Seventh-day Adventist Christians are pretty special people. We consider ourselves the eschatological remnant of Bible prophecy (Rev 12:17), making us a unique group of people called out of darkness into a marvelous relationship with God (1 Pet 2:9). Adventists also believe it is our role in the world to restore all truths and worship of God as Creator and Redeemer of the universe (Mal 4:5–6; Isa 58:12–14; Rev 14:6–12). Yet, in spite of huge investments of time, resources, and expertise, the Adventist Church continues to face great challenges. Although there are many external threats to the Church and its mission, none compares to the greater challenges that threaten the Church from within.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul alludes to two distinct challenges confronting God and His people throughout all time. For God, the challenge is to fulfill an eternal purpose of saving lost humanity (Eph 1:4–5). For God’s people, the church, the challenge is to live a vibrant Christian life while waiting for Jesus’ return (Eph 1:14; 4:30). The latter is crucial in view of the increasing hostility of Satan and his evil forces against the church at the end of time (Eph 6:12).
In Ephesians 1–3, Paul stresses the cosmic challenges of redeeming individuals who make up the body of Christ according to God’s eternal purpose of salvation (Eph 2:8–9). Underscored here is the astronomical gift of salvation as the sole act of God. Through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:4, 7), God took the ultimate risk to redeem us. The initiative was not an afterthought of God, but rather by divine wisdom was part of His plan for the redemption of the human race (Eph 1:4). In Jesus, God has forgiven us (Eph 1:7b–8), releasing us from the bondage of sin (cf. Heb 2:14). The basis for our redemption and forgiveness of sin—either of a willful or an unintentional sideslip—is the grace of God, not any good deed of our own (Eph 1:7).
Ephesians 4–6 zeroes in on the practical challenges faced by individual believers as recipients of God’s glorious grace (Eph 2:10). Paul argues that the unmerited and redemptive grace of God is the basis for obedience. He underscores several clear imperatives as ongoing challenges for Christians:
1. Growing in Christ. There is no substitute for spiritual growth. While the Christian life receives meaning and significance from heaven (Eph 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10), it is not to be a life devoid of earthly use. Practical Christianity fulfills God’s purposes on earth, enabling believers to minister to one another and promoting unity and maturity in the church (Eph 4:1– 16). Like going on a journey, we are called upon by God to live a life worthy of our calling (Eph 4:1), and not as those who do not know God (Eph 4:17–32). We are children of light (Eph 5:8); as such, we must grow in humility, patience, love for one another, and unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:2–3). Unless we grow to maturity, we will stagnate and die spiritually. Our failure grieves God (Eph 4:29–32).
2. Living by example. Yes, the world is sick with sin, injustice, and cruelty, but Christians do not wait for solutions; we create them!1 What better way than to live an exemplary Christian life? Actions do speak louder than words, and unless people are able to see that we walk the talk, the gospel we preach will have little effect. Paul urges us to imitate God and “live a life of love” with Jesus as our supreme example (Eph 5:1). Such love requires that all forms of evil (sexual immorality, greed, foolish talk, coarse joking, etc.) cease among us (Eph 5:3–4). As born-again Christians, we should bear the fruits of goodness, righteousness, and truth (Eph 5:8–9) and make the most of every opportunity we have to build up the body of Christ (Eph 5:16–21).
3. Maintaining familial harmony. Amidst what seems a trend of crisis for married life, we are called upon by God to demonstrate the sanctity of marriage. Wives are exhorted to respect and submit to their husbands just as the church is subject to Christ (Eph 5:22–24). Much seems to be expected of a wife, but much more is required of her husband. Paul instructs husbands to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph 5:25– 32). This admonition is for matrimonial unity, love, and commitment “until death do us part.” In Ephesians 6:1–4, children are instructed to obey, honor, and respect their parents. Here lies the secret of longevity, prosperity, and fulfillment. Parents need not provoke their children to anger (Eph 6:4). Sadly, some parents become a hindrance to their children’s salvation. They fail to emulate the love of Christ, make false promises, use abusive or belittling language, show favoritism, project unrealistic expectations, and fail to allow their children to grow at a normal pace. These behaviors often cause adverse and permanent scars on a child.
4. Upholding equity and fair play. More than any other denomination, Seventh-day Adventists should be at the forefront of ensuring equity and fairness in their dealings with people. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Even Adventist Christians succumb to human nature and discriminate between minority groups, races, colors, and genders. The admonition (applicable to all levels of the church as the body of Christ) is to ensure that our practices are in accordance with the great truths we profess so dearly. Employees are counseled to uphold a work ethic as to a higher authority—Christ—and not to work just to please men (Eph 6:5–8). In like manner, employers are cautioned to treat their subordinates with respect, not threatening them, for they themselves are subject to God and will one day be answerable to Him (Eph 6:9).
5. Living as victors. This is the goal of the Christian life. Victory is ours when we are adorned in the armor of Christ. This armor includes truth, righteousness, readiness to preach the gospel, faith, salvation, and being firmly established in the Word (Eph 6:10– 20). Living as victors will not always be easy. Ellen G. White observes the following hallmarks of overcomers in Christ:
When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason.2
Those who would be victors should contemplate and count the cost of salvation. Strong human passions must be subdued; the independent will must be brought into captivity to Christ. The Christian is to realize that he is not his own. He will have temptations to resist, and battles to fight against his own inclinations; for the Lord will accept no half-way service. Hypocrisy is an abomination to Him. The follower of Christ must walk by faith, as seeing Him who is invisible. Christ will be his dearest treasure, his all and in all.3
The unmerited privileges God lavishes upon us come with great responsibility. Taking stock of our spiritual journey is a vital aspect of responsible stewardship. We can ask ourselves several questions:
- Are we constantly growing each day in Christ?
- Is the life of Jesus seen in us?
- Does the undying love of God have a positive impact on our familial relationships?
- Do we uphold equity and fair play in our dealings with others?
- Are we victors in Christ?
It seems obvious that Paul’s epistle to Ephesus stretches beyond his time to include every child of God today. The fruition of a vibrant and living experience with Christ will be an excellent indicator of a salvific relationship with God. Although we will constantly face challenges, our Christian life, transformed by divine grace, must remain a lifetime experience of constant trust and faith in God until the day of our redemption. May this be our experience!
1 A. J. Schuler, “How to Lead by Example: Ten Rules for Working and Living,” Schuler Solutions (accessed July 24, 2009).
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1882), 5:136.
3 Ellen G. White, God’s Amazing Grace (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1973), 271.
Limoni Manu O’Uiha writes from Palmerston North, New Zealand.