3 Characteristics of a True Christian (Ephesians 1:1)

I meant to bypass writing about this introduction. I wanted to rush headlong into the “juicy stuff”.  But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe my maturity is starting to show. Or, more likely, my conviction that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching…” kept me from overlooking this verse full of rich insight.

Ephesians 1:1
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:”

In this first verse, it is easy to see that Paul is telling us a couple of things. We learn that he wrote the Epistle and that he wrote it to a specific audience – the audience being the “saints” at Ephesus.
But, more than that, we learn three key characteristics of what it means to be a Christian.

1. Christians are saints

When we encounter the word “saint” in the Bible, it has a different meaning than what the world usually understands it to mean. Generally speaking, they think a saint is someone who has a halo around their head. Someone who wears pure white robes and goes around saying nothing but “bless you brother”. To the world, a “saint” is someone who is a “good person”.
As I’ve already said, this is not the idea we get from the Bible. In the Bible to be a saint simply means to be “set apart”. It is something that God does to us, rather than what we do ourselves.
We know this by doing a quick word study. The same word (“αγιος”) that is used in this verse is also used in many other passages to mean “holy” – which can be translated as “set apart”.  In John 17 Jesus prays and uses the same word “αγιος” but this time it is translated “sanctify”: “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”  In this prayer, Jesus wasn’t asking to become holier. Jesus was already perfectly holy! Rather, Jesus expressed that He was setting Himself “apart” for the duty of atoning for our sins so that we could become “set apart” for God too.
This may all seem a bit wordy, but all I’m trying to say is that the Biblical idea of the word “saint” clearly means “set apart”. Christians are set apart by God. That’s what we learn here.
Later in Ephesians, we learn why God set us apart and for what purpose (hint 2:9-10).

2. Christians are faithful

Paul then speaks of the believers at Ephesus as being “faithful”.  It is in this phrase that we find our second characteristic of what being a Christian is. Christians are faithful.
With this word, Paul has two ideas in mind. The primary thought is that of “exercising faith”. That is, a Christian is someone who has heard the Gospel and has then put their faith in Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. Or, another way to say it, they have “exercised”, or “placed” their faith in Jesus to be their Lord and Saviour. In this thought of “exercising faith”, there are three subparts.

  1. Intellectual
    The Gospel is information, therefore for faith to be placed upon it, one needs to understand it.
  2. Emotional 
    Once the information of the Gospel is understood rightly, it will have an emotional impact. It can not just be shrugged off as a mere tidbit of interesting facts. The Gospel is the personal account of the only person to ever not deserve death choosing to die in place for every Christian who did rightfully deserve death. Once this is understood, it touches our heart and causes us to be drawn to God by love.
  3. Volitional (action)
    Lastly, having intellectually understood the Gospel and being emotionally stirred, we then come to the third part – our response. This is where we put our “faith into action”. This is where we willingly choose to make a personal commitment to Christ.
    James Boice writes: “There is a beautiful example of this third element in the conversion of Thomas as recorded in John 20. At first Thomas had refused to believe, but then Jesus appeared to him. Jesus did more than convince Thomas intellectually of the truths of the atonement and resurrection—he also touched his heart—and Thomas immediately made a commitment, declaring, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28).

The second idea of the word “faithful” is “to continue in the faith”. Or, as some would say, “keep the faith”. The idea is that of enduring to the end. In Matthew 10:22 Jesus said: “the one who has endured to the end who will be saved”. Therefore, we can say a true Christian is one who has exercised their faith in Christ and will keep their faith in Christ till the very end.

3. Christians are in Christ

Our last phrase to consider is “in Christ”. We will come upon this idea again throughout Ephesians and, we may spend more time exploring it then. But, for now, suffice it to say this phrase means more than just exercising your faith in Christ or “being saved by Christ”. It means being joined to Christ. That is, we share our life with Him, and He shares His life with us. Our life source is Him. If we were without Him, then our situation would be hopeless. But! With Him, our situation is beyond incredible and blessed – as we will see as we continue through Ephesians.

I look forward to writing more about Ephesians in the near future!  Hope this encouraged you to spend more time in Gods Word and maybe reread over Ephesians and then share your thoughts in the comments below.

Lastly, I just want to note that I relied heavily on James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on Ephesians, and so a lot of the thoughts in this post are originally his.


  • James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988),

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