I love Ephesians 1. As Paul opens his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, he starts with a great outburst of praise to ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3). This praise is a response to what God has done: he ‘has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3). Paul goes on to outline some of the most amazing truths about the blessings we receive through union with Christ. These blessings give us a totally new identity: we are chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:4-13).
But there’s one blessing, one aspect of our new identity, which we might find a little surprising: we have been chosen ‘that we should be holy and blameless before him’ (Ephesians 1:4). A key reason why God chose us is so that we might live in ways that are increasingly holy and blameless. We’ve been chosen to live God’s way.
A key reason why God chose us is so that we might live in ways that are increasingly holy and blameless.
And Ephesians 1 isn’t the only place that Paul makes this point. In Romans 8, he tells us that the purpose of God sending his son and dealing with the problem of sin was ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4). Jesus came so that we who now walk by the Spirit might fulfil God’s law. The whole of Romans is actually bookended by this theme. In the opening chapter, Paul says that his role as an apostle is ‘to bring about the obedience of faith’ – the obedience that flows from faith in Jesus (Romans 1:5). The same idea of the obedience of faith reoccurs at the end of the letter (Romans 16:26).
And of course, this was no innovation on the part of Paul. Jesus implied the same: his followers are to be those who are ever growing in holy living. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ charge to us as his followers is to ‘be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).
There’s big challenge in this blessing of the gospel and this aspect of our new identity: God has called us for the purpose that as we grow in maturity as followers of Jesus, we live increasingly holy and blameless lives. For all of us who choose to follow Jesus, that lays down a challenge for lots of areas life – including the areas of sexuality and relationships. We’re all called to steward our sexuality in line with God’s design – in either celibate singleness or opposite-sex marriage – and we’re all called to radical purity in both our thoughts and our actions.
But there’s also an encouragement and a promise here. The encouragement is that living a holy and blameless life is good for us. Paul sees this challenge as one of the spiritual blessings we receive in Christ – it’s good news. And that makes sense: to live a holy and blameless life is to return to the way of living we are designed for. Previously we were enslaved to sin such that we produced fruit which led to death, but now we’ve been freed from that slavery; now we are slaves to God, freed and empowered to bear fruit that leads to sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:21-22). The challenge to holy and blameless living is an encouragement because it’s an invitation to the best life we can experience.
If God has chosen us for this purpose and called us to holy and blameless living, we can be confident that he will help us to live out this call.
And in this challenge is also a promise. If God has chosen us for this purpose and called us to holy and blameless living, we can be confident that he will help us to live out this call. And this is exactly what we’re promised: God has prepared good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10), we grow in self-control as we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and the Spirit helps us to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13).
The challenge, encouragement, and promise of this aspect of who we are in Christ applies to lots of areas of life, for all of us – including sexuality, for all of us. As those who are ‘in Christ’, we have been chosen to be holy and blameless in how we respond to and steward our experience of sexuality. That’s a challenge laid down for us in the gospel, but it’s also an encouragement. The encouragement is that we are invited to live out our existence as sexual beings in the way that we were originally designed to do, in the way that will be most life-giving and fulfilling for us. And there’s a promise: a promise that God will empower and equip us to grow in holy and blameless stewarding of our sexuality as we seek to follow Jesus, filled with the Spirit and trusting in the Father.