Hello and thanks for listening to Word Alive - I'm Mark Williams and Dr Derek Stringer is here to take us through another passage in this tremendous book of Ephesians. I'll do the usual thing of dropping in a verse of scripture or a quote here and there when asked. Derek is both an author and radio broadcaster. He travels a lot to preach and teach God's Word as the 'voice' for Good News Broadcasting Association - the team behind Word Alive and lots of other Christian programmes in more than 60 countries.
I'll hand over to Derek in just a moment -- but let me get this edition of Word Alive off the starting blocks this way.
An elderly man lived in an old caravan that was in terrible shape. The man lived in basic poverty, but he had millions of pounds sitting in the bank. It's one thing to live that way if that's your plight in life, but it's another thing to live that way when you have riches that are
available to you.
I think there will be a lot of Christians who go to their grave living as spiritual paupers -- never really knowing the riches they have in Christ. It's one thing to live that way if you don't know any better. But when we discover the riches that we have in Christ, it ought
to dramatically affect the way we live our lives.
Thanks Mark - and today as we look into the book of Ephesians we will discover the wealth that is ours in Christ.
The riches that are ours IN CHRIST are not based upon our performance. It's not based on
whether or not you had a good week spiritually. The riches are ours because of our position -- because of who He is, not because of how we've performed. So you may have had a bad week spiritually, but you are still in Christ. Therefore these riches are still yours because of who He is, and that's very important to keep in mind.
What Paul is talking about is true of every person who has trusted Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour. At that point, when you trust Christ, you are 'IN CHRIST' and you are
heir to the inheritance we have in Christ. With that in mind, let's dig into Ephesians 1 verses 3 to 14.
We are introduced to our blessings, and we can really unpack what is meant by those blessings.
Now -- WHAT ARE OUR BLESSINGS?
Paul praises God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because God has blessed us. That word for 'blessed' is a word that means God has poured out His bounty upon us. So he says, 'Praise to God because God has poured out His bounty to us in spiritual riches.' He then says, 'who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.'
Now -- WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL BLESSING?
I think there's a tendency to think there are those blessings which are real and tangible, and I can touch them and taste them. Those are the ones which are practical. And then there's the concept of abstract blessings, which are out there somewhere, and I know they're true, but they really don't affect my life at all. We might say those blessings are kind of irrelevant to life, but it's nice to know they're there. But that's not what he's talking about at all.
Spiritual blessings are those blessings that are brought to us by the Spirit of God that are very practical to everyday living. In fact, later on we're going to see the application of these blessings in a way that tells us they are very practical to the way we live out our lives every day.
The spiritual blessings that Paul talks about are those blessings which are in this
spiritual realm and he describes the spiritual realm as 'in the heavenly realms in Christ.'
When he talks about heavenly places, he's not talking about geography. He is talking about another dimension that is right here with us also. It's not out there somewhere; it's right here. But it's a spiritual dimension, and in that dimension is where Christ is seated in the heavenlies. He's on His throne, and we are seated there with Him. We are His children, and we are heirs to the family fortune. All these things that are true of us in Christ are true in this spiritual realm.
Now when you walk through the shopping mall, people can't look at you and tell the difference between those who are IN Christ and those who are NOT in Christ. They don't know that you have this incredible wealth in Christ.
Think about the invention of the radio, where there are all these airwaves in the air, and you just simply change the dial to tune into different frequencies, allowing you to tap into these different dimensions, in a sense, that are out there.
What if we could invent a machine to do the same thing spiritually and we could go from this physical dimension and re-tune to the spiritual?
What if we could tune ourselves into this spiritual dimension that's right here among us where the angels and the demons exist and where Christ is seated on His throne? What if we could get a glimpse, maybe just exist there for five minutes and really understand our incredible position in Christ -- who we are in Christ, and the wealth that we have in Him? We would be changed in such a way that we would never live out our lives in this physical dimension the same again.
Well, until we get such a machine invented, we just have to take Paul's words by faith -- that what he says is true. We do exist in this spiritual realm and all these blessings come from this realm and are true of us in a quite remarkable fashion in Christ.
What are these blessings? What are these spiritual realities? Paul is going to talk about them.
It might be helpful to know that from verse 3 right on through verse 14, in the Greek language it is one long run-on sentence.
203 Greek words to be exact. That's a very long sentence. So all the punctuation you see has been put in by the translators, to try and help us make some sense, or some order, of the sentence. It is very difficult to try to order and outline this section of Scripture. To me it feels like when you take a fizzy drink bottle and put your thumb over the top of it and shake it up. When you take your thumb off, the drink doesn't tend to come out in an orderly fashion. it just spews out all over.
We get the impression that Paul is so excited, because he is celebrating what is true of us in Christ, that he basically just pulls his thumb back and it comes spewing out, splattering all over the page. Therefore, it's not easy to outline.
We will look at it in three large categories to try and make some sense of it as we roll
through these verses.
The first blessing that he talks about, this bounty that God has poured out upon us is introduced to us in verse 4.
THAT IS THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION -- this biblical teaching that God chose us before we ever chose Him.
Don't you like to be chosen? Remember when you were a child playing ball, or a game with sides, or "Red Rover?" There were usually two captains and they would choose sides. They'd say, "I choose you." "I choose you." Kids love to get there and say, "Choose me! Choose me!" I remember one time I was playing football with some older boys and they were choosing sides, and I was the very last one chosen. Wasn't that great for my self-esteem? They chose everybody else and then one of the captains pointed at me and said, "Well, I guess you can have him." That's so hard when you are not chosen. I have good news for you though: In the most important choice that was ever made for you, God chose you! This is called the Doctrine of Election.
Look at what he says,
"He chose us in Him before the creation of the world."
Now what does that mean? The Bible teaches this very clearly, that before we ever chose God, He chose us. Before you were conceived, before your parents were conceived, before the earth was even created, God had already chosen you to be a recipient of His bounty. You say, 'Well why did He choose me?' The answer is: I don't know. I only know that the Bible teaches He did, and it's called the doctrine of ELECTION.
Now I know there's something within us that causes us to try to somehow figure this
out. How does this work? How does God operate? How does God go about choosing? But
the reality is that a finite mind, like ours, cannot fully understand what's going on in the
infinite mind of God. Nowhere does the Bible say we're supposed to figure it out.
The doctrine of election addresses the SECURITY of our salvation. If you believe that the
reason you are a child of God is because one day somebody made a pitch to you about the
Gospel, and you just happened to be in the right mood and responded to it, then you don't
understand your salvation at all. Because the Bible teaches that kind of thinking is a man centred, small-God type of theology. What the Bible teaches is that it is way more than that.
It has been a God-thing since eternity past. Before the earth was even created, before the
foundation of the world, God already had you in mind and you were chosen to be a recipient
of His bounty.
Some people try to resolve that by saying, 'Well, here's how it works. God knew ahead of time who would choose Him, and those are the ones He chose.' But that doesn't work for a couple of reasons. It doesn't work because that implies you deserve to be chosen,
because you somehow merited it. In other words, it would imply that God chose those who
deserved it. The point made in Romans is: 'Nobody deserves it.'
Another reason that explanation doesn't work is because it puts this chronology on
God's knowledge. In other words, God looks out. He sees you. He sees you're going to
choose. So He responds to that by choosing you.
And that wrongly implies that God isn't omniscient -- that He doesn't know everything. It implies that He learns something, and then because He learned something, He responded to it. But that is not true of God, so the explanation doesn't work. It's just an attempt to try and figure out how it works, but I don't think it can be figured out. I just know that the Bible teaches that God chose us, before we ever existed, to be the recipient of His riches.
WHY DID HE CHOOSE US?
He says He chose us that we would 'be holy and blameless in His sight.' Again, that is not talking about your performance. You may not have lived that way recently. You may not have lived very holy or been blameless. But it's talking about your position in Christ. Because of whom He is, when we were chosen, we were chosen to stand holy and blameless before Him.
When we talk about choosing then, we understand our security -- the assurance of our
salvation. I now understand it wasn't just something that I responded to one day, but this has
been the plan of God since before the foundation of the world and God has been carrying out His plan. And if that's God's plan, then my salvation is as sure as it can be.
Now I know sometimes people say that when you talk about security like that -- knowing that our salvation is sure -- that it can become a license for people to sin. They feel they can go out and sin like the Devil and they're not going to lose their salvation. But I've never understood that thinking, because security doesn't produce rebellion. Insecurity is what
When Pauline got married to me and said that no matter what we face, she will always be there for me, that didn't make me want to go out and have an affair. That didn't make me think, 'You know, she's going to be there no matter what, so I'm going to go out and be unfaithful.' No, the more security there is -- the more devotion, the more love, the more intimacy -- the more that relationship works. Our children don't rebel because they're way too secure. Our children rebel because they're insecure.
One of the questions that often comes up is: How did He choose us? Did He just open up a type of celestial phonebook and throw darts at it and say, 'Okay, those are the ones
I'm choosing'? No, as a matter of fact, it's a very warm, loving, kind process whereby God chooses us.
"In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will."
Those are terms of compassion and kindness. He chose us. He predestined us. The word 'predestined' means He predetermined us to adoption as sons. What does that mean? If the choosing is the category, within that there is this predestination -- this predetermination -- to be adopted as a son of God. We are born into the family of God, but when we are adopted, at the same time, we are made a legal heir to the family fortune. That's what adoption refers to -- that we have been made a legal heir to the riches of Christ. That's why we're called sons of God. That's not a statement of gender - it's irrelevant what our gender is. It's saying that we have become sons, because in that culture a son was the legal heir to the inheritance. So we've been all made legal heirs of the riches that are ours in Christ, and this was predetermined by God.
God has already predetermined what he wants you to become. He wants you to conform to the image of Jesus. What is God's will for your life? People say, "I want to know God's will." God's will for your life is to be like Jesus, who is holy and blameless. Granted, when Jesus comes back for you or you die and you go to be with Jesus, you're going to be like him, totally and absolutely-but, right now God is trying to change you gradually to be more like Jesus. Are you more like Jesus today than you were one week ago? Are you more like Jesus today than you were one year ago? That's God's will for your life to conform you to the image of his Son Jesus. He wants to change you.
I heard a funny story about an old American cowboy. He grew up on a ranch and had always
lived there. He visited the big city. He had never seen a three-story building or a lift. He walked into the lobby and was looking around. He saw the lift doors open and an old lady with a cane walked into it and the doors closed. He saw the lights blink a little bit and in just a few minutes, the doors opened again and a beautiful young girl walked out. His eyes got as big as saucers and he said to his son, "Go get your Ma-we want to run her through that thing a couple of times." That's exactly what God wants to do to you. When his lift comes down which is his Holy Spirit he wants to take you and change you to make you like Jesus.
What does it mean to be like Jesus? Does that mean I have to have long hair, grow a beard and wear a robe and sandals?" No. We're talking about the inner qualities of Jesus. If you want to know what those are, they're the fruits of the spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith, self-control as you are becoming more like Jesus. That is God's predestination for you.
We don't really know why we were chosen. Paul is just saying we celebrate the fact
that God has chosen us. One of the reasons we struggle with this whole doctrine of election is because we're determined to try and figure out what is our part in all this. We want to know what our role is and how we figure into it. This passage points to the fact that it really isn't about us at all. It's about God and His nature and His character. It's about His desire to
display this attribute of His, in such a way, to the praise of the glory of His grace. To do that,
He simply chose people upon which He would pour out His bounty. It's about God; it's not
about us. What God wants from us is just to receive it -- just to accept it and to believe it to be true.
So the first blessing Paul talks about is this whole idea of GODS CHOOSING -- which
helps us understand the incredible security of our salvation. It helps us live in a secure,
intimate relationship with God, and we celebrate these blessings.
The second blessing that he talks about is the concept of REDEMPTION.
"In Him we have redemption through His blood."
The word 'redemption' was not a religious term. It was a street term that came out of the slave market. As soon as that word redemption would have been spoken, the people immediately would have thought of the sights, the sounds, and the smells of the slave trade. They would have imagined a sight they had seen hundreds of times -- of people brought up on the slave block, typically in chains and shackles, to be sold. The master would take them and they would become his possession. So, for the master to come along and to pay the
purchase price to buy that slave and to set him or her free, was to redeem that slave. That's
the imagery they would have had when they heard the word redemption.
I think it's also important to remember Paul is writing this from chains and shackles in a Roman imprisonment, as he was chained to a Roman guard. So the idea of the chains and
shackles would have been very intense for him. But he's celebrating the fact that at one time
he was enslaved to sin.
We are all on that slave block. We are in chains and shackles -- and there's not one thing we can do to remove ourselves from that condition. Therefore Jesus came along, and the purchase price, Paul says, was His blood. We are no longer slaves.
It doesn't matter how bad your past. It doesn't matter what you've done in your past
or what sin you've committed. You have been redeemed. You have been purchased with the
blood of Christ, and you have been set free. How it must disappoint God when He removes
the chains and sets us free, and then we go on to live our lives as if we were still in bondage.
still enslaved. Some of you struggle with this concept of forgiveness, and you live in the
shadows of your past. You live with the guilt of past choices and past decisions, and it's hard
for you to get beyond that. If that's true of you, you need to notice very carefully what Paul says. He did not say that your forgiveness comes out of the riches of His grace, but according to the riches of His grace.
There's a big difference between those two phrases.
Let's imagine that there are two people -- one a millionaire, and the other earns minimum wage. Suppose the offering bag is passed and the minimum-wage guy puts in £10, and the millionaire puts in £10. Both gave out of what they have. But let's imagine that we pass the offering bag again. The minimum-wage guy gives £10, but the millionaire gives £50,000. Now they have given according to what they have. That means they have given in proportion to. So if God has forgiven you according to the riches of His grace, it means in proportion to an unlimited supply of grace. And if God has an unlimited supply of grace, then the proportion needed to cover your sin is unlimited.
God's grace is lavished on us. God doesn't want us to walk through life somehow trying to convince Him that we deserve to be forgiven, so we carry our guilt, and beat ourselves up.
We think somehow that's going to convince God we really deserve to be forgiven.
But God doesn't want that, because the point is: it isn't about us at all. This is a celebration of His grace. We are to let God celebrate His grace in us. That's what He wants from us -- just to receive what He's so freely given. That we might be redeemed and set free, and then live like we've been set free.
God will look at you and write across your life FORGIVEN the debt is paid." Gordon McDonald is a pastor and author. He said he had a dream one night where a bunch of people were walking around in a room. (like a party or something) You know how we all put
on these little name tags that say, "Hello, my name is ________"? he said everybody was
wearing one. His said, "Hello, my name is Gordon." Underneath that it said, "adulterer." He
looked at somebody and their name tag said, "Hello, my name is John 'liar.'" Somebody else's tag said, "Hello, my name is Mary 'drunkard.'" He noticed everybody in the room had a sin underneath their name. Everybody there was a sinner. Then, he said in this dream, Jesus Christ walked into the party. One by one he started taking those name tags off and started putting them upon himself, because that's what Jesus did on the cross. The Bible says, "He became sin." He carried our sins in his body and he forgave us of our sins. If that doesn't get you excited, you are probably unexcitable, because the Bible says, "Jesus has taken your sins. He has separated them as far as the East is from the West he has put them behind his back he remembers them no more he has buried them in the depths of the sea and he put a sign up that says, "No Fishing Here." He has totally, absolutely forgiven you. If that's not a spiritual blessing, I don't know what is.
Paul says he wants to celebrate God because of the blessings that God has poured out
on us. In CHOOSING us, God has predetermined us to be adopted as His children, and in
REDEEMING us, He has set us free from the slave market of sin.
Thirdly, he wants to talk about our SALVATION and all that is involved in that.
In all God's wisdom and understanding He's made known to us 'the mystery of His will.'
Now, a mystery in the Bible is not something that's kind of eerie. A mystery is something that was previously unknown, and God has made it known to us. Paul is going to talk in-depth about what this mystery is later in the book. But for now he just gives us a hint of it. He is saying that this mystery God is making known has actually been a part of His plan that He's been carrying out all down through the ages.
So Christ is seated on His throne, and we're adopted children of God (heirs to the family fortune). When God's timing is right, He's going to take this earthly dimension and this heavenly dimension, and pull them all together and sum them all up in Christ. At that moment, everything will become clear. Christ will be on His throne, and we will be seated with Him. We will understand the full extent of our riches, and everything will move to that culminating moment as God accomplishes His plan.
He's saying that in the past we were God's chosen people. God chose ( predetermined) us as His people. He worked through us, and poured out His blessings on the Jewish people. That is what has been. But then in verse 13 the pronoun changes: 'And you also [the Gentiles], after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation having also been included.'
How can it both be true that we have a will to choose Christ, but He chose us before the foundation of the world?' The answer is: I don't know. And frankly, neither does anybody else. But the Bible teaches that both are true.
It's very important that we don't emphasize one over the other. When Jesus said, 'Whosoever will, may come,' that was a legitimate offer. Anybody who chooses to believe in Him can receive salvation. You say, 'Well, how does that square with the fact that first He chose?' And my answer again is: I don't know. But I do believe they're both true. You have to leave them in this paradox, or you violate one or the other, because they're both clearly taught in the Bible. And they're both clearly taught in this passage.
Paul is saying that these Gentiles, once they heard the message of God's salvation,
responded to it. They believed it. 'Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
To be sealed means to have the mark on you that indicates ownership or possession. If I owned a possession in the first century, I would put my seal on it, and that would indicate it was mine and I possessed it.
The Holy Spirit is a down payment for our inheritance -- in other words, signed, sealed,
delivered. It can't get any surer than that!
Paul is saying, 'The Spirit of God is the down payment. My mark is on you. You're My possession. I've put down the money and you are Mine. And I am going to redeem you as My possession to the glory of God.'
Those are tremendous words, because God is doing everything He can to tell us, 'You're Mine. I bought you. I've adopted you. I chose you. I redeemed you. You belong to Me. I chose Old Testament Israel and I worked out My will in them. And now I've chosen the Gentiles, and you're My possession. You're coming together with them, and in the fullness of time, all of this is going to be summed up in Christ.' These spiritual realities will become fully known in a way we can't even imagine.
Why would God do this? Why would God pour out His bounty upon us?
The answer is found in verse 6: 'To the praise of His glorious grace.'
And verse 12, 'For the praise of His glory.'
And verse 14: 'To the praise of His glory.'
It's very important that we understand this is not about us. We have a tendency to make these things about us, but it's not. It's about God's grace and who He is. Our only part is that we are the recipients. We don't deserve it. We haven't earned it. All He wants from us is to receive it -- and then to celebrate it, that the world might know His grace and His glory: 'to the praise of His glory.'
How it must disappoint God when we go through life discouraged. Sometimes we complain that God hasn't been very good to us. God must look down from the heavens and think: What in the world is wrong with you people? Don't you realize that I took this bounty of My goodness, and I have poured it out upon you in ways you can't even imagine.
We're so spiritually wealthy it's beyond our ability to comprehend. He says, 'I chose
you. I've adopted you. You're heir to the family fortune. I've redeemed you. I've set you
free. I've put My mark on you. I've put down the down payment. I'm bringing everything
This is as good as it gets! We are so spiritually wealthy! God wants us, then, to
celebrate every day in light of what's true - to celebrate each day as the recipients of God's
Dr Derek Stringer has been taking us through Ephesians 1 today here on Word Alive. There's a free transcript available to your email address. Just ask for it and we'll be happy to send it to you.
Before we finish I'd like to mention that there's a special Bible Conference coming up soon with Derek Stringer and other speakers associated with Good News Broadcasting Association. It would be so good to have you attending - Just ask us for details about that too.
My thanks to you for joining us for today's Bible study - and I hope that you'll get in touch with us or join us again next time for Word Alive.
I'm Derek Stringer. My thanks to Mark Williams who is both Presenter and Producer of Word Alive.
And this is a Good News Broadcasting Association production.
Good-bye for now and God bless you.