Some time ago I was asked to serve in the wedding of a dear friend. In the wedding, the bride’s father was asked to pray. While those in attendance stood, dressed uncomfortably and in the August heat of Texas, the bride’s father began in eternity past with the communal counsel of the Godhead, then moved to the election of Christ’s church before the foundation of the world, then entered created time through the redemptive work of Christ, then came to the birth of the bride, then her effectual calling by the Spirit, then the preaching of the Gospel, then her trust in Jesus and baptism in the Spirit, and finally, the groom.
That was quite the prayer for those standing there. We were one blessed, but exhausted, wedding party that day! …
The Apostle Paul does something like that in Ephesians 1.3-14. Only here, we get to reflect, in a more contemplative way, on the basis for our blessing in Christ. Why should we praise God for every spiritual blessing in Christ? In this great, Trinitarian eulogy of redemption, Paul gives us three reasons:
The elective choice of the Father (:3-6). Blessed be the God and Father or our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
“Blessed” means “deserving praise, appreciation, honor.” This is not a wish, but a declaration! God IS blessed, and He turns around and shares this blessing with us, in Christ!
We get a very important little phrase here. “In Christ” is used (with its variants) 39 times in Ephesians. Ever played tag, kids? You know how there’s a base that operates like a special place? You stand in the “sphere” (the place) of base, and you can’t be tagged. That’s what’s its like, “in Christ”. God has moved you into the sphere of Christ, if you’ve trusted in Jesus. Your struggles take place in the material world, but the source of our power is in the heavenly places where Christ is.
The redemptive work of the Son (:7-12). This is the second reason Paul gives for our praise of God for every spiritual blessing in Christ.
In verses 7-12 I’ve circled three words in my Bible. REDEMPTION means “to set free on the basis of a ransom paid to God by Christ.” This is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ cross-work results in forgiveness of sin, because the Father accepts Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of Himself. The sacrifice takes places through the blood of Christ. In other words, the life. In the Bible, blood always indicates life. Pour it out, and you have death. All this is in accordance with God’s riches which He shares with us.
MYSTERY means “something in ages past, hidden in God, but now revealed.” This is what the work of Christ makes clear. It reveals what God was about all long, how rumors and prophecies of a redeemer told over long ages are true, and how God’s plan was set in motion by Christ. This included the bringing together of things in heaven and earth under the Lordship of Jesus through a new creation.
INHERITANCE … This tells of how believers enter into God’s plan. Our inheritance is by the purpose of God, because He wants to do it … To the praise of His glory!
The sealing of the Spirit (:13-14). The Spirit enters the life of the believer to demonstrate ownership by God. The picture is of a seal that functions like a signature. His seal, His ownership. We are His.
Notice what has happened here. The Father’s choice took place before the world began. The Son’s work took place in time, but before our birth. The Spirit’s sealing took place at the time we trusted in Jesus, … when you heard the word of truth and believed … . The Spirit assures us that we are “in Christ,” until Jesus comes for us.
Ephesians 1.3-14—really three messages in one, it seems to me—doesn’t strike me as a particularly difficult passage. But, there are things here that I find particularly difficult.
In my student days my group of friends knew a family who owned a lake house, and we’d sometimes retire to the country for a restful afternoon. Dr. Deibler, long-time professor of church history at Dallas Seminary, lived in the community. Long since with the Lord now, he must have been in his eighties then. One afternoon, we were lounging in the front room with Dr. Deibler in his recliner who was holding court. This all delighted him, so I threw him a question I knew he would enjoy.
“Dr. Deibler,” I said. “How does it work: God’s sovereignty and man’s free will?” His answer stayed with me and satisfies my mind to this day.
After letting the question sink in for a minute, Dr. Deibler lifted himself (with some effort) from the recliner and moved slowly toward the bedroom door. Before entering, he lifted his hand to trace the words on the doorframe above: “Whosoever shall enter …” Then, he passed through the door, closing it behind him.
We were left, wondering if, like Elijah, he’d passed from this life. Finally, after this dramatic pause, Dr. Deibler appeared again, reentered the room, turned around to trace on the very same doorframe the words, ” … But, for the grace of God …”
The picture stands in my mind as the most satisfying explanation I’ve yet heard of my responsibility in God’s plan of redemption. When I trusted Christ it looked for all the world like I was making a free and independent choice to follow Christ. And so I was, according to my new nature. But, when I entered the room of the sphere of Christ and turned around to survey God’s plan of redemption, it became apparent that God knew me all along. He has been at work for my redemption since before the foundation of the world and through His coordinated work as Father, as Son and as Spirit.
The reason we should praise God for every spiritual blessing in Christ is the elective choice of the Father, the redemptive work of the Son, and the sealing of the Spirit … to the praise of His glory!
Here’s a few questions to help you process this amazing passage:
What about Eph 1.3-14 do you find most amazing, even mind-blowing?
How does it make you feel to know that God was about your redemption even before you were born?
Are there parts about God’s plan of redemption that you still struggle with? Why do you think this is so?
How does this passage help you feel secure “in Christ”?