Gloria Furman explores the main themes in the book of Ephesians, showing us how the blessings we have received in Christ empower us to walk in a new way rooted in God's love for us in Jesus.
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About the Author
Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional Motherhood; Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full; and Glimpses of Grace.
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Read an Excerpt
Alive in Him
How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything
By Gloria Furman
Good News PublishersCopyright © 2017 Gloria C. Furman
All rights reserved.
Blessed in Christ
The Recipients of God's Rich Grace
In the cult classic film Back to the Future, teenager Marty McFly travels back in time and interacts with people in the 1950s. When Marty begins to understand the potential repercussions of his time travel exploits, he says that it's "heavy." His friend Doc, confused by the colloquial phrase from the future, asks, "Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth's gravitational pull?" Doc is awestruck by the idea that something as fundamental to life as gravity could be an entirely different experience for people in the future. The irony in the script, of course, is that Doc is also thinking about something that is "heavy."
Whoa — This Is Heavy
There are many passages in the Bible that we tend to think of as too heavy to comprehend. And we would be right! The letter of Paul to the Ephesians is six short chapters, yet it's content is loaded down with a weight of glory that boggles the mind and overwhelms the senses. Some people might pick up this heavy passage in the first chapter, skim over it, and walk away unfazed. I've done this myself on occasion, my eyes glossing over the mega-sentence as my mind drifts to wondering what's for supper. But despite our mortal minds and the distractions that surround us on every side, we have every reason to be encouraged as we labor to press into this these truths. This is because the heaviness of this massive paragraph is really a weight of glory that we are meant to bear.
Ephesians is heavy, glorious truth — a burden that can be borne only on the back of humility. So it is with prayerful, humble hearts that we open this book together.
Are We Reading Other Peoples' Mail?
Paul opens his letter with a customary, customized introduction. He says that he is "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." If his authority was initially ambiguous to any readers, let all doubts be washed away in this tsunami of commissioning. God himself, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who calls himself "I am," decreed that Paul is an apostle of his one and only Son, who has been given authority over all things. The words in this letter carry with them the authority of the one who sends the message. The sender is God. The words are God's Word. God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him? Can he be instructed? God says and does what he pleases; who can question him (Job 36:22–23; Rom. 11:34)?
God invented our human minds by which we peer into the words that have their origin in his mind. When we hold the Bible in our hands, we are holding a book of unfathomable significance and authority because it is God's Word. Our ability to acknowledge this fact is evidence of God's mercy in our lives. Our Creator does not owe us anything; it is benevolence of infinite kindness that God would speak to us and to do so in such a way that we might understand. Living wholeheartedly according to his Word, as we are well aware, requires a powerful work of grace that comes from the almighty God himself.
The phrase in 1:1 that describes the Ephesian Christians as "faithful in Christ Jesus" is startling. Is Paul using flattery to win over his readers by calling them "faithful?" Admittedly, I do this as a mother sometimes, but I like to think of it as something more positive such as vision casting. "Would my helpful children please come set the table for dinner?" I want to summon my youngsters to rise to the occasion and prove their helpfulness. Is Paul trying to cast a vision for the Ephesians to prove they are faithful? No, this is neither empty flattery nor inspiring vision casting. Paul is calling it like it is. If you are "in Christ Jesus," then by definition you are faithful. That's why this introduction is startling. If you looked back on the last day of your inner dialogue, spoken (or typed) words to others, emotional leanings, et cetera, you would have a hard time coming to the conclusion that you are the embodiment of godly faithfulness. So we must be reading someone else's mail, right? How does Paul get away with saying that we are faithful? Because we are "in Christ." This little term — in Christ — is actually the subject of a host of weighty ideas and expressions that are developed throughout the New Testament. Paul calls Christians those who are "in Christ." This in-ness is a one-ness: because Christ is alive forevermore, so we are alive in him. As you read Ephesians, keep an eye out for phrases such as "in Christ" and "in the Lord." Paul will spend the rest of his letter describing what life looks like as a result of being one with Christ — in Christ.
Becoming a Christian is a result of being in Christ. It is not merely our countenance, manners, religious habits, or other externalities that have changed since we were made alive in him. At the moment of our conversion we were altered at the very core of our being. The life of Christ is now in us. Anglican theologian Richard Sibbes put it like this:
Before those opposed to each other can be friends, there must be an alteration; and this alteration must be either on God's part, or on ours. ... On a musical instrument, those strings that are out of tune are adjusted to those that are in tune. In the same way, it is we who must alter, and not God.
Once we were God's enemies, we are now reconciled to him through his Son. And it is in his Son where we will remain forever. Paul doesn't call us "saints" because we are holy people in and of ourselves. He doesn't call us saints because a religious organization has conferred on us the title. He calls us saints because God has set us apart and placed us in his Son. Our "saintliness" is because of what Christ has done on our behalf. We belong to God as his holy people by his own initiative and Christ's work on the cross. Ours is to respond in faith to this gospel. Paul's introductory blessing is apropos, a statement of fact that we mustn't allow our hearts to miss the thrill of pondering. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:2).
The Fulfillment of the Sanguine Psalm 103
The blessings we have in Christ are more than social niceties like saying "Gesundheit" after someone sneezes. Paul is describing how we have been blessed "with every spiritual blessing." Often, when we hear of these blessings, we just smile and nod and utter a polite "Thanks," as though someone has just blessed a sneezing fit. "Spiritual blessings" sound fake, like a warranty for an appliance that expires the moment you open the package and use the machine. That warranty was never meant to benefit you, the consumer. But God's blessings are utterly real. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the one who mediates these blessings to us; he brings them to us and applies them to our lives. In this section Paul writes to unwrap these blessings in a massive sentence that spreads from verses 3–14 in the original Greek (202 words!).
This lengthy sentence at first seems like a flourish of random ideas, but Paul is actually quite intentional. Have you ever noticed that in all the other major world religions it is polite and common to ask for "God's" blessings or to say, "Praise "God"? Notice in this passage how Paul moves through each person the Holy Trinity and repeats certain phrases. He notes that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a notation that highlights this as a distinctly Christian composition of praise to God.
This opening passage in Ephesians echoes Psalm 103, where God calls us to trust him as we walk in this fallen world. This psalm anticipates what we have been given through Christ, which is "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). Bless the Lord, oh my soul! Don't forget a single one of these blessings! These blessings find their origin in him, and their bestowment upon us is entirely of God's own initiative. It is he who blessed us, chose us, predestined us, lavished his grace on us, made known his purposes to us, and accomplishes all these things for us. All this he has done "to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). The blessings of Psalm 103, which are specifically fulfilled through Jesus and described in Ephesians 1:3-14, are both wrought of God's glory in his Son and bestowed through the gleaming mercy shown to us at the cross. God's saving purposes are from eternity past in the council of the Trinity, and "in all wisdom and insight" he lavishes his grace on all those he chooses.
A Gift for You
In my experience in sharing the gospel, I've noticed that most people do not contend with the idea that God is mighty to save and that he indeed retains the prerogative to save sinners (because he is, after all, God). What most people do take issue with is his willingness to save them and change them. "Sure, right. I know he can save me. But would he?" God's willingness is called into question, and his willingness is usually evaluated from the vantage point of that person's fluctuating, circumstantially based emotions. If you struggle with this (I'm raising my hand here too), then watch how the record gets set straight in verses 4–6. It says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. This is no last-minute grab off the shelf when you reach the cash register.
Our salvation is not the effect of a thoughtless impulse buy, but it is the impulse of the holy, triune God who determined to save us from before the foundation of the world. He chose us not because we were already holy and blameless like he is (we weren't). Perhaps hearing that you're being chosen is not because of your goodness is news to you. You may have been under the impression that God owed it to you to save you because you worked so hard to please him. Many of us may even balk at such an understanding of salvation and think, I would never believe that! I know that salvation is all about grace. Even so, we may still be tempted to live as though God were obligated to bless us because of our goodness. I become aware of this struggle in my own heart any time I suffer a trial and wonder, "Why me?"
Remembering that God chose us to be holy and blameless before him rather than because we were already holy and blameless is a freedom bell in the sinner's heart. We're comforted by this doctrine when we're feeling sheepish and vulnerable. God chose us. Let gospel freedom ring!
The Guiding Thermostat in Paul's Letter
The oven in our apartment is a mystery to me. The markings on the dials have been long worn off by previous tenants. When the workers come to replace the empty gas tank for the oven, I excuse myself to the living room (as is appropriate culturally). If I bake cupcakes, they might lean to the left or the right indiscriminately. At Thanksgiving time the only sure bet for roasting the turkey properly is a trusty meat thermometer and lots of patience, and an adventurous spirit. I have so many questions about my oven that may never be answered, but I do have tools that can help me begin to understand how to avoid burning pancakes (too badly).
The mysterious passages in Ephesians are like that oven. We tend to examine Ephesians in disjointed sections and walk away with questions such as:
How do you put on the seemingly out-of-place spiritual armor in chapter 6 (and why)?
What does a modern man or woman do with the "household code" in chapter 5?
How can sinners live out the call to holiness in chapter 4?
Is it possible to see the unity of God's people in chapter 3 even amid our hundreds of denominations?
How do we live out the ramifications of salvation by grace in chapter 2?
And who can wrap their mind around the spiritual blessings in chapter 1?
When these issues are considered in isolation, they tend to take on an air of frustrating futility. The cupcakes will always turn out lopsided no matter what I do, so why bother? While this might be an understandable sentiment, don't give up on the cupcakes! They're worth every bit of effort you put into discovering how to see them turn out right side up. There is a guiding thermostat, if you will, in Ephesians. (Please forgive my return to the dessert illustration — I have an incurable sweet tooth.) The overarching message of Ephesians, the fountain from which every doctrinal truth emerges:
... making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his 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.
Let Earth Receive Her King
God is blessed for revealing his mysterious plan from eternity past and bringing it to fruition in eternity future. When we struggle with the question of our purpose and of the purpose of the world, Ephesians 1:9-10 gives us God's comprehensive answer. God is glorified through his "making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his 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."
When God created Adam and Eve, he blessed them. Then he charged them with the privilege of stewardship over his creation. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:28). Men and women were to rule justly and mercifully under God's authority, leading and nurturing all he put in their care. But mankind rejected God's authority through their sin, and as a result the creation became subjected to futility.
Take a two-second glance at the news headlines for today and you will observe that mankind fails to rule creation with justice and mercy. But the Bible is God's story of redemption. There will be a Son of Man ruling from the throne. Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28; see also Rev. 3:21). Jesus is the one who rules unequivocally over everything in heaven and on earth. We read in Ephesians 1:9–10 the end goal of all things, the all-encompassing reason for everything that ever was or will be — the anakephalai sis. That is a deeply profound term that means "summing up." Although we are only a mere ten verses into Ephesians, this statement is the climax of the entire epistle. Ephesians shows us how Jesus, the Son of Man, has come to his throne. The rest of this letter draws out the implications of Christ's enthronement. There are implications not only for us as individuals who love the Lord and long for his return when every knee bows to him and every tongue confesses he is Lord, but also for us collectively as members of Christ's body, the church.
One of those implications is that the summing up of all things in Christ summons forth our authenticity. The world is all kinds of crazy (again, just skim the newspaper headlines), but a life lived in light of this doctrine is coherent. When we reject or ignore the mystery God has made known (Christ as the focal point of all things), we are out of step with God's purposes for the cosmos. Centered on ourselves, we are cosmic renegades. Centered on Christ, we are utterly authentic in the most genuine sense of the word. The relevancy of the anakephalaoisis to our daily lives (both now and tomorrow and in eternity) is the consistency (or congruence or uniformity or correspondence) of our lives with ultimate reality. It also motivates us to carry the gospel to people groups who have not yet heard of Christ and who are perishing for this lack of knowledge.
This consistency of our lives in accordance with this truth is no mere rote submission but rather adoring love with corresponding speech overflowing from hearts filled to overflowing with sincere fealty and love for Christ our head. It is sober minds that think thoughts that are in line with God's truth and are confident in the sufficiency, authority, and the clarity of his Word. It is doing all things as service rendered unto the Lord by his strength that God supplies for Christ's glory — that he might be glorified in all things. A Monday morning at the office lived in line with the summing up of all things in Christ is a depiction of utter authenticity. The resolution of a conflict over even the dumbest of things (as many conflicts often are), when done in accordance with the supremacy of Christ, is evidence of Christ's loving rule. We are doomed to live a confusing and false existence as long as we live in denial of the universal headship of Jesus. But when we humbly repent of the notion that we can live independently from God and instead cling to Jesus, then we walk in truth.
We'll explore more implications of this later on in the chapter and throughout the book. For now, I want to discuss a few key phrases in the mega-sentence of verses 3–14.
Excerpted from Alive in Him by Gloria Furman. Copyright © 2017 Gloria C. Furman. Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword J. I. Packer 11
Introduction: What Ephesians Is-and Isn't 17
1 Blessed in Christ: The Recipients of God's Rich Grace (Ephesians 1:1-14) 23
2 Called to Hope; A Prayer to Know Christ's Power and Supremacy (Ephesians 1:15-23) 45
3 Zombies Raised to Life: God Resurrects a New Humanity (Ephesians 2:1-22) 67
4 Mystery Revealed: We Are Members of the Same Body (Ephesians 3:1-21) 85
5 Walk This Way: Growing Up into Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16) 105
6 Getting Real: Wake Up and Put On the New Self (Ephesians 4:17-5:14) 123
7 Sacrificial Love: The Mark of God's Family (Ephesians 5:15-6:9) 141
8 Cruciform Armor: The Church's Subversive Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:10-24) 161
Selected Bibliography 175
General Index 181
Scripture Index 185
What People are Saying About This
“Paul’s definitive declaration on church life is found in the book of Ephesianslife through, from, in, with, for, and under the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of sinners, the Redeemer, risen, reigning, and returning, now and henceforth forever, by the Father’s appointment, Lord of all. The whole of this comes into focus in Gloria Furman’s applicatory overview of Ephesians, which I enthusiastically commend as vitamin-packed nourishment for Christians everywhere.”
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
“Some expositions are careful, line-by-line, evenhanded explanations of the biblical text. This exposition is exuberant, irrepressible, and intoxicating. Its strength is that its author, Gloria Furman, has tasted for herself the bliss of being loved by God, and she wants her readers to drink deeply from the same fountain.”
D. A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“Ephesians 4 tells us, ‘He gave some as teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.’ I am deeply grateful that God gave Gloria Furman to the church. Because geography separates us, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gotten to sit under her teaching in person. Each time I was mesmerized, thoughts whirling, unable to write fast enough. Each time I was challenged, edified, and humbled. This book yielded the same result. Alive in Him is a precious chance to sit at Gloria’s feet and hear Ephesians expounded with grace and clarity. Get your pen ready.”
Jen Wilkin, Director of Classes and Curriculum, The Village Church; author, Women of the Word; None Like Him; and In His Image
“Alive in Him brings together the rich reality of both the transcendence and immanence of life in Christ. The truths found within its pages remind us that relationship must always precede response. But when that relationship is rooted in the ‘riches of his grace,’ that treasure transforms every other relationship.”
Karen Hodge, Coordinator of Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Church in America; coauthor, Transformed: Life-taker to Life-giver and Life-giving Leadership
“This is a wonderfully heartwarming overview of Ephesians that will encourage and inspire even the most weary of saints. Gloria has worked hard to show how Paul’s letter fits into the bigger picture of God’s revelation and writes in a way that makes these foundational truths both accessible and digestible. Each chapter helps us to join the dots of God’s great plan of salvation that is bringing all things together under the lordship of Christ. With well-worked illustrations and realistic applications, this book challenged me again and again to delight in the love of God and its transforming power so that I might become more like Christ and bring him greater glory.”
Carrie Sandom, Director of Women’s Ministry, Proclamation Trust; Associate Minister for Women, St. John’s, Tunbridge Wells; author, Different by Design: God’s Blueprint for Men and Women
“Reading Alive in Him was like sitting down to a beautiful, soul-nourishing meal, hosted by a good friend. Gloria packs each chapter full of rich truths from Ephesians, and you can’t help but be swept up into her enthusiasm for God’s Word and the gospel story. Gloria is especially skilled at lifting our eyes up from out of the weeds to see the bigger picture: the glorious reality of being ‘alive in Christ’ and what that means to our every day. Accessible, faithful, full of contagious exuberance and joy, and rich with nourishment for your soul, I highly recommend this book.”
Caroline Cobb, singer-songwriter
“Alive in Him is engaging, refreshing, and marvelously surefooted. A delightful read!”
J. Gary Millar, Principal, Queensland Theological College, Australia; author, Calling on the Name of the Lord and Now Choose Life; coauthor, Saving Eutychus
“In the best possible way, Alive in Him is an unusual book. It is not a commentary, atomizing and analyzing each word and verse. It is not asking the reader to pick a side in a contentious current debate. It is not a greeting card-type devotional that reduces the biblical text to pious platitudes. Rather, it is an in-depth reflection on Ephesians that, in style and content, captures Paul’s bounding enthusiasm in that letter for the majesty of Christ and his gospel and asks us to respond in wonder and praise to God.”
Claire Smith, Bible teacher; author, God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have loved everything put in front of me written by Gloria Furman. She has been one of my most appreciated mentors from afar. I have gleaned so much from her titles geared towards reminding mothers of the treasures found in Christ and the power of the gospel in everyday "stay at home, work never ends" life. I loved going through Missional Motherhood with my church's Mom's group. Gloria has a powerful gift for both em-pathetically relating with christian women and also exhorting us out of and above our fleshly natures. She brings everything back to the gospel- and I just love her for it! I was excited to see in this title, Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything, that Gloria branches out of addressing the topic of motherhood in Christian living to a commentary centered on a particular book of the bible- Ephesians. Studying the bible with a complementary commentary is a favorite method of mine and Ephesians has always been an intriguing book as well! Gloria does a great job of breaking the book into it's main themes and really delving into each and how to truly apply the truths found therein to our everyday lives. I am really excited to re-read thru the last chapter entitled, "Cruciform Armor: The Church's subversive Spiritual Warfare" as our Pastor just went through this passage and we are going to be leading our youth group through it as well.
The message of Ephesians jumps off the page in new ways as I read it side by side with this book. Alive in Him is like a commentary of sorts but full of references to old and New Testament scripture, details about what things mean and also personal illustrations and application. The author dissects the book of Ephesians topic by topic going through the book of Ephesians in small sections. She explains practically speaking how it should impact our lives. I have a much better picture of not only what Paul was trying to say to the Ephesians but also how this impacts me as a believer today. So very practical and applicable. This book will be read and reread. The depth of information is astounding. It is presented in a way that's easy to understand. Reading this book has really helped me process who I am in Christ and what's a God has done for me. Some great times of meditation and worship have resulted.