The unity of the church is based on the sevenfold unity of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:4–6). Such unity, however, does not mean uniformity since Christ has gifted each individual uniquely (Eph. 4:7–16). A diversity of leaders are given to the church so that every member will become mature and Christlike in how they think and how they live.
The Theology of Ephesians
In one sense, there is nothing distinct about the theology of Ephesians. It is a New Testament letter written by the apostle Paul that conforms to the message of the rest of the Bible—a message about how the God of the universe rescues sinners through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. And yet, the book of Ephesians adds unique tones to the symphony of music that sounds forth from Scripture.
For its size (six chapters and 155 verses), Ephesians has had a profound impact on the life and theology of the church. Harold Hoehner declares, “The Letter to the Ephesians is one of the most influential documents in the Christian church.”1 But why has this small letter had such a big impact on the church? The answer, at least in part, is due to the depth and diversity of topics emphasized in the letter. Paul addresses topics such as the plan of God in salvation, union with Christ, walking according to the Spirit, the unity of the church, and spiritual warfare.
The Plan of God in Salvation
Although Paul explains God’s plan to redeem a people for himself elsewhere, Ephesians 1:3–14 is perhaps the most detailed passage in the Bible related to this topic. In this passage (which is one long sentence of 202 words in the original Greek), Paul speaks about election, redemption, adoption/inheritance, perseverance, and regeneration. Additionally, several aspects of God’s sovereign election are emphasized such as the threefold repetition of God’s purpose (Eph. 1:5, 9, 11) and the threefold repetition of “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14), which demonstrates the significance of each member of the Trinity in relation to our salvation: God the Father (Eph. 1:3–6), the Son (Eph. 1:7–12), and the Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14). Paul also includes four key concepts which form the foundation or basis of our praise to God: he chose us (Eph. 1:4), he redeems us (Eph. 1:7), he provides us an inheritance (Eph. 1:11), and he seals us with his Spirit (Eph. 1:13). While meditating on God’s grace, Paul erupts with praises to his God. Paul is not merely stating that God is worthy of our praise. Rather, he is actually praising God for his glorious salvation—and in doing so inviting his readers to do the same.
Union with Christ
Although Paul references union with Christ nearly 200 times in his writings, about forty of those occurrences are found in Ephesians. This amounts to about twenty percent of all the uses in Paul’s epistles, although Ephesians contains less than seven percent of the Pauline content.2 Indeed, Ephesians 1 has the highest concentration of “in Christ” language in the letter, especially Ephesians 1:3–14 which has eleven occurrences. Every spiritual blessing that Christians possess is due to their relationship and union with Christ (Eph. 1:3). Specifically, we are chosen “in him” (Eph. 1:4), predestined “in him” (Eph. 1:5), blessed “in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6), redeemed “in him” (Eph. 1:7), united “in him” (Eph. 1:10), granted an inheritance “in him” (Eph. 1:11), and sealed with the Spirit “in him” (Eph. 1:13). The frequency of union with Christ language in Ephesians demonstrates that it is a central theme in this epistle. Although Paul’s theology cannot be reduced to union with Christ, union with Christ is often the Christological anchor that grounds his theology and ethic, and there’s no clearer place that this concept is demonstrated than Ephesians.
Walking according to the Spirit
Before Paul provides instructions for how believers are to live, he first reminds us of our former condition.