A People Called by God

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began a new preaching series entitled “United,” which explores the essential nature of the church. This first week of the series I expanded upon the statement that the church is a people called by God. I walked through Ephesians 1:3-14 as the basis for my message.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“We, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12)

What is the Church?

3 Characteristics of the Church (Ephesians 1:3-14)

  1. The Church is Chosen by God the Father (1:3-6)
    1. Blessed with every spiritual blessing (1:3)
    1. Called and chosen by God (1:4, 11)
    1. Adopted by the Father through Jesus Christ (1:5)
  • The Church is Redeemed in Jesus Christ (1:7-13)
    • Redeemed and forgiven through the blood of Christ and lavish grace of God (1:7-8)
    • Given insight into the mystery of God’s will (1:9-10)
    • Received the message of truth, the gospel of salvation (1:13)
  • The Church is Sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13-14)
    • Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit (1:13-14)
    • Living to the praise of God’s glory (1:6, 12, 14) 

Living as the Church

Responding to God the Father’s call

Savoring God’s goodness in Jesus Christ

Living for God’s praise by the power of the Holy Spirit


Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Ephesians 1:3-14 in its entirety or a verse from it. You may also want to memorize Ephesians 4:4-6.
  • Journal about Ephesians 1:3-14, perhaps thanking God for each of the spiritual blessings outlined in this passage or dwelling upon one or two specifics that stand out to you.
  • Reach out to someone to share with them what God is teaching you about the church and the spiritual blessings found in Jesus Christ. 
  • Watch the Bible Project overview video on the book of Ephesians

What Happens When the Church is Activated on Mission?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit set the early believers ablaze for the work of God. We encounter Peter, who steps forth with boldness to preach the good news and thousands come to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see bold people like Stephen, who speaks of Christ and it costs him his life, and Philip, who shares across cultural and religious barriers to bring the Samaritans to Jesus. We see an enemy of Christ, Saul of Tarsus, become a passionate evangelist and bold church planter, the Apostle Paul.

Acts is an active book where we see the church activated on mission. What does it look like when individual believers and church communities are activated by God for His work? Suffice it to say that things happen.

But let’s look at something we could miss here. Acts is an active book but we also see two things in Acts that Christianity is not about.

Christianity—following Jesus—does not leave us much space for being boring or apathetic. Sometimes in the midst of the world, with all the needs, all the challenges, all the serious situations, we can become overwhelmed by the needs. This sometimes leads us to turn away from the needs of the world, focusing on our own lives and challenges. Essentially, we become apathetic. But activated churches and Christians are not apathetic or boring. They are engaged with the needs of the world because God cares about people and the needs of the world. God is an active, giving missionary God.

At the same time, even though Acts is an active book, it is not a busy book. In fact, there is a big difference between being busy and being active. The early church was activated by the Holy Spirit to join in with God in a focused way for God’s mission. But the early church was not meaninglessly busy. Some of us, when we become Christians, think that we are to become busy for the kingdom. But there is not a lot of space for busyness in the activated church. Some of us need to remember that God is not all that interested in uncommanded work. He wants us to join in with His kingdom mission but not to be aimlessly rushing around with whatever captures our attention in the moment. In fact, what captures our attention may lead us away from the activated mission God has for us. As a wise mentor once shared with me: we may need to consider whether we are more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work.

Activated Christianity is not about being boring and neither is it about being busy. Activated Christianity is not about apathy to the world’s need nor is it about frenzied activity. The book of Acts shows us that the church is activated by the power of the Holy Spirit for the mission of God in the world.

Why Can We Glory in Our Sufferings?

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Paul begins our fifth chapter of Romans by savoring “the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2) we have through justification by faith in Jesus Christ. He savors the peace with God we have in Christ and the grace of God in which we now stand in Jesus Christ. There is so much to enjoy and savor given us by God as a gift.

But Paul carries on from there to “glory in our sufferings” (5:3). This may seem shocking. While it is understandable to glory in God’s peace, grace, and hope, to glory in suffering seems less understandable. But Paul ties together the hope of God’s glory flowing from the justification by faith with hope that arises amid suffering. If approached with long-term perspective and clinging to God, suffering can have a shaping influence in our lives that leads through perseverance and character to hope. In suffering we look for what is to come. Christian suffering, regardless of its cause, can lead us to look for our hope in God while also yielding to God’s work in us. We anticipate the hope of the glory of God yet to come.

We are upheld in this longing by the reality that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (5:5). The Holy Spirit is the indwelling presence of God and the “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Ephesians 1:14). But here, the Christian is sustained amidst suffering’s shaping by the love of God in the present brought home to us by the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. It is this manifest presence of God’s love that strengthens us in suffering to persevere, to grow, and to hope.

What is the Unforgivable Sin?: insights from John Calvin

While studying for my message, “The Messiah and Satan,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook, I spent a good deal of time studying the nature of the unforgivable, or unpardonable, sin. Jesus says the following provocative words:

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

There are a wide variety of opinions on this, but it seems pretty clear that Jesus is not talking about simply grieving the Holy Spirit or resisting the Holy Spirit one time, but the steady rejection of God and His work manifested in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power. I found these words from John Calvin within an extended section on regeneration and repentance with his Institutes of the Christian Religion to be particularly helpful. While not without his faults and blind spots (like all of us), Calvin is an astute commentator on Scripture.

Here, however, let us give the true definition, which, when once it is established by sound evidence, will easily of itself overturn all the others. I say therefore that he sins against the Holy Spirit who, while so constrained by the power of divine truth that he cannot plead ignorance, yet deliberately resists, and that merely for the sake of resisting. For Christ, in explanation of what he had said, immediately adds, ‘Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him,’ (Mt. 12:31). And Matthew uses the term spirit of blasphemy for blasphemy against the Spirit. How can any one insult the Son, without at the same time attacking the Spirit? In this way. Those who in ignorance assail the unknown truth of God, and yet are so disposed that they would be unwilling to extinguish the truth of God when manifested to them, or utter one word against him whom they knew to be the Lord’s Anointed, sin against the Father and the Son. Thus there are many in the present day who have the greatest abhorrence to the doctrine of the Gospel, and yet, if they knew it to be the doctrine of the Gospel, would be prepared to venerate it with their whole heart. But those who are convinced in conscience that what they repudiate and impugn is the word of God, and yet cease not to impugn it, are said to blaspheme against the Spirit, inasmuch as they struggle against the illumination which is the work of the Spirit. Such were some of the Jews, who, when they could not resist the Spirit speaking by Stephen, yet were bent on resisting (Acts 6:10). There can be no doubt that many of them were carried away by zeal for the law; but it appears that there were others who maliciously and impiously raged against God himself, that is, against the doctrine which they knew to be of God. Such, too, were the Pharisees, on whom our Lord denounced woe. To depreciate the power of the Holy Spirit, they defamed him by the name of Beelzebub (Mt. 9:3, 4; 12:24). The spirit of blasphemy, therefore, is, when a man audaciously, and of set purpose, rushes forth to insult his divine name. This Paul intimates when he says, ‘but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief;’ otherwise he had deservedly been held unworthy of the grace of God. If ignorance joined with unbelief made him obtain pardon, it follows, that there is no room for pardon when knowledge is added to unbelief.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 3, Section 22

Putting on the Character of Christ in Divided Days

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges the Ephesians—and us, through them—to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The unity of the church in divided times is tied into putting on the character of Christ. The verb here is “to walk.” We need to walk worthy. We’re to walk it out. Live it out daily. What does that look like? Well, Paul tells us in verses 2-3.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

We are to put on the character of Christ. What is that character? Well, let’s just walk through it slowly with some application to our current moment.

“Be completely humble”

Paul urges the believers toward complete humility and this is a very challenging word. Who has arrived at that? None of us. The sense of the phrase is that believers are to have a wholly humble opinion of themselves. And when we think about the way we live together in the church, we must remember that if we are quick toward a high opinion of ourselves and lack humility, unity will be destroyed.

“and gentle”

Gentleness is a strange word to us today. Who has ever heard a political leader or a CEO start their campaign or new job by saying their agenda would be gentleness? It would not usually be well received. Now there is a related word to gentleness, which we encounter in the Beatitudes, and that is “meekness.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Our experience tells us that is not true, but Jesus shows a different way. In fact, this first phrase of Paul in Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle,” may remind us of Jesus’ own description of Himself when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:28-29) If we forsake gentleness and meekness, we do not look like Jesus. If we forsake gentleness, the unity of Christ’s people will be destroyed.

“Be patient”

If the first two words didn’t get you, this one will. Patience means long-suffering. One additional shade of meaning on this word is that such a person is slow to take vengeance. This is good because the Lord has said that vengeance is His, not ours. But if you didn’t notice, we live in a vengeful culture. Be careful of what you say or what you do. It may come back to haunt you. In fact, you may be crucified by those who accuse you. But don’t worry, the accusers usually become the accused in a culture cycling through vengeance. But the body of Christ is to exhibit a different way. We are to be patient. If we forsake patience, if we are quick to anger and swift to revenge, then unity will be destroyed.

“Bearing with one another in love”

The image here is to hold something up as one stands erect, sustaining something or, here, sustaining one another. Believers are, in a sense, to stand shoulder to shoulder, upholding one another. How do we uphold one another? In love. I really appreciate how the New Living Translation renders this: “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever seen another person’s faults in the church? Have you ever seen your own? Make space…bear with one another. When we do, unity is sustained and upheld.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

And to cap it all off, Paul says that we have to exert ourselves to keep unity. Here is an important idea: unity does not happen by accident. The natural tendency of human existence is toward disunity and disorder. Just look at your apartment or house over the course of a week. It does not become cleaner on its own, but it does become dirtier. In like manner, the gravitational pull in human relationships is toward disunity and disorder. Unity happens only through focused exertion toward that end. But also notice how Paul emphasizes the exertion is partnered with the Holy Spirit. This is not merely a human work; it is a spiritual work of God within humanity. If we do not work at it, relying upon the Holy Spirit, unity will be destroyed

These days have been hard for everyone. Churches are feeling the tension during these days. But the church is supposed to be a diverse community, with young and old, local and international, rich and poor, many professions, many ethnicities, and many opinions. We must make space for one another around Jesus and the Cross, but also choose to put on the character of Christ in our relationships.

Please pause and consider some personal reflection questions about this in the midst of the divided days:

  • how does our character match up with Paul’s exhortation here?
  • how is our humility, gentleness, patience?
  • how well are we bearing with one another in love?
  • are we exerting ourselves toward unity…or are we hoping someone else will sustain it if we speak or act impatiently, live with pride, open our mouths in gossip, and generally lean into our flesh?

May God help us to walk with Christ and in Christ as one.