ANDREW BAKER — “IN CHRIST IS REAL MEANING” | IN HIM: GLIMPSES OF GLORY
21 October, 2018
Scripture reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
This week we begin a three-part series based on Ephesians 1:3-14, entitled “In Him: Glimpses of Glory”.
Living in wonder
Ephesus was one of the great cities of ancient times. It was known in particular as a centre of worship to Greek and Roman gods. However, the Gospel message had also taken root powerfully in Ephesus. Paul stayed for two years preaching the Word of God and from Ephesus “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
Then some years later, most likely from prison in Rome, Paul writes to the Ephesian church, that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened (v18). “Enlightened” means to be illuminated completely, to be crystal clear, to be seen in all brilliance. Paul is writing to remind the Ephesians of the wonder of the Gospel.
And there is a wonder to the Gospel. If it is true (not only do I believe it is, I believe it is the only truth), then there is a wonder flowing from it that should captivate and compel us. We should marvel at the matchless, unchanging message of the Gospel. Nothing is like it, past, present or future. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us that every human heart finds its truest purpose and meaning within the message of the Gospel.
Finding meaning in life
However, in the world around us we find a familiar narrative: Christianity is dead. Outdated. Incoherent. Past its use by date.
So we might ask: is the Gospel relevant? Does it still hold weight? Do we really need it any more? Is it outdated? At best a little worn out? Is it really worth it? Really worth living for? Sacrificing for? Giving for?
To answer this, let’s think about the meaning of life, the “why?” of life.
It strikes me that it is very possible to be incredibly passionate about the “what” of life (what we do, what we believe is right, what would make the world a better place), without even considering the bigger question: the “why?” of life.
But the “why” really matters. Let’s examine two different perspectives on the “why” of life, and then how the Christian “why” compares.
Atheism and Modern Secularism
The secularist believes that life is a series of random events, with no deeper meaning or purpose. In “River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life”, Richard Dawkins states:
“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
Stephen Jay Gould, an American palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist takes this thought further:
“We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating.”
Following this line of reasoning, it is put forward that ultimately it is only when we give up the need to find any meaning at all that we can be truly liberated. However, for many this is both intellectually and practically untenable. Firstly, purposelessness is not in the reality of day to day living liberating (it’s downright depressing!), and secondly, modern psychologists have conducted numerous studies all concluding that humanity needs a sense of meaning in order to thrive.
The American professor and philosopher, Joseph Campbell, summarised the postmodern view of meaning as follows:
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
In other words, there is no absolute meaning, but meaning is found by determining or creating whatever meaning you want. Indeed, a determined or created meaning can help a person live life with a sense of purpose - after all, any meaning is better than no meaning - however this perspective (or source) of meaning is far different to what is offered in the message of the Gospel.
In Christ, we find real meaning
In Ephesians 1, Paul presents a different view of meaning in life: in Christ, we find real meaning. We are purposed by God (v5, v9), created by Him (v4), predestined in love (v5, v11) - this means from eternity past you have value, worth, and significance - and blessed by Him (v3) - this means we are given a gift beyond anything we could deserve or earn.
From this, flows four wonderful realities about Christian meaning:
1. It is absolute, not relative
Relative meaning cannot provide ultimate answers to life’s ultimate questions. Relative meaning can’t answer the “why?” questions of life, or examine the bigger picture. So, you are working a job, why? To have money? OK, why? To have a house and provide for family? No problem, why? And so it goes...at best a relative, determined or created meaning will be superficial and shallow and won’t be able to satisfy the “why?” questions.
In contrast Christian meaning has a breadth so encompassing it stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It encompasses and enlightens every breath. The believer has the capacity to sit back and savour every angle and perspective and allow the breathtaking perspective to illuminate every aspect of life.
2. It is certain, fixed and eternal, not shifting or temporal
A determined or created meaning is dependant upon on feelings. Yet because feelings change, what brings meaning one day may not bring the same meaning the next. Meaning in this case becomes shifting and fragile.
In contrast, Christian meaning is fixed: immovable and unshakable. Life has inherent worth, significance and value because it is created by God. Each one of us is created bearing God’s image, from eternity past to eternity present, and this holds true regardless of how you feel. You didn't determine it. You couldn't change it even if you wanted to. Neither the world nor society gave you your meaning, so neither the world nor society can take it away.
3. It is complete, not limited
Determined meaning is limited to certain sets of circumstances and within certain parameters. It has little capacity to help us through difficulties, struggles and suffering.
But in Christ, we can find meaning in all of life circumstances. Suffering, struggles and trials can all be a means to find greater meaning in life. As we view the glorious Gospel, it’s the difficulties of life that can be a catalyst to find greater, not lesser, meaning.
4. It is satisfying
In Him, we find a meaning that is absolute, certain and complete, and is ultimately more satisfying than one that is relative, temporary and limited.
So, let’s remind and reassure our hearts of the wonder of the Gospel - the matchless, unchanging message of the Gospel. Nothing has ever been like it, and nothing will be anything like it in future. In Christ alone we find absolute, certain, complete and satisfying meaning in life.