How can I even be a Christian? Have you ever said those words to yourself? I know for me it seems like I go through seasons of spiritual numbness. And like everyone I have my hang-ups. My priorities can be really out of whack sometimes. I’ll set to fixing them and I’ll start doing well for awhile and then I fall back into a funk of disobedience. Then the guilt sets in. Then the questioning begins. Then the guilt gets even worse. And usually at some point during this time I catch a site of Christ and the gospel becomes really precious to me. I start living in passion again for awhile. Then we have another season of spiritual numbness. And then I discover another sin that I struggle with. And so I go through the same old process again.
Am I alone in this? If that’s the case then it scares me even more. So, how are you doing on those gospel binders? Keeping up with them? Feel guilty because your not? You are not as passionate about the Word as you should be and you know it. So what happens when the guilt sets in? Do you lose your assurance? How can I even be a Christian?
Thankfully we’re not alone in this. If you are a human then you are broken and you are going to be struggling with something. For believers in Christ our struggle is a struggle to be holy. It’s a struggle to be in practice what we are in person. We have been adopted, we have been made right in our relationship with God, and we have been changed. The question is what happens when you do not act like you’ve been adopted. What happens when you start looking more like the world than like Christ? What happens when your life starts looking like things have not changed?
I would say that these same questions were asked in the first century. We have all struggled with being holy and as we struggle with being holy inevitably we will struggle with assurance. Am I really saved? If you think that people in the early church did not struggle with assurance then look at all of the places in Scripture that are there to create assurance. People struggled in the early church. I am sure that as persecution raged in some places people wondered will I remain faithful? When we are struggling with assurance the Bible often prescribes the same medicine a healthy understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation. That is really what Ephesians 1:3-14 is. It is Paul’s praise of thanksgiving to God for the glorious plan of salvation that He has set and motion and will one day ultimately accomplish. God’s sovereign holy plan to redeem broken people in a broken world. Listen to the beauty of this passage. As we go over the first words let the truths that we learned in the first two sermons sink in.
We have begun our study on the book of Ephesians were we are learning that God fixes broken people and his broken world. As we have looked at the first fourteen verses—which is one long sentence of praise—we have seen that God does this by setting in motion a plan to fix our greatest problems. He fixes the great problem of our judicial standing before God by making us holy and blameless before Him rather than guilty and defiled. We have learned that all of these actions have happened because of God’s electing love before the very foundation of the world. We also saw that the great problem of our relational standing is solved by the adopting love of God which turns hell-deserving sinners into sons and daughters. The result—or perhaps the reason for--these two actions is that we receive grace instead of wrath.
Last week we looked at redemption. The first week we saw this mighty plan of God set in motion, last week we saw the plan take root in the work of Jesus Christ. We looked at the present experience of redemption--which, if you remember redemption means to buy back something. God, in Jesus Christ, has rescued us from the dominion of sin and the kingdom of wrath that we live in apart from Christ. But we did not stop there. We also saw the future experience of redemption. Someday God is going to make it all better. He truly is going to finish His work of fixing broken people and his broken world.
One theme that we have seen throughout this passage is that all of these spiritual blessings happen “in Christ”. Not everyone is made holy and blameless. Not everyone is adopted as sons and daughters. Not everyone receives grace instead of wrath. Not everyone is redeemed and not everyone will be redeemed. Some will experience wrath while some will experience grace. This begs the question—how do I know if I will receive grace or wrath? Grace is not something you earn. None of these things are things that can be earned or merited. But there is something that happens in the life of everyone that receives grace. And we will look at this tonight by answering the question—“how do I know if these spiritual blessings are mine”?
There is another theme that runs through this passage and really throughout Ephesians and that is that you cannot mess it up. What a great hope to broken people. If all of these spiritual blessings were up to me or up to me holding to some sort of standard then I would have blown it long ago. This will be our second question—“how do I know these spiritual blessings will really be mine”? But lets look first at the “How do I know if these spiritual blessings are mine”.
I. How do I know if these spiritual blessings are mine
This text that we are reading is an extremely difficult one to understand and therefore it is extremely difficult (at least for me) to preach. The first difficulty is in the first statement, “In him we have obtained an inheritance”. Sounds simple enough but there are actually three ways that we could interpret the word that is translated this way. As you might know the Bible was not originally written in English but it was written in Greek. The Greek language is quite a bit different than ours. And sometimes we run into interpretive difficulties—we do not know exactly the way we ought to translate a verse into our modern language. The word that gives us the problem is the one translated inheritance. It can mean either the lot which is cast or that which is gained by the lot. And because of this you have different translation. 1) One of those translations—and this is a common one—is the NIV. The NIV translates this in the generic way—“In him we were also chosen”. That is a possibility but it is probably either a reference to our second our third option. 2) Another translation the one that I use is the ESV. It translates it “In him we have obtained an inheritance.” The New American Standard and the King James also translates it a similar way. 3) And yet another translation the Holman Christian Standard translates it as, “In Him we were also made His inheritance”.
Do you see the difference? Is this text saying that we are going to get an inheritance or is it saying that we are the inheritance? Usually when you have an interpretive difficulty like this you look at the rest of Scripture and see what it says. Usually a good place to look is the Old Testament. Unfortunately on this point we are left no better than when we started. Both of these ideas are biblical themes. We see one of the frequent promises that God made in the Old Testament was that of receiving an inheritance. But we also read in numerous places that we are God’s inheritance.
So, which one is true? To which I have to respond, I have no clue, I lean towards the HCSB translation but am not certain. But what I do know is that it really does not matter as far as our application is concerned. Let’s look at both of these. Let’s say that it means that we are given an inheritance. What is that inheritance? God Himself. What if it’s that we are God’s chosen possession? That’s pretty amazing—but it results in the same thing God giving of Himself. So, the point is this same—God has set His mind that you would be deeply loved and be given the richest treasure of all—enjoyment of God Himself.
Now there is yet another difficulty with this text. Notice in verse 11 how it says, “in him we” and then in verse 13 it says, “you also”. More than likely the “we” in verse 11 is referring to Paul and the blessings that the Jewish people (which would have been most of the earliest Christians) were promised in the Old Testament. So, probably what Paul is saying is that “we” the Jewish people are given the promise of the Old Testament—and skip the rest of verse 11 and 12 for now. Then he turns it. Imagine being a Gentile in that day.
This was a huge issue in the early church and one that is a theme throughout Ephesians. In the earliest stages of Christianity it was believed that the Jew had a favored status to the Gentile. Yet, we see that this is not the case. Much of the New Testament is given to showing that the blessings of God are for all types of people. Here in our text it is doing the same thing. In verse 11-12 if you are a Gentile you would probably be thinking, “oh, that’s great and nice Paul but what about us”. Then verse 13, in him you also and skip through this…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. In other words you too have the Holy Spirit and the promises. In reality verses 11-14 apply to the same group of people—those that are in union with Christ. This is the same thing Paul said in Colossians—there is neither slave, free, Scythian, but Christ is all and in all.
Now, what that means is this. No specific type of person is excluded from the promises of God. No matter who you are, what you have done, or where you have been the promises of the gospel can be yours. But how? Verse 13 tells us.
1) When you heard the word of truth
The word of truth as Paul explains is the gospel of our salvation. Everything that we have been saying so far about election, adoption, predestination, etc. comes to fruition whenever we hear the word of truth. If you are in Christ at some point and time what has happened is that somebody preached the gospel to you. It could have been here on a Wednesday night. It could have happened on a Sunday morning. It could have happened at home on the television. It could have happened by you opening your Bible. It could have happened when somebody you saw on the street shared Christ with you. No matter the way it happened you are not a Christian unless you have heard the gospel.
As a side note this ought to motivate us to preach the gospel to the nations. Unless people hear the word they cannot be saved. We must preach the gospel! This is the means that God uses to save people. This is such a wonderful motivator when you understand the entire context of this passage. God is in the business of calling broken people in a broken world to himself. That means that there are some that WILL respond because God is in the business of redeeming sinners. There is nobody that is outside God’s ability to save. Therefore, preach the gospel with confidence.
But this also has application to those of us that have heard the gospel. This word “hear” does not mean simply that sound waves penetrate your ear canal. To really “hear” the gospel means that it takes root. It is like the parable of the soils that Jesus used. There are different types of hearing. The hearing that is described in this text is a hearing that takes root. Hearing results in believing.
2) And believed in him
Whole sermons have been preached at what it really means to “believe in Jesus”. There are stories in the Scriptures that show that some people “believed” in Jesus but it does not result in their salvation. In John 6 many “believed” in Jesus but then a few verses later we read that they abandoned Him and later some even would try to kill Him. So, this is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about. This type of believing is life transforming. This type of believing is believing what God says about who you are and believing what God says about His Son Jesus. It means believing that you are sinful and that you have sinned against God. It means believing that Jesus is the only cure for that problem. Believing in Him means trusting in Him. It means surrendering control of your life to Him. It means entering into a relationship with Him.
If you are in a relationship with God you know it. Something is different about you. It stems from what we learned in verse 11. There is something about knowing that you belong to God that changes you. As David Wells has said: “It is the inextinguishable knowledge of being owned by the transcendent God that forms our character, and His ownership challenges every other contender, so that we know that we belong to God, and that changes everything.”
If you are wondering whether or not you have correctly believed in Jesus a good place to look is 1 John. We will not go through that at this time but I would love to talk to you and go through this journey with you after the service.
To move the sermon along lets assume that you have believed in Christ. What happens at this point? How can you be assured that it will stick? How can you be assured that you really have this spiritual blessing?
II. How can I have confidence that these spiritual blessings will actually be mine?
There are three things from this text that help us to have confidence that what God has started He is going to complete. 1) God does not let His treasured possession go. 2) God’s plan cannot be thwarted 3) God has sealed us with Himself
1) God does not let His treasured possession go
Regardless of how we think verse 11 should be translated the point is still the same. God has either given us the inheritance of Himself or we are His inheritance. Either, way it is obvious as we saw in our previous sermons that God has chosen Christians to be His treasured possession. God does not let His treasured possession go.
One of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture is the narrative of Jesus as the Shepherd of His Sheep in the gospel of John. In John 10 Jesus speaks of being the Good Shepherd that lays down His life for his sheep. Then in verse 27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice (again notice the word “hear”), and I know them, and they follow me (this is the “believe” that Paul is talking about). I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” In other words nobody is going to take God’s treasured possession.
Well what if we decide to leave. I know a few Bible teachers that believe that no body can snatch us out of the Father’s hand but we can choose to leave. In other words you can become a Christian and truly be a follower of Jesus but then turn your back on Him and lose out on all of the blessings—the inheritance can be forfeited. (Now certainly forfeiting an inheritance is a biblical theme) But notice something about John 6. Our eternal security is wrapped up in Jesus’ faithfulness.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (Again, even in this passage we see the past electing work of the Father and yet the human responsibility to come to Jesus). For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” So, that means if the Father has given somebody to Jesus and they either don’t come, he casts them out, or He can’t keep them then Jesus has not done the will of the Father. Thus, meaning that Jesus himself has forfeited the inheritance. He is now a disobedient Son and nothing is left for any sinner to come to God. The entire fabric of the universe would be unraveled because God Himself has sinned. Jesus continues, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So, your security is not based upon your ability to finish the race. Although it does depend upon you finishing the race, it is not you that brings about the finish. It is Jesus. The Good Shepherd that lays down His life for His Sheep. If you are in Christ you will finish the race. He will lose none. If you believe upon Jesus then you can rest assured that you will be saved.
2) God’s plan cannot be thwarted
Furthermore, we see from our text in Ephesians another one of those jam-packed verses: “…having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Let’s take this slowly and see what it is saying. A good idea might be to try to define the difficult words in the passage and try to put them in our own words.
“having been predestined”. This simply means predetermined. Whatever follows we know that it was something that was decided before hand. None of the things that follow this phrase happened by mere chance they happened because God decided they should happen. Note who the object is here. It is “we who have obtained an inheritance”. That inheritance happens because we have been predestined.
“according to the purpose of him.” We know that the “him is God”. What is meant by the word purpose? Purpose is the design or plan. This is the plan that God has set in motion to redeem broken people in a broken world. So what we have so far is we have obtained an inheritance because God himself determined beforehand that it would be His plan to do so.
“who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” This is information about the Him that has put this plan into motion. It would be one thing for God to decide to do something. It is quite another for Him to be able to accomplish what He decides to do. What is the “counsel of his will”? Counsel refers to the absolute freedom of his decision and “will” really is pointing to God’s good pleasure. This phrase is another way of saying what the Psalmist said in Psalm 135, “Whatever the Lord pleases He does”. Or as Job said after finally being confronted by God, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”.
So do you see what this text is saying? It is saying that the God that does whatever He pleases is pleased to set his affection on broken rebellious sinners. It is God’s plan to fix broken people in His broken world. It is God’s plan that all that believe on Him will be redeemed. God has decided before the foundation of the world that He is going to do this great work of salvation and nothing or nobody is going to stop Him.
The implications for this are amazing. It means that there is nothing you can do to mess up God’s big picture plan. That is really comforting or perhaps that is terrifying to you. This means that regardless of who is President or even if our country God invaded by the Canadians and we all had to start drinking powdered milk and saying “eh”, God would still be on the throne. It means that he “works all things according to His good pleasure”. And if God has set His mind to saving you then you are going to be saved. Paul in another place says it better than I ever could. Do not rip this from its context. This is talking about our attaining the redemption. It is not saying you will get everything you want and that nothing bad will ever happen so long as you are a Christian. It means that God works everything out to accomplish His grand purpose—nothing will thwart that. Listen to Romans 8:28-39.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yes, the inheritance will be yours. You will one day enjoy God Himself.
3) God has sealed us with Himself
The last action of God that gives us assurance is the gift of the Spirit. And this is perhaps the greatest gift of all—the indwelling of the Spirit. All those that are united to Christ have the Holy Spirit taking up residence in their life. I know it sounds creepy and mystic but it is what God’s Word proclaims.
Notice our text when you believed you were “sealed” with the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit is promised because Jesus said He would give the Spirit to us. And what Paul is saying is that Jew and Gentile alike when they believed upon Christ have been given the Spirit. But what does the word sealed mean? It means to authenticate, it signifies ownership, and it makes something secure. What it means is that when you believed God gave you His Spirit to say—see this one is mine.
And this is what the Spirit does. He searches our hearts. He convicts of sin. He points to righteousness. He cleans us up. He preaches the gospel to our hearts. He causes Christ to be precious to us and sin to be ugly. The Holy Spirit makes effective all of those promises. The Spirit cries in our heart that we are indeed adopted. The Spirit causes us to make our calling and election sure. The Spirit does all of these things in our lives and a whole host more. Therefore, you are certain to persevere because God has set up His dwelling within you and He has made certain that you will finish the race.
And lastly we see that the Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. How we translate this last part again depends upon whether we are viewed as the inheritance or God is. It is either saying that the Spirit is our down payment until we are fully possessed by God or it is saying that the Spirit is the down payment until we have obtained the inheritance that God has given us; namely Himself. When it says that the Spirit is the down payment it means that He gives us a foretaste of what is to come?
So I ask, “Have you tasted”? Do you know what it means to be in relationship with God? Is the Spirit living within you? Do you belong to God? Do you believe in Jesus?
How do we apply this? First of all if you are not certain that you have a relationship with Jesus you need to be certain. The Bible says that the Spirit of God confirms that. If the Spirit is living within you then He will make it clear to you. A good practice is to go through 1 John and see if the Spirit is evident in your life. Pray that God might make it clear to you. And if you are not a believer then you need to believe in Jesus.
Perhaps the best application for a believer is worship. This is what we will focus on next week. We are going to take a step back and look at the entire picture of Ephesians 1:3-14 and hear the cry to worship that is evident in each of these grand truths. Specifically, this week be praising God for the assurance that He has brought into your life. Early we talked about the insecurities that we often feel. And I think God does that for a reason. He does that so that we might cling to Jesus more and more. Because at the end of the day He is our only hope. I am going to fall short and I cannot stand on my own righteousness. It is only Christ that we bring to me the inheritance. It is only Christ that will fix my brokenness. So it is to Him that we must cling.