04/06/2015

Spiritual Blessings in Christ (Questions & Answers)

(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (4) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love (5) he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (6) to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

(7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (8) that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, (9) he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, (10) to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (11) In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (12) in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

(13) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (14) who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3–14).

Introduction
In the original Greek these verses make up one complex sentence (202 words). There are no commas or full stops. There is simply blessing upon blessing. Commentators have described it as ‘a golden chain of many links’ or ‘a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colours’.[1] William Hendriksen says ‘the sentence begins with “blessed be” or “praise be” and rolls on and on like a snowball tumbling down a hill, picking up volume as it descends’.[2] In many ways, this portion of Scripture is like a prayer or hymn of gratitude to the Father for giving us such wonderful blessings in Christ by the Spirit. The prayer takes on a Trinitarian formula: we see the Father electing (vv. 3–6), the Son redeeming (vv. 7–12), and the Spirit sealing God’s blessings (vv. 13–14). Each stanza closes with the chorus ‘to the praise of His glory’ (vv. 6, 12, 14).

    1] Who is the source or fount of every spiritual blessing? (v. 3). God the Father is the fount of every blessing. He is the primary subject of the whole passage and all the wonderful riches in Christ are given to us out the Father’s deep love for His elect children. We don’t have a reluctant and miserable Father who is unwilling to bless us. On the contrary, we have a heavenly Father who is willing to lavish us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

    2] What is the most important word in this passage? What does this teach us about the believer’s relationship with Christ? The most important word in this passage is ‘in’. All of these blessings come to us ‘in Christ’. We are only blessed by virtue of our union with Him. John Stott says, ‘the phrase in Christ occurs eleven times ... [this] denotes a new principle of human solidarity. Formerly we were ‘in Adam’, belonging to the old fallen humanity; now we are ‘in Christ’, belonging to the new redeemed humanity’.[3] Since we are united to Christ, we can enjoy spiritual fellowship and communion with Him. All the blessings come to us when we are found ‘in Him’. There is no greater joy for the Christian than to found in the presence of Christ. We should seek to know Him more by spending much time in secret dwelling upon His word and fellowshipping with Him in prayer.

    3] When were we chosen? And for what end or purpose were we chosen in Christ? (v. 4). Paul says that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Geoffrey Wilson says this means that our salvation was no half-measure on God’s part: ‘Our election in Christ was no historical afterthought but the eternal resolve of unfettered sovereignty’.[4] From the heart of eternity past, God was resolved to save a people for His own glory.  

    God had a purpose in mind when He chose us. He chose us to be holy and blameless. Some people say that God chose us because He saw something ‘special’ in us. That isn’t true. The Bible teaches us that there is nothing special in us. In fact, Paul tells us later on in this letter that we were ‘children of wrath just like the rest of mankind’ (Ephesians 2: 3). God chose us unconditionally because He loved us from before the foundation of the world and desired that we should be holy people to the praise of His glory. One of the Puritans said, ‘It is absurd to think that anything in us could have the least influence upon our election ... God does not choose us for faith but to faith. He has chosen us that we should be holy, not because we would be holy, but that we might be holy. We are elected to holiness, not for it’.[5] The evidence that we belong to God is a life of faith and holiness. We must seek God and ask Him to create true faith in our hearts and to give us holy desires to live for Him.  

    4] Paul says that we were ‘predestined for adoption ... through Jesus Christ’ (v.5). J. I. Packer says that ‘adoption is the highest privilege the Gospel offers: higher even than justification’.[6] Do you agree with this? Give reasons for your answer. The source of our adoption is the predestinating love of God the Father. It is an amazing thought! God has loved us from the depths of eternity and determined that we should be His elect children and call Him our ‘Abba Father’. J. I. Packer is not saying that justification is unimportant. In fact, he would very much agree with Luther that the Church stands or falls depending on how it understands the doctrine of justification. As far as blessings go however, adoption is much more wonderful. God has not only saved us to make us right with him, but to love us as His own children. In the words of J. I. Packer:

Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge. In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice tasted death in their place on the cross ... Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs ... To be right with God is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is [far] greater.[7]  

The good news is that Christians are both right with God and loved by God. He is both our Justifier and our heavenly Father.

    5] Do these privileges come to us because we deserve them? (vv. 5b–6). No. We deserve nothing from God, save judgement and wrath. The blessings and privileges of being found in Christ come to us because of the Father’s ‘good pleasure’ and ‘glorious grace’. ‘When the Father chose a people for Himself, deciding to adopt them as His own children, He was motivated by love alone ... what He did was a result not of sheer determination but of supreme delight’.[8] We are saved and brought into a relationship with God by grace alone, not by human merit. Christians are to be a people of grace and so gracious in all our dealings with others. Having been saved by grace, how could we ever be mean, unkind, judgemental, or cruel to others? We are debtors to grace and must live in the light of so great a salvation.  

    6] What does the word redemption mean? How are we redeemed and how does this relate to the forgiveness of sins? (v. 7). Redemption means to purchase something or someone back. The Bible speaks of us as being slaves to sin and death. The Lord Christ came to redeem us from this bondage. The way of redemption is costly. The cost is the blood of the Son of God. This ‘blood’ speaks to us of the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord to redeem sinners from the curse and bondage of a broken law. The Bible teaches us that ‘in and through Christ crucified God substituted Himself for us and bore our sins, dying in our place the death we deserved to die, in order that we might be restored to His favour and adopted into His family’.[9] Our forgiveness comes at great cost. ‘In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins’. There is this linking of ‘forgiveness’ with the death of Christ. This shows that the remission, the removal, the cancellation of our sins and the penalty due to us is founded upon the price He paid for us. He paid the debt we owed.

There is a path of pardon
In His blood;
There is a sure salvation
In His blood!
The Law’s full consummation,
A Father’s approbation!
In His blood–
Atonement and redemption
In His blood! In His blood!

William Williams (Llanbrynmair) 1801–76

    7] Many people believe all things happen because of ‘chance’ or ‘fate’. Paul teaches us otherwise. He says that God has a purpose and a plan for all things. Who is at the centre of this plan? (vv. 8–11). The Lord Christ is at the centre of God’s plan for history. God will unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things upon the earth. Currently the whole universe is in bondage to sin and death (Romans 8:22), but the Lord Christ will put all things right again. J. B. Lightfoot says, ‘[He will bring about] the entire harmony of the universe, which shall no longer contain alien and discordant elements [sin, suffering, sickness, death], but of which all the parts shall find their centre and bond of union in Christ. Sin and death, sorrow and failure and suffering, shall cease. There shall be a new heaven and a new earth [wherein righteousness dwells]’.[10] One day, every blade of grass, every valley, every mountain, every galaxy in this vast cosmos, and every redeemed child of God shall sparkle with the righteousness of Christ for all eternity.   

    8] Legal documents in Paul’s day were authorised by impressing a seal upon wax. What do you think it means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit? (v. 13). How does this give us an assurance of final salvation? (v. 14). When we believe the message of the Gospel, having heard preachers expound the glorious truths of Jesus Christ, the Spirit comes and testifies to us that we are truly God’s children (Romans 8: 16), and if children then heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus (Romans 8: 17). Notice that this is in the past tense: we were sealed. This is a privilege belonging to every Christian. We are all sealed with the Spirit of God the moment we become Christians. He is impressed upon our hearts. It is not that some ‘special Christians’ have the Spirit and others don’t. We all have the Spirit. He dwells within us. That is what it means to be born again. We are made alive by the Spirit and enjoy the newness of Spiritual life. Regeneration, the application of redemption to our hearts, is the work of God the Holy Spirit. All of these wonderful salvific blessings are sealed, stamped, signed upon our hearts by the Spirit of God and the life of God now dwells within us. It is because we are sealed with the Spirit that we know for sure that we are God’s children and heirs to that great inheritance of the saints in glory. Paul describes the Spirit as ‘a guarantee’. In other words, the Spirit is a certain promise to us that God will keep His word and bring us to final salvation and glory everlasting. We must therefore pray for a felt sense of the Spirit’s assurance in our lives to give us boldness to live for God’s glory and to tell others the way of salvation. 

Practical Application
The refrain throughout this passage of Scripture is ‘to the praise of His glory’. Our chief and highest end is to live for the glory of God and enjoy Him for all eternity. These many blessings teach us to be thankful to God for His wonderful grace and to live lives of holiness for Him.

It is very easy to love someone when they give us nice things. Suppose I were to give you a million pounds freely, then you would love me in return. But what kind of love would this be? It would be selfish love. You would love me because of the 'stuff' you can get from me, not for who I am as a person. The happiness of the Christian life is not found the 'stuff' we can get out of God. True happiness is found when we delight in God Himself. We are to love Him simply for whom He is, because He is infinitely worthy to be loved. He is infinite, eternal, unchanging, majestic, holy, righteousness, most kind, most merciful, and most gracious. The many blessings God gives to us are helps for us to see something of His glory and the beauty of His divine person. But the blessings are not an end in themselves, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. These blessings must raise our eyes heavenward to see the beauty of God and desire Him above all. 'Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart' (Psalm 37:4). 


References


[1] John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Nottingham, 1989), p. 32.
[2] Williams Hendriksen, Ephesians (London, 1972), p. 72. 
[3] Stott, Ephesians, p. 34.
[4] Geoffrey Wilson, New Testament Commentaries, volume one (Edinburgh, 2005), p. 589.
[5] I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury (Edinburgh, 1977), p. 83.
[6] J. I. Packer, Knowing God: with study guide (London, 2004), p. 232.
[7] Ibid., p. 233.
[8] Hendriksen, Ephesians, p. 79.
[9] John Stott, The Cross of Christ: with study guide (Leicester, 1989), p. 7.
[10] Wilson, New Testament Commentaries, p. 594.