The "Ephesians Road"

In presenting the gospel, many use The Romans Road - a presentation that uses certain verses in the book of Romans.

Though I have used this presentation many times, I have come to see it as less than adequate. I find that it "cherry picks" isolated verses from Romans, leaving one with a truncated message that tends to be more person-centered (focused on human response) than it is Christ-centered. The net result is a message not fully faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ taught by Paul in Romans and elsewhere.

Certainly, one can (and should) use Paul's epistle to the Romans to proclaim the true and full gospel. But these days, I tend to use Paul's gospel presentation in his epistle to the Ephesians. Trevin Wax (in Holy Subversion), refers to this presentation as The Ephesians Road.  It focuses on the finished work of the Father, Son and Spirit toward the salvation of all humanity. Here is that presentation in outline form:

- God's plan from the beginning is to unite all things in Christ (1:4) through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (1:7). It is a finished work, accomplished apart from our participation.

- Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, we humans have been reconciled to God - "adopted" as God's dearly loved children (1:4). In Christ, God has done it all.

- As God's children we are called to receive and live out of our inheritance, and to be vessels through which God blesses others (2:22).

This presentation takes the first two chapters of Ephesians and shows how salvation begins in the heart of God and is focused on the person and work of Jesus. It shows how the benefits of this salvation come to us through grace alone, and leads to our grateful response within the context of the Church.

Note that in each step on this "road," salvation is fully "in Christ," not in one's personal response to Christ.  By taking this Christ-centered approach, the focus is placed where it belongs - on who Jesus Christ is (as fully God and fully human), and on what he has done for all humanity as our representative and substitute. With this focus, any "idolatry of the self" is subverted (though personal response to Christ remains key to God's plan to draw us into communion with himself).

Comments

  1. Anonymous4/08/2010

    Great Job...the new format on the Surprising God blog is a work of sound scholarship and beautiful presentation... looks GREAT! It makes me proud to be associated with it.

    Thanks for your diligent and skilled efforts in the Spirit,

    Steve Burns

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  2. Thank you Steve. Your kind words are very encouraging. It's a great privilege to moderate this blog on behalf of Grace Communion International as together we explore the amazing grace of our Surprising God!

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  3. Thanks Ted,
    The Ephesians Road is such a more wholesome and Christ-centered message to preach and offer to visitors to our congregations.

    I especially appreciate it when offering the Lord's Table. "Jesus has accomplished all things for you, now come participate in His healing and forgiveness. Receive what He has already done for you."

    ALL good news!
    Glen

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  4. Anonymous4/09/2010

    Thanks for your ongoing work. Especially appreciate the recent piece on The Ephesians Road, with the emphasis on who Jesus Christ is and what he has done and is doing (as fully God and fully human). Surely we’re headed down the right road.

    I’d like to share an observation and wonder if you and others would comment. In discussing a believer’s grateful response to grace, we often describe life in Christ or our salvation as “relationship” and “participation in relationship”—thinking these down-to-earth words are helpful and easily taken to heart. But perhaps some folks might process those same words, quite differently.

    The word “relationships” may touch upon some of our deepest and most painful personal failures. People may carry the pain of weak, strained, or completely broken relationships, and feel guilty about their inability to make things work. Perhaps there has been a divorce, or there is a parent, child or sibling (or neighbor or coworker) that is no longer even on speaking terms. Or people have uncomfortable strained relationships, and feel they aren’t good at building or maintaining relationships. Some don’t have an outgoing personality—aren’t a strong communicator. They look at others who are more gregarious. On the other hand, the gregarious salesperson may have difficultly building deep and lasting relationships, and then wonders how that’s going to work with God.

    At that point any pounding away that “it’s all about relationship” seems far from good news to the listener or reader. It’s just a painful reminder of a place of weakness and failure, and the feeling of not measuring up.

    So the Christian is told that salvation is secure in Christ, and is assured of unfailing love, but is then confronted with a sermon that asks “how’s your relationship with God?” We say the person’s choice is to either participate in the relationship or ignore and resist it. But most readers of our articles or people in the church pews know it is not that they don’t have ANY relationship with God or other people—but they fear having inadequate relationships. They aren’t totally ignoring or resisting God, but they worry about having an inadequate response, especially if pastors aren’t careful to continually emphasize our security in Christ’s perfect response, and in the ongoing vicarious humanity of Jesus.

    Without that proper emphasis, preaching about participating in relationship may have the effect of “throwing them back onto themselves” and leaving them twisting in the wind of their own painful failures.

    This comment is going long, so I'll comment on "participation" in the next window.

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  5. Anonymous4/09/2010

    Often, our use of the word “participation” can sound vague, except for smacking of “spiritual stuff” that people feel they can’t do well enough or do often enough (pray, study, worship, serve, build and maintain relationships). Again, people may feel they don’t measure up. After all, others participate more than they do. It’s like in a classroom, where energetic high achievers raise their hand continually, while most in the class are participating to some extent—have showed up, and are following along, but they’re not the overachievers and won’t get highest marks for participation—so is their participation “enough”?

    Thus if we’re not careful we can even turn relationship, participation and fellowship into what seems entirely transactional. I’ve heard sermons in which “participation” and “relationship” were repeated dozens of times, but in the end it all seemed vague, except for the general impression that more effort and hard work is needed.

    That doesn’t bring joy, peace or assurance. If our union with Jesus is dependent on whatever relationship and participation we can muster up on this end, then we all may as well throw up our hands and quit. (And some have.) That’s what happens when the emphasis is on our response and not the perfect response of Christ that includes us, and the loving grasp of Christ that will not let us go.

    I’m pointing the finger at myself as well in the need to help people recognize that God is with us and for us, and to help them feel the joy of the Lord here in the middle of the messiness of life—including as we go about our messy relationships. All need to feel and know the sense of peace, total healing and freedom that is our life in Christ, as God’s loved children.

    Thanks again for all you do.

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  6. Dear anonymous,

    Your points are well taken and speak to two related difficulties.

    The first is the difficulty of vocabulary. As you note, the words "relationship" and "participation" come with unhelpful baggage for some.

    It's like the challenge that some have in thinking of God as "Father" when their human father is an abuser.

    In light of this difficulty, our challenge as preachers/teachers is to share the good news of God's definitive Word, Jesus. We must uphold him for who he truly is and what that "says." Who is the Father? The One we see in and through Jesus. What is a relationship with God or participation with God? It is who Jesus is and what he does.

    And that leads to the second difficulty you raise, which is speaking of personal response to God's grace without "throwing people back on themselves," where any joy and sense of security in the Lord rise and fall based on the vagaries of their personal performance.

    Again, I see the answer to the dilemma as being the person and work of Jesus. He is our human response to - our relationship with and participation in God. Through his continuing incarnate life, as the union of God and man, he remains the perfect (complete) and final human response to God.

    Does that then sweep aside our personhood? Not at all, for all of Jesus (grace) means all of us. It's not an either/or proposition. He always includes us, and invites, enables and empowers through the Spirit our personal participation in what he is doing on our behalf. We can trust him do that well.

    I'm team-teaching with Greg Williams a Grace Communion Seminary class called "Trinitarian Youth Ministry." The issues you raise are addressed in this class utilizing the insights of Trinitarian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His theology is helpfully applied to youth ministry by Andrew Root in "Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry."

    Root (following Bonhoeffer) helpfully speaks of our response to (and participation in) God's grace in Jesus, as "place-sharing." As the one Mediator between God and humanity, Jesus is relating to God on behalf of us all, and he is relating to every human being on behalf of God. In short, Jesus is place-sharing with every person. And the wonderful calling we have as believers who know of this, is to join Jesus in that place-sharing with God and with other people. This place-sharing ministry is what Jesus does, but he calls us to share it with him. We always do so with imperfection. He knows that, and "covers" for us, and helps us grow. We can rest in the perfection of his work, and enjoy the journey.

    So is our participation important and meaningful. Absolutely. But does it depend on our perfection? Now way. This is the glory, the joy and the mystery of Jesus continuing incarnation. He is one with God and with all humanity, and we're included! And we're invited and enabled to experience the joy of participation!

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  7. Hi there!

    I am so relating to Anonymous' comments about relationship and participation with God just being thrown back onto ourselves. And why should it be any other way? We live in a world, even a Christian world, that bases our worth, even our worth with God, on how well we do. And we sure have plenty of theologies and explanations of why we need to be doing stuff.

    So when we talk of relationship with God or others or our participation with God or others, our natural default is into more works that we must do. And this default is so even when we see the end result of the work of Jesus for us. The overall result is a falling away for grace as Paul points out in Galatians.

    However, our challenge, which only comes clear when God reveals it to us, is to enter the rest of Jesus. With this rest, we can see that relationship and participation are of God and we are invited to come along for the ride, even if we don't "do" anything. It is as the writer of Hebrews says:

    Hebrews 4:8-11--Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. (NLT)

    All the best!

    J. Richard Parker

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  8. Don't you find, as you live out your life in Christ, that about the only thing you can "do" (and this includes your participation in the ministry of Jesus and your growth in relationship with God)is simply to yield or surrender to the Holy Spirit? The greatest transformation in my life has occurred during times when I was least in control and was "left with" trusting Christ! "In this world you will have trouble, but rejoice! For I have overcome the world."

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  9. Indeed, the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended God-man, Jesus sends to earth the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works to conform us to Jesus, including leading us to "place-share" with Jesus as he, in the Spirit, shares his love and life with every person on earth.

    What a ministry! What a joy and privilege!

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  10. This is a wonderful way to present the Gospel to others and I continue to be wowed at how helpful this blog is in the Gospel, and how rooted it is in the Trinity and humanity's Adoption in Jesus! So encouraging and helpful to me in Pastoral Ministry, and sharing with others! Thanks!

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