September 10, 2017
It is not easy to immigrate to a new land. Some years ago there was couple who attended our church. They had won the green card lottery in Nigeria and were able to immigrate to the United States with a green card in hand. That meant they could begin working immediately.
2. When they arrived in the States reality set in. They had green cards but no jobs. In fact it was difficult to find a job. And it was difficult to pay rent and buy food. If you are going to immigrate to another country you really need a sponsor who can help you get on your feet.
Living the Christian life in this unchristian world is not easy. For one thing, the world has no resources that can help you live a Christian life. Fortunately when a person turns to Jesus Christ for salvation, those resources are provided. Today we begin looking at the book of Ephesians. I am interested in this book because it has much to teach us about the importance of the church. We are living in a time when the church in the United States is facing many challenges. As we look at Eph.1:3-14 we see that in Christ, God has blessed us with all we need for Christ-like living.
I. IN CHRIST WE ARE ADOPTED INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD. Eph.1:3-8a
Before I say anything there are a few observations to make about this book. First I want to call your attention to the phrase, “in Christ,” in v.3. The idea of being “in Christ” is front and center in Paul’s writings. The phrase, “in Christ,” or “in Him,” or “in the beloved,” or similar phrases, is found 164 times in Paul’s writings. In Ephesians we find it 36 times, and 23 of these 36 occurrences are found in the first two chapters. Our relationship with God is dependent on our being in Christ. Christianity is all about being in Christ. All that God does for you and me involves Jesus Christ.
A second observation has to do with the phrase, “in the heavenly places,” also in v.3. This phrase, “heavenly places” is found 5 times in Ephesians and nowhere else. When Paul uses the phrase he is not referring to a location called “heaven.” Rather he is talking about the unseen spiritual realm. It is God’s realm. In 1:20, we read that Christ is seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places, and in 2:6 we read that believers are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. In 6:12 we see that we wrestle against cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There is a lot going on in the heavenly places that is unseen.
In these verses Paul is praising God for his grace shown to us in Christ. Specifically Paul refers to our being adopted into the family of God. In v.5 Paul writes he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Why doesn’t Paul say, “sons and daughters”? Well, in that day, sons were more important than daughters. Sons were heirs and carried on the family name. Daughters were not valued as highly as sons. Paul wants us to understand that in Christ we become heirs. We are in a place of privilege. The spiritual blessings of life are given to members of the family of God.
You say, “Well we are all God’s children.” In one sense that is true. We were all created by God. But the reality is that every one of us has turned our backs on God. We might acknowledge the existence of God, but we don’t want God to run our lives. We prefer to live in whatever way seems best to us regardless of what God has to say about it. What is more we don’t like being called sinners and do not think we need a Savior. Our hearts are far from God. Because of this we are not in the family of God. In fact, according to scripture, we are all slaves to self-centered pride and sin.
So how does a person become part of the family of God? Paul says we must be adopted into the family of God. And just as earthly adoptions can be costly, so our being adopted into the family of God is costly.
In v.7 Paul writes, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” As we saw last week, redemption refers to being set free from bondage through a price paid. Sin separates us from God and always leads to death. But through the costly death of Jesus on the cross, our sins can be forgiven. Jesus gave his life for us, dying in our place. By embracing Jesus as Savior, Lord and King we are redeemed, set free from sin and death. We enter into the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. The blessing of being adopted into the family of God is received by embracing Jesus. When we embrace Jesus we are given his eternal life and we begin living his life in our daily life here on earth. What kind of life is it? It is a holy and blameless life.
Now I cannot move on without addressing something important. In v.4 Paul says that God “chose us” in Christ. In v.5 it says that God “predestined us for adoption as sons.” This is intended as something positive. But some find this troubling. “You mean God determines who is going to be saved and not saved? That doesn’t seem very fair.” Let me make a few comments.
1. Salvation always begins with God’s initiative. In the Bible we see that God is always pursuing us long before we ever pursue him. 2. There is no unfairness in God. God is more just, more loving, more gracious, merciful, and fairer than anyone of us could ever be. 3. Whatever you believe in regard to predestination, it must not contradict the words of scripture that tell us that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” And “Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” 4. I believe that everyone must decide for themselves whether or not to embrace Jesus. God has done everything possible to open the door into eternal life for all who will come. My theological views on this have changed over the years. I believe that God is able to allow for free will. God will welcome anyone into heaven who embraces Jesus Christ.
And that is the most important question. Do you know Jesus Christ? Are you part of the family of God? It is only by being in God’s family through Christ that we can live a Christ-like life.
II. IN CHRIST WE ARE GIVEN A WONDERFUL HOPE. Eph.1:8b-12
The gospel, the good news is surely about receiving life in Christ through the forgiveness of sins. But personal salvation is only part of the gospel. The good news of the gospel involves the whole creation. In Col.1:20 we learn that through Christ, God is reconciling to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” In other words, the gospel is not just about you and me. It’s about the entire creation. That is what v.10 is about. God’s plan is to unite all things in Christ, including you and me.
We believe that if we know Christ we will go to heaven when we die. And that is true in the sense that when believers die they are with the Lord. To be with the Lord is to be in heaven. But in the Bible we learn that our future home is in a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible talks about there being a new creation. In 2Pt.3:13 we read, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” In Rev.21:1 John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” We are going to be living in a new creation.
And the interesting thing is that this new creation officially began when Jesus rose from the dead with new creation life. Jesus is the firstfruits from the dead. In 2Cor.5:17 Paul says that if we are in Christ, we are new creations. In other words the new creation work of God has already begun in us because we are in Christ. We are being transformed and renewed because we have the new creation life of Christ in us.
In v.11 Paul tells us that we have obtained an inheritance. According to 5:5, this inheritance is in the kingdom of Christ and God. Our inheritance is our eternal living in Christ which will come into all its fullness when we are with Christ in the new heaven and new earth. But what does this do for us now?
Well, it directs our focus beyond life-in-this-world. In other words we are not living just to sustain our lives in this world. This world is a temporary home. This is why Jesus speaks about laying up treasures in heaven. This is why Peter says, that “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” We long for this place where righteousness dwells because the righteous life of Christ is in us. This future reality shapes the way we live in the present. Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Living without spot or blemish, at peace is exactly what Paul refers to in Eph.1:4. We are seeking to live holy and blameless lives. This way of living is more important than anything that goes on in the world today. As we live in this world and confront all the troubles and issues of life our goal is to live holy, blameless, peaceful lives before the Lord and others. We seek to live the kind of life that Jesus lived while he walked this earth.
III. IN CHRIST WE ARE SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. Eph.1:13-14
Before Jesus ascended to the Father he told his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans but would send the Holy Spirit who would live in them. And Paul tells us here that when we put our trust in Jesus we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be sealed? The word refers to the practice of using sealing wax. If you sent a letter you would seal it with your seal. The seal was a mark of ownership. In receiving the Holy Spirit God is putting his mark of ownership on or in our lives. We now belong to him. And just to be clear, from what I can discern, receiving the Holy Spirit is something that happens when we turn to Christ. It is not a special kind of baptism. It is not a second event that happens after we turn to Christ. Paul says, “When you believed in him you were sealed.”
What is more, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a guarantee or down payment. In other words, receiving the Holy Spirit is the first installment, so to speak, of our future inheritance with Christ in the new heavens and new earth. Our life in Christ is protected, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit
And if you read through the book of Ephesians you quickly see that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives and in the church. He enables us to live lives that bring honor to God. For example, in Eph.2 the Holy Spirit is seeking to make us into a dwelling place for God. In Eph.3 we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit. In Eph.6 we pray in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not dormant in our lives. He carries on the work of Jesus in us and helps us live out the life of Christ in us.
Every day we can open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us into the way of Jesus as we seek to live holy and blameless, Christ-like lives.
Earlier I mentioned the struggles experienced by a couple who immigrated to the United States. By the way, they live in Ohio and are doing very well after many years of hard work. In Christ we all become immigrants, entering into the kingdom of God. But while we enter the kingdom of God we continue to live in this world and it is a struggle to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in this present world. But God has blessed us by giving what we need to enable us to live like Christ. We are adopted into his family. We have a wonderful future to look forward to, and the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us. Amen.