What Does Ephesians 1 Teach Us About the Believer’s Position in Christ?

This study reveals the manifold spiritual blessings that accrue to the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. It also explains the principle of position to help believers in their walk.

Ephesians 1

Paul greets another church in his typical manner (“an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”): typical, yet necessary, in order to establish his spiritual authority to address them on doctrinal and practical matters. He wants the set apart (“saints”) and faithful ones in Ephesians to know that God expressly commissioned and sent him to represent His Son, Jesus Christ (v. 1).

Paul cannot confer grace and peace upon them from the Godhead except by apostolic authority (v. 2).

The apostle begins the body of his epistle by praising “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” for making believers happy (or favoring them) [“has blessed”] with every spiritual happiness (“possessions and experiences,” according to Ryrie; New Testament Study Bible, 342) in the heavenly realm/environment through their union with Christ (v. 3; cf. 2 Cor. 1:3).

[This “blessedness” is the believer’s position, not yet his condition; however, his position becoming his condition is not in doubt.
Note the perfect tense of the verb, indicating that God favored believers in the past and that those favors continue to the present.]

What, then, is positional truth, and how can these two charts help our understanding?

First, let’s consider Ryrie’s thought-provoking definition of what it means to be “in Christ.” He sums up this phrase as “the redeemed man’s new environment in the sphere of resurrection life.”
After defining the terms, he does not hesitate to stress that this new environment is not a static, ethereal state of unreality, but a “vital, pulsating, functioning involvement” (Balancing the Christian Life, 50). Through the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), every believer has been transferred from a place of impotence and condemnation before God (“in Adam”) to a sphere where he may appropriate by faith the power of Christ’s resurrection life that God has made available to him.

[We will discuss our union with Christ in more depth when we take an excursion through the identification truths in Romans 6 and Colossians 2, 3.]

In The Principle of Position, Miles Stanford mentions many spiritual benefits (of which only a few appear in the chart above) which the Christian may experience daily if only he would abide and rest in this relationship/environment. For example, he considers how learning to rest in our justified position (being declared, not made, righteous) affects our present sense of acceptance.
He points out that this acceptance is not based on “feeling saved;” rather, it stands by faith on the solid rock—the facts of our perfect, eternal position in Christ: One who will always be accepted of God the Father. Apparently seeing how helpful the principle of position can be when applied to the believer’s relationship to sin, Stanford focuses on this subject in his last four chapters.

Many Christians, unaware of their position in Christ, think that they have to try their best to conquer the remnants of their fallen nature; consequently, they end up frustrated and defeated when they continually fail. On the other hand, the Christian who is learning how to rest in his position of full forgiveness experiences substantial victory, because he ceases to struggle to defeat this enemy with his own limited, weak resource (the flesh). He does not waste time telling God how bad he is (condition-centered thinking); rather, the instructed believer listens to the Lord’s testimony regarding who he is as a forgiven son of God and draws upon Christ’s resurrection power to overcome temptations (positional thinking).

Several passages in the New Testament expound upon positional truth.  We will now turn to two of those sections: Romans 6 and Colossians 2, 3. In order for us to benefit from positional truth, we must understand it and then act upon that knowledge; count it to be true and then live in the light of it. Rightly practiced, positional truth can liberate Christians from the treadmill of tedious service, and lead them to joyful dependence upon God’s grace. Most likely, then, the time they spend before Christ’s bema will result in thanksgiving and praise.

1. Romans 6: 2b, 4-6, 8, 11

How shall we who died to sin still live in it?. . . we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. . . . Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, . . . Even so consider/reckon/count yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In response to some naysayers who questioned grace-salvation, the Apostle Paul presents the incongruity between pure grace and a continuance in heedless sin (6:1, 15). This grace has separated the believer from the ruling power of his sin nature. Thus Paul’s question appropriately asks, in essence, “How shall we still live the old way, having been severed from it?”

Spiritually and historically speaking, God crucified our old nature, and we died with Christ on Calvary. This co-crucifixion came into effect spiritually in our personal lives when we believed on Jesus as our Lord and Savior. At that time the Holy Spirit baptized us into Christ’s body, uniting us with Him not only in His death, but also in His burial and resurrection. What was the purpose of this spiritual union but that we might live as though we ourselves had already risen physically from the dead! The old self’s power has been broken; we no longer need serve sin.

Why, then, does sin defeat so many believers? It is simply because many do not know and regard these truths as true. Many do not know of their identification with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection (vv. 3, 6, 9). However, how about those who do know? What excuse do they have?

We are liable to lose rewards at the bema because we do not put these truths into practice; we do not reckon (count) them to be true for us personally and then act on them. What it boils down to is our daily refusal to choose the new way of life (Christ’s power) over the old. One author writes, “There is no real spiritual progress unless the source of sins is dealt with continually by the Spirit’s application of the cross. He carries on that ministry as we reckon upon self having been crucified” (Stanford 71).

2. Colossians 2: 12-13; 3: 1-4

. . . buried with Him in baptism, in which also you were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. and you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, . . .
If (since) you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Through spiritual baptism and spiritual circumcision, God has raised from spiritual death all believers in Christ. Historically, again, these transactions took place when Christ died and rose again. God the Spirit applied them spiritually to us when we believed. What was the result in us when He made us alive in Him? Complete forgiveness of our sins.

What, then, are we to do in light of the fact that God has raised us spiritually with Christ and has given us new life in Him? The Apostle Paul directs us to keep seeking the things above, keep setting our mind on eternal verities. Upon what specifically should we keep seeking for and setting our mind? Paul points to Christ in His roles as sovereign Lord and priest.

Jesus not only reigns from that position of honor and authority (the right hand of the Father), but He is also seated there, indicating that His atoning sacrifice has completely paid for our sins and satisfied the holiness of God (cf. Heb. 1:3; 10:12). Therefore, we should rest totally in that finished work of Jesus on our behalf. Why should we mind positional truth? Our old man is dead; he can never be our life again. Our new life subsists in and flows from Christ. Paul speaks about our being hidden with Christ and then being revealed or appearing with Christ. “Being hidden” suggests protection from sin’s penalty and Satan’s assaults at the present time.

One day when Christ reveals His majestic glory as He returns to earth to set up His kingdom, many of us will be revealed with Him as His honored, glorified co-heirs (Rom. 8:16-17). Are not these truths worthy of meditation? Paul then transports their minds (so to speak) to eternity past (from the human perspective) when the Father purposely chose the elect to become united with His Son, so that in eternity future they (as wholly righteous beings) might have the capacity to show their love for Him (v. 4).

Solely because He desired to do so, God, in eternity past, sovereignly determined to adopt certain human beings into His heavenly family through the merits of His Son, causing them to believe the gospel without violating their freedom to make this faith decision (v. 5; cf. Rom. 8:15, 23). God chose the elect so that they would praise Him for the glorious grace He bestowed upon them—a grace that made them accepted as a people in union with Christ (v. 6). Because God has chosen them, believers possess eternal redemption; Jesus purchases them from the slave market of sin by means of His own bloody death, setting them free from condemnation.

The appositive, “the forgiveness of their sins,” declares one priceless benefit of this gracious release from bondage (v. 7a). Employing His infinite wisdom and flawless understanding of God’s eternal decree to unite all believers in Himself, the Messianic King, Christ funnels His abundant, unmerited favor toward them (vv. 7b-10).

[The NASB scholars simplify Paul’s sentence structure, separating with a period the apostle’s teaching about redemption through grace from his discussion of the eternal plan to sum up all things in Christ. 

On the other hand, the translators of the NKJV, in their effort to maintain the originality of the apostle’s free-flowing, convoluted style, combine the two concepts. The former group aims at clarity, but may have missed Paul’s intention to unite the soteriological and eschatological elements of this passage.

On the other hand, the latter scholars complicate the matter by keeping Paul’s intricate grammatical relationships in order to ensure that both theological elements appear together. 

Even though it may not show the intimate connections between grace-redemption and God’s eternal plan for the millennial reign of Christ in one sentence, I prefer the NASB’s clarity of expression over the NKJV’s precise faithfulness to Paul’s style.]

Alongside the blessings of redemption that believers receive, Paul includes their acquisition of an inheritance (v. 11a).

[Ryrie points out that believers’ becoming Christ’s inheritance may be in view here, not vice versa.]

In God’s eternal plan, He determined that believers “should be to the praise of His glory”; He is now bringing that plan to fruition through His omnipotence (vv. 11-12).

[Infinite wisdom and omniscience work in unified harmony with omnipotence to bring to pass His eternal decree.]

Paul reminds the Ephesians that after hearing the good news, “the word of truth,” they trusted in Christ. At that same moment, they received the Holy Spirit as the down payment of their inheritance until their bodily resurrection (“the redemption of the purchased possession”). This “seal” guarantees that God will consummate their redemption, at which time believers will praise God’s glory (vv. 13-14).

Next, Paul communicates to the Ephesians that news about their saving faith and brotherly love reached him, moving him also to give God glory and render thanks to Him for them in his daily prayers (vv. 15-16). The apostle asks “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (see 1:3) to give them spiritual wisdom that will reveal truth about the Person of Christ (v. 17).
True spiritual understanding in their inner being will result when they acquire this grace, enabling the Ephesians to know experientially three potentially life-changing truths:

(1) “The hope of His calling” indicates the intimate assurance of a heavenly home that comes through God’s personal summons (v. 18a);
(2) “The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” suggest the vast spiritual wealth inherent in God’s redeemed people (v. 18b); and
(3) “The exceeding greatness of His power” toward believers points to the inexhaustible resources available for them to live a godly life (v. 19).

Paul employs Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and His ascension to the place of honor and sovereignty over all angelic and human authority for all time as ways through which God has displayed His omnipotence (vv. 20-21).

Believers will know this Christ to Whom God has given two fantastic prerogatives:

(1) the universal right to rule all opposing forces; and
(2) management of the worldwide organism designated His body, the Church (vv. 22-23).

[Even now Christ manages all worldly forces in opposition to Him, though apparently allowing them considerable freedom to execute their will; however, a day is coming when they will be in complete subjection to Him, and only God’s decree will be executed (cf. Heb. 2:8; 1 Cor. 15:25-28).]

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