Confidence in our uncertainty
Can you remember a time in your life when everything seemed very certain and sure? You may need to go back a while. I recall as a child there wasn’t a lot of modern equipment or technology in our schools, but our parents sent us to school certain that we would get a good basic education. We could walk to school for miles and be certain nothing would happen to us and play outside in the streets, or the bush and along creeks after school until dark, certain that we would be safe. After finishing whatever grade we wanted to at school, we were certain to get some kind of job. Back then we didn’t take any notice of those who said that the next 40 years would fly by so quickly. They were right and we realise that there is nothing more certain in our world than uncertainty.
Just take our present situation with the pandemic. How much uncertainty has been created around the outbreaks of this virus – wearing masks, staying home, being vaccinated, what do the government announcements mean for you, how do we get the vaccination, should we be going to public places, and planning to travel is a nightmare. All this uncertainty creates anxiety.
This week a good friend was suddenly taken from us by a heart attack. It makes us think how certain can we be of our next breath, or hour or day? Have you had to comfort parents whose child or teenager died of an unexpected illness or accident? The shock of the suddenness of death’s interruption is immense. How long any of us spend on this earth is uncertain.
How can we live confidently when we are surrounded with so many uncertainties in life? What causes your heart to be afraid and anxious because of uncertainty? Do you have that moment, it might be just a passing thought or a constant presence, when you reflect on something that is beyond your control, it upsets you, and worries you, and causes us a moment of fear?
The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians 3:1-20 comes to us as a strong reminder of how we can live confidently in those times on uncertainty, when trouble and confusion muddle our minds. The verses of our text are packed with very powerful statements about how God gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty.
Let’s see if we can get our minds around some of what we are told in these verses of Ephesians. The reading is one long sentence in the original text and is loaded with important truths. These verses are words of praise to our wonderful God who has blessed us in so many ways and Paul packs in God’s actions past, present and future in these few verses. There’s a sermon in almost every verse but I’ll spare you from that and try to give an overview.
Let’s start by saying that amazingly God sees everything in terms of his relationship with us. It is a loving relationship like a parent to a child. He is caring, protecting, loving and he has shown this in his actions in the past, present and future.
Let’s start with God’s action in the past. Paul says, “Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him” (Ephesians 1:4). Let’s put that simply. Long before God planned and made the world, he picked you and planned your salvation. He focussed his love on you not because you were deserving in any special way, or you were particularly attractive to him.
Like everyone else you were a sinner but still he chose you and then at the right time put you here on this planet under his love and care and protection. I would go so far as to say he also chose the people who would be a powerful influence in your life. Before time began, God knew you. He knows you at this moment better than you know yourself. He knows you and has planned a place for you in his eternal home.
Why did he choose you? He chose you because of his love for you. Paul says, “Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose” (Ephesians 1:4-5). This is God’s grace. God chose you as his own precious child, not because of anything in you, but simply because he loves you. He has put you in a relationship with him because of everything that Christ has done for you through his death and resurrection. Paul says, “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus’ death made us worthy to be chosen by God and brought into his family.
Paul often says (in fact, he says it 10 times in these verses) that we are “in Christ” and because we are “in Christ” we have a unique relationship with God. All that God sees when he looks at us is Christ – not the sin and the evil in us – only Christ. We are covered with Christ and his redeeming sacrifice and nothing of our sinful life is left to condemn us. That’s so amazing!
There is more! We come to the present. Paul describes this amazing and new relationship between us and God that we have right now with terminology like this. “We have been adopted as his children”. In the culture of Paul’s time, when a child was adopted into a new family there was a break with his former family. The child belonged to the new family and had all the rights as a child of the new family and would continue the family line and maintain property ownership and often take up the titles of his father. Many of the Roman emperors were adopted like this.
The word “adopted” indicates we have a new home, a new family, a new way of living, a new relationship with our heavenly parent and we have been given the full rights and blessings as a child of the family. Our adoption means a complete change for us. Once we were with no home, no security, no one who cared now we have all that and more. We have been chosen and adopted. We have a new name – God’s name.
What is more, he has chosen and adopted us to be “holy and blameless in his sight”. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Being “holy and blameless” is not just a description of how God sees us but also describes the new life God has given us. Again, we go back to what it means to be “in Christ”. Our whole life and the way we live it becomes “holy and blameless”.
Being “in Christ” changes our values, attitudes, principles, and the ways we speak to others and treat them and the place that we give God in our lives. Being “in Christ” means that we become like Christ in every aspect of our lives and that we are Christ-like to the people around us. Being “in Christ” means that our lives are so interwoven with Christ, that we endure hardship and uncertainty, confident of God's love as Jesus did, that we are patient and kind, compassionate and understanding, generous and supportive to those who are uncertain and unsure as Jesus was.
Being “chosen”, “adopted” and made “holy and blameless”, “set free” by our gracious God has a powerful impact on our lives right now. It’s our calling, and without a doubt, it’s a challenge.
We have heard so far that when we face uncertainty in our life and we are overwhelmed with the troubles of this life, God has chosen us, warts and all, before the creation of the world, through the blood of his Son he has paid for all our sin – we are forgiven and adopted as his children. When problems overwhelm us and scare us, we have the certainty that “There is nothing in all creation that is able to separate us from the love of God which ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39) to use Paul’s words.
The Apostle has one more thing to add to all of this. How do we know that all of this is true? How do know we can rely on God to get us through the toughest times? How can we hope, have faith, trust in God when everything points to giving up and giving in?
For some people, all that I have said so far is too hard to believe or too hard to live out every day. Even to live “in Christ” as “holy and blameless” seems an impossible task. Who can achieve that especially since all of us still choose what is foolish and weak when it comes to following God’s ways?
Paul tells the Ephesians that when they heard the word of truth and believed it, “God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised” (Ephesians 1:13 GNB). God gives the Holy Spirit who keeps on building your faith through God’s Word and redirecting you back to God’s promises when the journey gets tough. He keeps on whispering in your ear, “Don’t give up. God has chosen you. He loves you. He has died for you. You are his own dear child. He won’t leave you. He forgives you. Keep on believing. Keep on believing”.
Paul goes so far as to say that the Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance – our inheritance in heaven, and this is the future element of our text. We don’t know what our future might hold in this life, to think too long about this might be too scary, but all the time God has our hand in his and when the time comes will walk with us from this life into our eternal home.
Make no doubt about it! God has put this plan in motion, and he will see it through even though sceptics may say that God has left the building and the world is going to hell in a handbasket. God has not left us helpless and will keep his promises. We may not understand how all the parts and pieces of the mysteries in our life fit together. We trust God to help us live confidently in the face of every uncertainty knowing that he will not let us go.
When trouble, uncertainty, anxiety and pain crowd in around be reminded of this passage from Ephesians which might be summarised like this “Be confident in the face of uncertainty” or remember the simple words of Jesus that reassure us of his presence and comfort when he says,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Trusting God: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty - Earl F. Palmer
The Certainty of Uncertainty: The Way of Inescapable Doubt and Its Virtue - Mark Schaefer
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Beautiful Uncertainty - Mandy Hale
Room for Doubt: How Uncertainty Can Deepen Your Faith - Ben Young
Faith and Uncertainty - John Habgood
Faith and doubt - John Ortberg