The following blogs are the talks I gave at a weekend away for a church in Leeds called ‘Four’. The theme was idenditity and we worked through the book of Ephesians to see what Paul had to say on the subject…

Identity: It’s all about standing firm as God’s people

Ephesians 6:10-24

We’ve come to our final talk on Ephesians and it’s been quite a weekend.
We started with the issue of identity and how we in the West have a largely individualistic view of our identity.
People are people in isolation to other people.

That is we define ourselves not by the relationships we have, i.e. a mother of… or Father of… Daughter of… Son of… etc.

Instead we define ourselves by our individuality.Identity in our culture is about being who you want to be.Identity is all about you at the centre. And Paul himself sees that as a classic way human beings see themselves.
Our identity is all about me because my world is all about me.
We think this is my world and I’m God.

But the gospel turns all of that on its head.
Now that you’ve been rescued through Jesus’ death on your behalf, it’s no longer all about you.
Instead it’s now all about God’s glory.
God rescued you, giving you a new identity so that he could be glorified. That new identity, as we saw in chapter 2, is no longer as an isolated individual, but as a person who is now reconciled to God and other people. It’s the identity of someone who is part of a people group, a nation, a family, a household.

But this is a nation, a household with a difference.
It is a nation built on and around Jesus Christ as Lord.
And this displays the wisdom of God, Chapter 3, as he gathers people from poles apart to be united under Jesus the King.
We no longer live for ourselves because
we now live for Jesus.

The end of chapter 3 showed us that living for Jesus means loving like Jesus.It means loving God and loving others.
This is what being holy as God is holy is all about as we saw in chapter 4. Being like God is about no longer thinking of ourselves, but caring for other people, thinking carefully about what we talk about.
We now prize highly the things God prizes highly and this shapes how we act and talk.
We’re now a thankful people instead of a complaining people, a united people instead of a divided people, a people who build up instead of tear down.
We’re a submissive people instead of a dominating people.

And this shapes how we act in our homes as well, chapters 5-6.
The whole of our lives become a display of what Christ has achieved on the cross.
This new identity is truly life changing.

Spiritual warfare

Then we come to chapter 6:10-24.
And what do we so often do?
We read as if it’s all about us as individuals again! And when we individualise this passage we end up with the image of a solitary soldier, slugging it out against a large army.
It’s the Sunday School drawing that you stick all the bits of armour to – one man against the world.

But in the context of the rest of Ephesians this is just out of place.
Plus the pronouns in this section are all plural.
Paul is talking to the church, this new community, this new household.
It is the church, God’s people together that is in the midst of the battle, and it is together that we take our stand against the devil.

There are three things Paul wants us to do:

1. Put on the full armour of God vv. 11, 13

2. Stand vv. 11, 13, 13, 14

3. Pray vv. 18, 18, 18, 19, 20

We’ll look at them one by one.

1. Put on the full Armour of God

In the OT, both God and the Messiah are described as wearing armour, and this passage draws upon that imagery.
Isaiah 59:17
He [the LORD] put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. The armour we are told to put on is God’s own armour, which both he and his Servant have worn, and which is now provided for his people as they engage in battle.

1. Belt of Truth v14

Truth is something that has come up throughout the letter.
1 v.13; tells us that the word of truth is the gospel,
In 4:21 truth is tied directly to Jesus and so it is to be a mark of Jesus’ people as we find in 4 v.15, where God’s people are told to speak the truth in love, as they are in v.25.
In 5 v9 truth is the fruit of light.

If you have come to be God’s people through the word of Truth then truth is something that is to mark your lives as God’s people.

2. Breastplate of Righteousness – v14
This righteousness is both imputed + imparted, that is we are seen as righteous because of God’s righteousness (imputed) 1:4 and we actually become righteous as we grow as God’s people (imparted) cf. 4 v.24; 5 v.9

3. Feet fitted with the Readiness that comes from the gospel of peace v15
We saw in chapter 2 that the gospel, the good news by which we are saved is about peace on both the vertical and the horizontal plane.
Yet again this is to mark God’s new community.
They are to be ready to proclaim and act that peace all the time.
It gives them a proactive spring in their step!
They are to be the people of peace.

4. Shield of Faith v16
The gospel that Paul has been talking about, needs to be believed.
This is how they started 1 v.15; 2 v.8;
And this is how they are to go on 3 v. 12, 17; 4 v.5, 13
Trusting God is not something merely for conversion.
It is something that enables us to grow.

If we are not trusting God then who are we trusting?
It will invariably be ourselves or other things in this world.
But that does not lead to life.When the devil fires his arrows of doubt, when he tempts us to go after other things, if we are not trusting God then we will fall foul of them. Trusting things other than God will only lead to death.

But if we have the shield of faith, trusting God for everything, fearing him alone, then we will extinguish those arrows of Satan – they will be useless.
We started by trusting Jesus, and so we must go on trusting Jesus.

5. The helmet of Salvation v17
Again this is the where we started and where we need to continue!
1 vv.3-14 Paul goes to great lengths to spell out what this salvation means.
It means that we are blessed in the heavenly realms with every blessing in Christ.
We are chosen to be holy and blameless.
It is part of God’s great plan to bring everything under Jesus that we should have salvation and come under the lordship of Christ.
It means we are marked by the Holy Spirit – no one can take away our salvation! v.13
Our salvation from the wrath that we deserve to face as spelled out in chapter 2 is the basis of our new identity.

We have been saved from wrath and into the people of God.
We have been saved from being aliens and strangers into the household of God. Lose your focus on your salvation and you will lose this identity that Paul has spent so long driving home.

6. Sword of Spirit v17
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God – the gospel yet again!
Do you see how central the gospel is to our standing firm as God’s people?
It is that which we started with, that which we came to know salvation through Jesus by, and it is that which will enable us to stand in this age of warfare.
If we leave the gospel behind, if we turn to any other ‘gospel’ that is not the gospel that Paul has been spelling out, if we turn to any gospel that tells us its all really about us, then we will not stand.

Gospel Truth is vital to our survival as the people of God.
And so Gospel Truth needs to be embedded in everything that we do as God’s household.
And that means Gospel Truth needs to permeate the whole of our lives.

2. Stand

It is important to note that Paul repeatedly (four times) tells this Christian community to ‘stand’.
V13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Now the victory has already been won.
Christ has already defeated the malignant forces arrayed against us.
He was declared to be King when he was raised from the dead.

So our task is not to secure the victory, because Christ has done that, but to stand in what Christ has already achieved.
That’s why the gospel is so central to all of this.
It is the gospel that declares Christ’s victory, and so it is that which is to form the basis of our armour that protects us as God’s people.

3. Prayer

Finally we come to the issue of prayer.

18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

The Holy Spirit has already played a prominent roll in Ephesians.
In 1 v.13 it is the Holy Spirit that is our seal, our deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. In 2 v.18 it is through the Spirit that we have access to the Father and in verse 22 God lives in us as his church, his household, by his Spirit. In 5 v.18 we are told to be filled with the Spirit rather than wine.
You see prayer is not simply a human activity.
It is prompted and directed by the Holy Spirit.

Look at the 4 occurrences of ‘All’ with regard to prayer!
All occasions, all kinds of prayers, always keep on praying, for all the saints.
Prayer is so comprehensive, because it is so vital. Prayer has played a large part throughout Ephesians.

Cf. 1 vv. 15-19; 3 vv.14-19 – Paul has spent a long time praying for and telling this church that he is praying for them.
And his priorities in prayer have been gospel priorities.
He’s shown his passion for God’s glory, for the lordship of Jesus and for this household of God to be loving God and loving each other – to the glory of God.

And so Paul says pray for one another.
Pray for gospel ministry.
Pray for gospel ministers.
Pray for the advance of the gospel! Pray that the name of Jesus will be exalted, and men and women will come to recognise him for who he is and love him with all their hearts! Share my priorities in prayer, says Paul – which is ultimately about God’s glory.
Pray.

4. The battle

So: why do we have to put on the armour, stand and pray?
Because we’re in a battle!

vv.11-13.

11Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We’re standing against the devil’s schemes.
We’re standing when the day of evil comes.
We’re not fighting flesh and blood.
We’re struggling (hand-to-hand combat) against malignant, unseen forces. Notice the repeated use of ‘Against’ to emphasise the intensity of the struggle.

“In heaven we shall appear not in armour but in robes of glory; but here the armour is to be worn night and day; we must walk, work and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ. In this armour we are to stand and watch, and never relax in our vigilance, for the saint’s sleeping time is Satan’s tempting time; every fly dares venture to creep on a sleeping lion.”

They afflict us on every side, as they seek to undermine God’s work of reconciliation.
They throw everything they have against us, and are relentless in their zeal to destroy the church in order to deprive God of his chief honour.
But they will ultimately be unsuccessful.

Ephesians is 1 v.10 tells us that God’s great plan is to bring everything under Jesus.
And he has the power to do this, 1:19ff.
The church is a demonstration of God’s ability to bring it about, as we saw in 3 v.10.
So let Satan do his worse, because we have been brought together under one head, even Christ.
We are a statement of intent on God’s part.
We are the fruit of Christ’s death.
We are the proof that he did not die in vain, but achieved what he set out to achieve.

When we see division; disunity; indifference in our churches these are a consequence of spiritual attack.
Now Satan may not be the main cause, after all there is enough sin in our own hearts to do it ourselves, but he certainly is exploiting it and blowing it up out of proportion.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Wear the truth as a community, says Paul.
Live the truth and speak the truth to one another.
Help one another to stand, united, and to live righteously.
This is how you will stand.

Conclusion

So we come to the end of Ephesians.
The challenge of our new identity as reconciled members of God’s household is clear.
Let the gospel shape and define your lives.

Biblical identity is not about the clothes you wear, your accent, or your birth place.
It’s not about how cool you are, how manly or feminine you are.

Biblical identity is about being the people of God to the glory of God.
That’s who you are, so live it, says Paul.

And when you look at it, how to live that out is not too complicated.
It’s quite simple really:
Love God and love others.

But the implications are huge.
It impacts every area of our lives, from what we say, to what we watch, listen to, and read.
It impacts our home life, our work life, every relationship.
It impacts what jobs we take and where we live.
It impacts what we chose to do with our time, because now our priority is other people instead of the fulfilling of our dreams.
Our identity as lovers of God and lovers of others means our priority and passion in life is now God and his glory, and thus God’s people.

So as a church I want to encourage you to think very seriously about what that means for your life as a community.

What things are you going to have to give up?
What things are you going to have to change?
Remember we always act in line with what we believe…
So have a look at your lives and ask – what do I really believe about my identity?

23Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

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