Ephesians part 1 – When a person is “in Christ”….

So what stirs Christians to taking bread and wine (or Communion/Eucharist/ Lord’s Supper) in memory of Christ’s death that lifts it beyond just being a ritual that “Christians do”? Is there a book in the Bible that our own little cell in Christ’s worldwide body of the church, can plough through and return to again and again to keep the meaning of the bread and wine clear in our heads?

The book of Ephesians came to mind because it takes us back to why we call ourselves ‘Christians’ in the first place. We are Christians first and foremost because we believe that God’s entire plan for all creation began in Christ – and that it’s unfolding at this very moment in Christ, and that one day it will be completed in Christ.

That little phrase in Christ, therefore, reminds us that everything God has done, is doing, and will do in our future, is in Christ, and Paul certainly brings out that point in Ephesians.

But we are also Christians because we believe that God has included us in what he’s doing in Christ, and Paul brings out that point too in Ephesians when he describes Christians as being ‘in Christ’. It’s a phrase he uses often in his letters to the churches, but especially in Ephesians, to describe not only what God has been doing in Christ for all humanity, but also to point out that Christians are in Christ as well, and what that means for us.

So Paul’s covering at least two points in Ephesians when he uses the phrase ‘in Christ’, both of which he hints at in Ephesians 1:3 when he kicks off his letter with: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly places with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Paul zeroes in on the Father, in two ways: First of all, that the Father is the Father of Christ – but, secondly, that the Father is involving us in what he’s doing in Christ, because he’s equipped us too with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places where he’s working out his plan. So the Father is involving both Christ and us in his plan.

And note that Paul uses the word “HAS” in verse 3 when he says the Father “has blessed us,” meaning it’s something the Father has already done. Paul doesn’t say the Father ‘will’ bless us one day with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; he says the Father already has.

Being blessed by the Father with all his wonderful blessings, then, isn’t something we have to wait for when Christ appears to set up God’s kingdom on the earth. For the simple fact that we, as Christians, are ‘in Christ’, we are already living in that place where God ‘in Christ’ is setting up his kingdom and pouring out all his blessings in full.

And we need help remembering that, because we’re stuck in this world still, making it very hard for us – as we live out our lives here – to grasp that we’re actually living in another realm where every spiritual blessing has already been given to us. But this is the point Paul makes in verse 3 when he says the Father has blessed us “in the heavenly places.”

Where has the Father blessed us? He’s blessed us ‘IN’ the heavenly places. Paul doesn’t say the Father blessed us ‘from’ the heavenly places; he says ‘in’. In the heavenly places, therefore, must be where we are right now, because how can we receive every spiritual blessing God has already given us if we aren’t IN the place where the Father handed those blessings out? According to Paul the Father has already handed out every spiritual blessing to those in Christ in the heavenly places – because that’s where we already are – in the heavenly places.

We need reminding, then, that right now we’re living in another realm where all these blessings exist already, and we’ve already got them, in full.

We’re already in heaven, in other words. We don’t have to wait until some future time to be taken to heaven, because we’re already in it. It ties in with Colossians 3:3, where Paul says, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” And that’s present tense too. Our lives at this very moment are tucked away with Christ, which means we are where he is, right? And where is he? He’s in the heavenly places. And because we’re in Christ we’re right there with him.

Paul dropped this little bombshell in Ephesians too, when he tells us in Ephesians 2:6, that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

There’s that little phrase ‘in Christ’ again, but look at the context: It’s attached directly to us being in the place where Christ is. And where is Christ? Paul says he’s in the heavenly realms. And where are the heavenly realms? Paul explains that too, in Ephesians 1:20, that when God raised Christ from the dead he “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

So the heavenly realms are where God the Father himself resides. It’s that invisible realm in which God directs everything going on in heaven and on earth, and according to Paul we’re right in the middle of it, because Christ is there with his Father in the heavenly realms, and we’re seated there with him.

To be in Christ, therefore, means being where he is. But that’s not all it means, because Paul also said we are “seated with him,” meaning we’re right alongside Christ sharing in what he’s doing. So what IS Christ doing? Well, according to Paul, in verse 21, Christ is ruling over all creation “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet,” verse 22, “and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body,” verse 23, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Not only, then, has the Father given Christ authority and power over everything going on in our world right now – and in the new world to come – he’s also seated us with Christ to share in what he’s doing. It was in the Father’s plan to seat Christ beside him as ruler over everything – but it was ALSO in the Father’s plan to have the church sharing in Christ’s rule as well. That’s why Paul says in verse 23, “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

In other words, the church is totally included in everything Jesus does. But of course it is, because Paul says the church is Christ’s “BODY” (23). Christ is the ‘head’, yes, but he’s incomplete without his body. And according to Paul, the church is SO closely attached to Christ it actually contains “his fullness” (23).

But that’s the way the Father designed it, that Jesus and his church, as head and body together, would fulfill his plan. So, first of all, the Father “puts everything under Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15:27, but the Father also gave Christ a church seated beside him in the heavenly realms, so that Jesus could fill his church with himself, and together they would “fill everything in every way,” the final aim of which would be God, one day, being “all in all” (28).

Paul talked in the same terms in Colossians 2:9, that, first of all, “in Christ all the fullness of God lives in bodily form.” In Christ, therefore, we have a perfectly healthy head, fully capable of directing the Father’s plan to its final goal. But WITH him, verse 10, is this marvelously healthy body of people attached to Christ who “have been given fullness in Christ.” And again, that’s not something we have to wait for as Christians, to be given to us at some future date, it’s something we’ve already been given.

Christ, therefore, has a fully capable body he can work with, that’s been given everything that he is – his entire “fullness,” Paul says. Christ too, then, can rest assured that he has a wonderful body, the church, that’s filled to the brim in every cell with every bit of the same heart, mind, and ability he has, enabling head and body together to complete the Father’s plan.

So, all praise to the Father, going back to Ephesians 1:3, that he blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, because it means that neither we nor Christ need ever worry or wonder if we’re up to fulfilling the job we’ve been given to do.

As Christians we probably do wonder, of course, being the weak humans that we are, and living in a world where so much of our time is spent on taking care of our physical needs, and having to worry about money, health, relationships with family and neighbours, and trying to keep up with all that needs doing.

And we probably think we’re not all that spiritual too. Days go by, perhaps, when all we can think of is getting through the day, collapsing in a heap at supper time, and being brain dead for the rest of the evening until falling into bed in a semi-coma before our head even hits the pillow. And as far as Bible study, it’s tough with failing health or a busy, busy life, to keep one’s eyes open beyond three verses.

Where is the obvious evidence, therefore, that we’ve been given every possible spiritual blessing there is already, and that in us, at this very moment, all the fullness of Christ lives in bodlly form? And yet here’s Paul telling us that we’ve been tanked up with every bit of spiritual equipment we need as Christ’s body to share in all that Jesus is doing in the heavenly realms, ruling over all creation as head and body together, and filling the whole creation and the entire universe with everything Jesus is “in every way” (verse 23). But if I can’t see any evidence of that, and I’m not excited by it, am I missing something? Am I even a Christian?

Well, this is where the bread and wine helps us remember something else important about what it means to be ‘in Christ’. Not only does the phrase ‘in Christ’ describe what God has done for all humanity in Christ and what he’s given us in the church to share in what Christ is doing right now, it also answers our question about how on earth we can be Christ’s body filling this world with his fullness in every way, when we’re stuck down here in this mess with little evidence that we’re having any influence at all.

It’s in Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:10, when he says “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So there’s that little phrase ‘In Christ’ yet again, but this time it’s in the context of us being God’s workmanship. And we can add at this point that we’ve been his workmanship from the time “he chose us in Christ” before this world was even created (1:4). So we shouldn’t be too concerned, then, that we’re stuck in this mess, seemingly without much influence, when this was God’s idea in the first place, and he planned it this way from the beginning.

It’s all part of God’s workmanship and design, therefore, that we be here now in these frail human bodies of ours in a knock-the-stuffing-out-of-us world that makes us wonder at times if we’re even Christian because of how little we seem able to do. But along comes Paul who assures us in verse 10 that God had everything “prepared in advance” before any of us even existed, meaning that everything, including what we’d be doing as Christians, is working out exactly according to plan, because that’s what being ‘in Christ’ means.

‘In Christ’ means we are God’s work of art, and he is a brilliant artist because he can transform a plain canvas like ourselves – with our personalities, circumstances and relationships, and our typical every day habits and struggles – into a wonderful picture that catches people’s eye, so they are drawn to Christ in ways we may have no idea about, enabling us (without US probably knowing it as well) to play our part to perfection in filling this world with Christ’s fullness just as God intended, even in our frailty.

In other words, it’s happening, whether we can see evidence of it, or not, because God is an amazing artist. He’s a whiz with a paintbrush, turning out the most exquisite works of art on the plainest of canvases, because that’s the way he chose to do things before our world existed.

We can safely say, therefore, that the artist is at work in our lives, because that’s what we exist as Christ’s body for. Somehow, in God’s estimation and wisdom, he saw in us the perfect canvas for his artwork. And with every perfect sweep and dab of his paintbrush he’s made it possible for a church full of frail, stumbling humans to share in what he’s doing in Christ for all humanity.

But it raises an obvious question, because how can we be in two places at once? It sounds great that we’re in the heavenly realms seated with Christ and hidden with Christ, filled to the brim with every spiritual blessing. But the reality we experience every day is that we’re here on the earth still, and it doesn’t feel very spiritual at all, right? And how can we be weak, physical humans while at the same time be filled with the fullness of Christ? Or as some might say: How can we be upstairs and downstairs at the same time, living as the landed gentry with all the luxury and goodies on the upper level of the house, while also being scullery maids and shoe shiners in the basement? How can we ‘up there’ in the heavenly realm and ‘down here’ on the earth at the same time?

What makes this somewhat easier to understand is that the heavenly realm is actually here all around us. There is no separation between an ‘up there’ and ‘down here’, because when Christ died and God raised him from the dead, the process of “bringing all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” began, Ephesians 1:10.

In Christ, therefore, the heavenly realm and the earthly realm are being brought together, and we in the church are the first to experience it because we are Christ’s body. Rather than us disappearing off to heaven and leaving this earth behind forever, therefore, we’re actually bringing heaven and earth together with Christ right here, because we’re his body. He’s the head, under whom heaven and earth come together, but we’re his body, so we’re as much in this bringing earth and heaven together as he is.

And we do it in the same way he does it, by living in the heavenly realm in bodily form. Remember Paul saying in Colossians 2:9 that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”? So Christ has the fullness of God in him, but he’s also in bodily form too. In Christ, therefore, both spiritual and physical exist as one, and since we have his fullness in us (verse 10), then both spiritual and physical exist in us as well. In Christ the head and us his body, both heaven and earth come together as one. It means, then, that as physical beings we can live in the heavenly realm, just as Christ does.

That’s why the Father has given us spiritual blessings, so we can function and live in the spiritual realm where Christ is. The Father equipped us with all that we need to be like Christ in every way so we can live in the heavenly realm with him, being his body and sharing in what he’s doing. It’s like equipping astronauts with all they need to function in space. They’re living in a totally foreign realm that humans can’t normally exist in, but kitted out with the right equipment they can live and work in space perfectly well.

It’s not a foreign concept, therefore, for us to be able to live in a heavenly realm while still being in our human bodies. But what makes this even easier to grasp is that God raised Christ “to be head over everything for the church,” Ephesians 1:22. And where is the church? It’s right here on the earth. So Christ’s command centre, from which he rules all creation in power and glory, isn’t up in heaven somewhere, it’s right here. He brought the heavenly realm with him and set it up here on earth.

So we don’t have very far to go to be in the heavenly realms. They’re here on the earth all around us, as the first step in God’s plan to bring heaven and earth together under Christ. But the second step in the Father’s plan is kitting out a church on the earth with the perfect spiritual equipment to assist Christ in bringing heaven and earth together.

And we need that perfect spiritual equipment because the earth is also the command centre for the principalities and powers of evil. So there are other spiritual forces at work in this invisible heavenly realm on the earth. That’s why our biggest battle as the church, Ephesians 6:12, isn’t “against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We’re in that realm where the spirit forces of evil are also at work, and every day we have to contend with them, because that’s where we are living now as Christians.

But God has perfectly equipped us to deal with the forces of evil, so that even as frail humans we can live the ways of heaven on the earth. And that’s what makes our lives meaningful and exciting, because every day we make the rule of Christ real on this earth. Every day we fill our little part of the world with Christ’s fullness, rather than the insanity of evil. And we’ve been given the power to do that, to choose good over evil in all that we say and do, enabling us to actually live heaven on earth wherever we go, driving back the forces of darkness, and replacing them with the rule and fullness of Christ.

This is what we’ve been chosen to do as Christ’s body. We’ve been lifted into the heavenly realms on this earth, and this is where we live, with Christ, taking on the battle with him to establish his kingdom and his fullness on this earth, so that one day this earth is ready for the Father to take up residence here forever.

And that’s the point of our existence as the church, that it is all for the Father that that we live, because we know that it’s all for us that he lives. He wants to make his home with us. That’s why he created us and created this planet. That’s why he sent his Son to die here, to deal with the forces of evil on this planet head to head, so that the heavenly realms will be free of them and there’s nothing left eventually but the lovely kingdom of God ruling the earth.

But the Father has given us the chance to join the fight too, because this is our home as well. And we can have an impact on what happens on this earth, because the Father equipped us with all the weaponry we need to clear out any pockets of evil in our area of the woods. And it’s this we remember every time we take the bread and wine, that because Christ died God’s plan of making this whole earth a place he can call home is now being made a reality in us.

Every day, then, we are making our little part of the earth a place the Father would happily call home. It’s a little bit of heaven where we are, making the bread and wine we take very meaningful because this is what Christ’s death made possible.

It gave the chance for the likes of us frail humans to bring heaven to this earth as living witnesses to the Father’s plan. We are walking, talking audio and video displays of God’s workmanship and amazing artistry. The songs of heaven are being sung out loud and clear in a world that’s deaf and blind, and according to Paul in Ephesians 3:10, they’re being heard by “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” They are watching the heavenly realms light up with little spotlights of heaven in the church, like seeing the pinpricks of light at night on earth from the space station.

It may not be visible to us, but it’s certainly visible to the forces of darkness, and it’s the bread and wine that helps us remember that what we do in our daily lives every time we choose good over evil, is now the Father’s way of including us in clearing out evil from the heavenly realms in Christ, and he sent the Holy Spirit to make it possible for us to do that in the here and now.