to define us. We wear so many hats and have to be so many things to so many people that we have forgotten who we are. If we do not know who we are, then we do not know our purpose and we do not know what to do. In this series we are going to find our true identity as described by God. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and he wanted them to know who they were because of what God had done for them. Peter O’Brien says the purpose of the letter to the Ephesians is identity formation (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 57). Clinton Arnold, a commentator and scholar, declares that one of the purposes of this letter is “to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness” (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, 45).
The overarching point that we are to see concerning who we are is that our identity is in Christ. Notice the frequency with which Paul says this phrase. “In Christ Jesus” (1:1), “in him” (1:4), “through Jesus Christ” (1:5), “in the Beloved” (1:6), “in him” (1:7), “in Christ” (1:9), “in him” (1:10), “in him” (1:11), “in Christ” (1:12), and “in him” (1:13) occurs twice here. The repetition in these first few verses shows us the intention to identify us in Christ. So we are going to consider our identity in Christ. We are going to learn about what Christ has made us to be because of his glorious grace.
You Are Saints
Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Keep in mind that Paul is not writing to Christian superstars or scholars. This letter was written to ordinary Christians. But notice what Paul calls them: the saints who are in Ephesus. Now when you hear the word “saint” what do you think of? It is interesting how the world has distorted the idea of a saint. We may think of people who are super-righteous. We sometimes use the word to speak of a person who does an undeserved generous act. We will say that person is a saint. Sometimes the apostles are called saints. Some old Bibles would read, “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.” You might have driven by some church buildings that have the name of a saint on its building, though you have never heard of that person.
Today we hear the most about being saints from the Catholic Church. This process began as Catholics who were martyrs under the Roman persecution were revered as saints. Over the next few centuries sainthood was extended to those who had defended the faith and led pious lives. However, this new definition caused the number of saints to increase to ridiculous numbers. Around 1234 it was decided that only the pope had the power to determine who could be a saint, which would stop the problem of so many people becoming saints. In the 1600s the steps to sainthood were formalized. (1) Be a catholic. (2) Be dead for at least five years. (3) The bishop of your diocese must begin an investigation of your life. (4) A tribunal is held to determine if the exercise of your Christian virtues are considered heroic. (5) If so, you are honored with the title “Servant of God.” (6) The bishop sends your case to the Vatican. (7) The Vatican investigates your life. (8) If the judgment is found favorable, you will be given the title “Venerable.” (9) A miracle must be attributed to you, verified after your death. (10) The Vatican investigates the validity of the miracle. (11) If your miracle passes investigation, the pope will give you the title “Blessed.” (12) Now you need another miracle attributed to you after you have been given the title “Blessed” because people were praying for your intercession. (13) The Vatican investigates the validity of the miracle. (14) If your miracle passes investigation, the pope will give you the title “Saint.”
Now is that what these Ephesians Christians are that Paul is writing to? Obviously not. Paul is not writing to dead Christians. Paul did not speak of a fourteen step process to become a saint. A saint is not something you do. Being a saint is not because you have accomplished something great. It takes only one thing to be a saint: belong to Christ. To be a saint simple means that we are people who are set apart. That is all this word means. Paul is writing to people who are set apart because they are in Christ and not in relationship with the world. The nation of Israel was the perfect foreshadow. They were a people set apart for God, not because of anything they had done, but because God chose them. They were a separate people who lived in the world but did not belong to the world. They belonged to God. Our identity is not tied to this world. We do not belong to this world. Our identity is in Christ and we belong to God.
We have been called to be people who belong to Christ. Turn to Ephesians 4:1. Chapter 4 is recognized as the key division of the book. It is easy to see why. Notice verse 1. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians are describing what we have been called to. These chapter picture our glorious calling. Chapters 4-6 of Ephesians teach us how to walk worthy of that calling. Therefore, Paul beings by telling us that we have been called to be saints. You are called to be God’s possession in Christ.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 ESV)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
Paul tells Titus that Christ made us to be a people for his own possession so that we would be zealous for good works. Peter writes that we are a people for his own possession so that we can proclaim the excellencies, virtues, glories, and praises of him who called us. You and I are called to be saints, set apart from the world to belong to Christ with the distinct purpose of zealously desiring good works and proclaiming the greatness of God. This is what it means to be a saint. We are saints drawing people to the glory of God.