The antidote to self-centred religion

How many times have you heard the phrase, “All I want to know is how to be saved”? 

Or, how many times have you heard, “That’s a salvational issue”? By which the speaker means “if it is salvational, then it is important; but if it is not salvational, then it is unimportant.” 

Sometimes the statement is a little different. Something like, “What’s the minimum I need to do to be saved?” When it is said like this, the core of our concern for salvation is the question, “Am I okay?” And the reason “Am I okay?” is being asked, is because of our fear that we are not okay with God. 

Whenever, “Am I okay?” is at the top of our priority list, then we’re focusing our attention inwards, on and around our concern for ourselves. We’re buying into a concern that is self-centred. Which is really ironic, because the spirituality of Jesus is completely other-focused.

Just think about it—Jesus was willing to abandon his position in heaven, put aside his power and glory and omnipresence, and become a self-sacrificing servant (Philippians 2:5–11). Jesus’ mind is selfless. 

Yet when we promote “salvation” to being our number one concern, we’re betraying Jesus’ own selflessness with a self-centredness completely at odds with His character. If “How do I get saved?” is our number one concern, then we’ve not yet adopted the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5).

The antidote

Ephesians 1 points us away from self-centredness, towards the eternal purpose of God. The eternal purpose of God includes personal salvation, but points way beyond it. So far beyond, in fact, that seeing “personal salvation” as the main game is really quite a narrow perspective. Self-centred, even.

Surely God’s purpose should be our priority! 

Let’s discover what that is.

God reigns

Let's start near the end of the chapter, because this is where we discover the foundation for the chapter’s world view.

“… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19–23).

Note that all the features of this passage:

  • Christ being “seated at the right hand.”
  • Christ being placed “above all rule and authority and power and dominion.”
  • Christ having “all things under his feet.”

are describing Christ’s reign. It’s describing the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ reigns.

“The Lord sends forth from Zion
    your mighty scepter.
    Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psalm 110:2).

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

“Jesus Christ … the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5).

God’s will is being done

Now let’s rewind to the very front of this chapter.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1).

Paul is not an apostle by his own will; he’s an apostle by God’s will. Did you notice how many times in this chapter Paul speaks of God’s will being done?

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4b, 5).

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:7–9).

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Paul declares that God’s will is achieved in Jesus Christ. Paul declares that God’s will is working in the world now. Paul declares God’s will effective, and is shaping human history. Paul declares that God’s will controlled his life.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray: 

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). 

Paul declares that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Salvation is in God’s hand

Again and again, Ephesians 1 declares that God is in control.

“He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will…” (Ephesians 1:4–9).

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–14).

God chose us. He predestined us. We have redemption in Him. All according to His will. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance.

All these thoughts declare that God is in control. God’s will is being done. God wants you. He wants me. He has wanted you and me since before the foundation of the world. He knew he would adopt you and me. And, if you find yourself in Christ, he has done so.

Salvation is in God’s right hand (Psalm 20:6).

God’s purpose is greater than saving you or I

While “in Him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7), Ephesians 1 speaks of a greater purpose, a purpose named in Ephesians 3:11 as “eternal.”

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his [eternal] purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:4b–10).

So, the act of “uniting all things” in Jesus, “things in heaven and things on earth” is an eternal purpose that goes beyond saving your soul or mine. God’s purpose includes saving you and me. But God’s eternal purpose extends beyond personal salvation. 

When we see God’s eternal purpose, we can’t help but understand that God’s priorities extend beyond human salvation. When we see God’s eternal purpose, we’ve discovered the anti-dote to self-centred Christianity.

How shall we respond?

Paul opens Ephesians by proclaiming, “Grace.” “Peace.”

“Grace to you” // “Peace from God” (Ephesians 1:2).

God is extending grace and peace to us. Is this not exceptionally good news? When we bask in the reality of the “grace” and “peace” God extends to us, then we can no longer be concerned by the question, “Am I okay?” — “Are you okay? God is extending grace and peace to you.”

You can’t fear whether you’re okay when you truly realise that:

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

How shall we respond to this revelation of the glory and grace in Jesus Christ? Shall we not join Paul in proclaiming:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). 

We return praise to God. But not only are we to return praise, but we are praise to Him.

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

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). May we be blessing and praise for our great God.

Conclusion

When we understand that the certainty of salvation depends on the goodness and faithfulness of God, we can no longer be concerned with whether we’re good enough. 

When we understand that God’ s purpose encompasses our salvation, but goes significantly beyond it, then we know enough to avoid self-centred religion.

When we realise that God’s will being done on earth is important, then we will put aside our self-concern, and seek to productively do His will, for this too is God’s plan and His purpose.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).