Category Archives: Ephesians

One New Man

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is the one who has “made both one” as well as breaching the dividing wall so that the two might be created into one new man. But who are the two being made one? In context, it is Jew and Gentile. Two groups of people who have had very separate paths — the Jews though, with the benefit of the Law (Romans 3:1-2) and all of the oracles of God. Whether they had the benefit of the divine revelation or no, both groups fell into sin and were under God’s wrath. Thus, Jesus’ death was to save both and to bind the two into one people — Jew and Gentile alike. 

This is one of the errors of the dispensational system of theology. They maintain that Jew and Gentile are yet two separate peoples in the economy of God’s plan. Yet, Paul plainly teaches here that we are made one. Chrysostom makes the analogy of two statues, one silver and one lead, being melted down and recast as a single, golden statue. It is true that the Jew had the great benefit of the Word of God (hence they are the statue of silver), but they were just as lost as the gentile due to sin. Both Jew and Gentile needed the same remedy and Jesus provided that remedy to both in the same way — the cross. And now he makes his faithful into one body. The analogy is not that Jesus has multiple bodies running about, but that he has one — and that he has one bride. Will Jews be saved in abundance in latter days? Indeed, just as Paul writes in Romans 12:23-24. Yet, notice that even here, Paul speaks about the Jew needing to cease in their unbelief. They come to faith in the same way that we do — God the Father draws them to God the Son through the regenerative work of God the Holy Spirit. Was that not being done in Paul’s day? Is that not still being done today? Indeed, it is.

So the dividing wall has been broken down. Paul speaks of the hatred or enmity of the flesh and the commandments of the law being nullified. Salvation is by the grace of God given to his elect though faith. Works of the Law do not earn us merit in the eyes of God. Whether there be circumcision or no; whether there be obedience to the ceremonial law or no, those dividing walls have been broken down in the person of Christ who fulfilled the law for his own people, making us one bride and one body. How is this done? It was done through the cross whereby we were reconciled to God and our hatred of God has been brought to an end.

Hatred? Yes, hatred. Jesus says that the way we demonstrate our love for Him is through obedience (John 14:15). And so, given our disobedience, what other word but hatred is appropriate. As the Heidelberg Catechism clearly teaches, our nature is to hate God and our fellow man (Question 5). In Christ, our hatred of God is broken down and the fruit of obedience grows freely. And so, one of the marks of the Christian is faithful obedience to God (or at least an attempt at it). Those who refuse to repent of their sins and obey the Word of God betray their unregenerate hearts.

He is Our Peace

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is our peace. What a wonderful sentiment to meditate upon. How often we try and find peace in matters of earthly security — wealth, a career, etc… Yet, our peace only ever will be found in Christ. The rest of this verse approaches the question of why Jesus is our peace, but it is worth spending time meditating on the notion that if we wish to find peace in life it will only ever come in Christ and by being in His will. Security does not come from men or from the works of men; it comes from Christ.

Paul, of course, is borrowing this language from the prophet Micah (Micah 5:5). Here is one of the many promises of a coming Messiah — in this case, one who would be born in Bethlehem and who would shepherd the people of Israel (True Israel that is). Micah 5:4 speaks of him shepherding Israel in the strength of the Lord and his people finding a place to dwell securely in Him. For he will be their peace.

Scripture is full of references like this — the final verse of Psalm 2, for example, that says, “Blessed are those who take refuge in Him.” Ask yourself, what steps have you taken in life to try and secure peace by the works of your own hands? How successful have they been? I would wager that they are unsuccessful. What is holding you back from truly making Christ your source of peace and the pursuit of Christ, wherever that might lead you in this life, the direction of your life? Often we confuse peace with comfort. The first is found in Christ alone and is eternal. The second can be worked with our hands but is fleeting and unsatisfying. Choose this day what it is that you will pursue.

Drawn Near to God

“Yet, now in Christ Jesus, you who were at one time far away have come near in the blood of Christ.”

(Ephesians 2:13)

“There is no one who comprehends; no one who seeks after God.”

(Romans 3:11)

“No one is able to come to me if the Father who sent me has not dragged him; yet, I will raise him on the last day.”

(John 6:44)

The drawing near to God is clear, obvious, and to be celebrated. Yet, we must always be reminded as to why we have drawn near. It is not because we chose to draw near to God; he has drawn us to himself. Too many people like the pride of saying that they have done so, that they have chosen to pursue God, or that they have accepted Christ in faith. No, my friends, that is not the case. We have been brought close by God himself and the means by which he has made that possible is by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Herein these words we also find the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophesy through Zechariah:

“The one’s far off shall come and build the temple of Yahweh and you shall know that Yahweh of Armies has sent me to you. It will be if you hear and obey the voice of Yahweh your God.”

(Zechariah 6:15)

Certainly, in the immediate context, Zechariah is speaking of the coming of Ezra and then of Nehemiah. Yet, there is an eternal fulfillment to these words as well. For all Christians are as stones formed by no human hand to become the greater Temple of God that would replace the temple which Solomon built (1 Peter 4-5). Truly, the latter glory of the house will far exceed its former glory (Haggai 2:9).

The True Church and being Citizens of Israel

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

One more note before we move to verse 13…what is this language about the citizenship of Israel? Is this a reference to becoming part of national Israel as some would suppose? What is Paul referring to here?

First of all, no. In Romans 9, Paul has already distinguished between national Israel and True Israel, the latter being the children of the promise who are the spiritual children of Israel (Romans 9:6-9). This, in context, is a reference to those God elected to save (Romans 9:10-13). In Galatians 3:29, Paul refers to all of those who are in Christ as the ones who are Abraham’s offspring and thus heirs according to the promise (a.k.a… Children of Promise spoken of in Romans 9). And thus, all of the promises of God to Israel find their fulfillment in Christ and are directed toward the Christian church (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

So, in the absolute sense, this is not just saying to the gentiles in the church in Ephesus that they were apart from the Jewish nation of Israel; this is saying that they were outside of True Israel and hence they lived amongst the sons of disobedience.

This raises an important point as to the significance of the church. Christians are not called to be “Lone Rangers” as it were; they were called to be part of a unified body with Christ as the head. Any time we are outside of that context, we find ourselves in a place of separation from the covenant and promises of God. Within it, those promises are meaningful and true, belonging to us.

Yet, in the west, we have embraced the notion of rugged individualism. And while that is an admirable thing in secular culture, it is an idea that is alien to Christian living. We have also embraced a form of commercial mentality when it comes to our church attendance. We go here for a while so long as the preaching pleases us and then we go there. That does not mean there is not a right time to leave a church, but leaving should not be predicated by whether you enjoy the preaching or the activities of the larger body. Leaving should be based on the question of whether the church which you are attending is a true church. If it is a true church, remain. If it is not a true church, flee to a true church.

What constitutes the true church? What distinguishes the gathering of the Children of Promise? There are three things found in the Scriptures and laid out for us in the Belgic Confession (Article 29): the pure doctrine of the Gospel is preached, the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and church discipline is exercised for the chastening of sin. If the whole council of God is not preached or if the doctrines of men are preached instead of the doctrine of God, then it is a false church. If sacraments are treated casually and not with prayerful introspection and commitment, then it is a false church. If church discipline either is ignored or if it is practiced to create a legalistic caste system in the church, then it is a false church. If the church leadership are confronted with their failure in one or more of these areas and they refuse to repent, then you are in a false church from which you must flee. 

They may have good intentions in that false body, but of what value are good intentions when the Apostle Paul condemns that church body as “accursed”? If you graft a healthy body part into a body where the whole of the body is diseased and gangrenous, of what benefit is the healthy part? Will it not too become diseased and gangrenous? If you cling to the doctrines of men, will they save you? Of what hope can they bring? 

While it is true that no church is perfect according to the standards of God, the question is, for what are they striving? Will they repent if their error is shown to them or are they committed and bound to human traditions? What is preached? What is taught? What is sung? What is their foundation? Shall it not be God’s word in all of these areas? Shall we set aside Divine Writ in favor for the ways of men? Is this honoring to God? I would say, “no,” and I would say that such an approach betrays the fact that you are committed to being outside of the citizenship of True Israel. 

If you are tempted to doubt the concept of True and False churches. Maybe you just see me as a grumpy theologian who prefers to sit in his own corner and grump (sometimes I feel like that anyway), then I ask you to look at what has been held by the church fathers through the ages. You will find that they would speak very much like I have spoken. You will find that this notion of rugged individualism is an anomaly when it comes to the history of the church. Look to the confessions, look to the creeds, look to the ancient councils of the church. Over and again you will find that they proclaim the same message, that in salvation we are bound to a body and that there are things that define a true Christian church body, separating it from the false ones. Sometimes it is a matter of doctrine and sometimes it is a matter of practice. But, believe whatever you want to believe “just so long as you love Jesus,” is a notion alien to the church in history and it ought to be anathematized today. 

Hopeless and an Atheist

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

Would suppose that most atheists would not describe themselves as “without hope in this world.” Many would consider them free from the rules and bonds that the Christian gratefully lives under — commandments that we see as freeing and that teach us how to live faithfully and joyfully in this fallen world that is around us. They would see the commandments of God as fetters to their absolute liberty. 

Yet, scripture offers a different picture. Of what value is hope if it is unfulfilled? Of what worth is hope if its only efficacy is your own work? Hope becomes an illusion and a opioid to get us through the day, yet without meaning or substance. The hope of the atheist is nothing more than that if he really works hard, he may or may not make something of himself in this life before he dies. Yet, this life is filled with disease, pestilence, and evil-doers. What hope is there in such a worldview? As would be echoed in the words of the American philosopher, Albert Camus, the only thing left is whether or not to contemplate the question of suicide. Or, in the words of Irene Luce, “Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.” While the phrase has been glamorized by film and novel, it is a horribly hopeless way to live one’s life and the mantra is little more than a smokescreen for a depressed and depraved soul.

So, yes, my friends, those without hope in God are hopeless in this world…and not just any God. Those without hope in Jesus Christ are hopeless in life and under judgement and wrath in death. A more somber picture one cannot paint.

Covenant Signs

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

The contrast between the Old Testament administration of the mark of the Covenant and the New Testament administration of the mark of the Covenant are profound. The first was made with blood and only on the males. With the bloody sacrifice of Christ being complete, the bloody mark of circumcision is replaced with the bloodless mark of baptism, also shifting from a mark on the body to a mark on the soul. The fleshly one being made with human hands but the spiritual one, though through human agency, being made by God himself. In this case, Paul is addressing a largely gentile audience and pointing out that this salvation that God has worked is doing more than just giving them salvation from their sins; it brings them into the covenant of God and the promises that are found within it — it makes the gentile a citizen of the holy city of Christ.

And so, a second change is being highlighted to these Ephesian Christians. Not only is there a different way that the covenantal mark or sign is applied, there is a different way that citizenship is received (and note that citizenship in the Roman world was very difficult to receive and was highly valued). Now it is no longer a contrast between Israelites and those outside of Israel. Now it is those who are in Christ and those who are not in Christ. With Christ comes membership in the covenant, citizenship in heaven, and the promises which bring hope.

Walk the Walk

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

As believers, God has created us to walk in good works. Certainly, the notion of walking in the Bible is often used to describe the way someone lives. When God is preparing the people to receive the Law, he instructs them that it is by these statutes and laws they are to walk (Exodus 18:20). In contrast, we are told that we are not to walk in the way of the Egyptians or that of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). God promises that if we walk in His ways, he will provide for our needs (Leviticus 26:3-4), but if we choose not to walk in his ways, he will bring panic and fear and disease (Leviticus 26:14-16). King David describes difficult times as walking in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) and Habakkuk speaks of the faithful one being made to walk in high places (Habakkuk 3:19). Finally, Isaiah calls the people to follow him into the Mountain of the Lord (Zion, which is the place of worship) so that God may teach us his ways and we may walk in them (notice that an important part of worship, according to the prophet, is to learn the things of God and live them out).

The analogy speaks to the mindset of the Christian. Walking is an intentional act. We don’t always do it perfectly — sometimes we trip and sometimes we get distracted and stumble — but it is something we decide to do. Walking also leads us to an intentional destination. When we get up to walk, we don’t let our feet just take us somewhere for the sake of walking, we walk in a particular direction that is governed by our minds. Even if we are the type to walk in circles or pace a room unconsciously, the walking is still a deliberate act.

For the Christian, the faithful life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a deliberate act as well. Jesus said that we are to obey all that he taught us (John 14:15) and that a disciple is one who does the same (Matthew 28:20). And, to be obedient to a law, you must not only know what those laws are, you must also strive to live them out. Too often people think of Christian obedience as something that is optional. People get the notion into their heads: “I am saved by grace, not by works, so I can live however I want to live.” They forget the statement of Paul that we are saved to a life of good works to the glory of God. Oh, and what are good works once again? They are works that are conformable to the Law of God.

Dear Christian, Jesus did not die on a cross to give you fire insurance. He died on the cross to redeem you from the fire and to raise you to newness of life — to make you a different creature than you once were before you were a believer (that is the context of this whole chapter!). And newness of life means that the dead works of the flesh are meant to fall away and you are to go about walking in the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in — most namely in diligent obedience to the Law of God. 

But what does this mean in a practical, and day to day sense? It means that your ideas about what is morally right and morally wrong should align with the scriptures. We should detest as morally evil all false worship, idolatry, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, dishonoring of our parents, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness. And, we should understand those things not only in terms of the letter of the law, but in light of the intent of the Law as Jesus interpreted them. We should love the brotherhood and sacrifice for fellow believers. We should seek to tear down every thought and idea in our own life and in the world around us that stands against the Word of God. This is an active and intentional calling, not a passive one. And, where there is no evidence of striving to walk in this way, there is no evidence of a transformation worked by Christ. True Christianity is not about sitting in a pew; it is about deliberately walking in obedience to God’s ways and not man’s.

Good Works

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

To clarify, then, the believer is a redeemed creation of God — God’s handiwork — and is thus at God’s disposal in terms of what he or she will become and should do. The “what to do,” Paul states, is that we are created for good works. But, what are good works? Or, to put it another way, what makes our works “good”?

As we might expect, the Heidelberg Catechism gives us a definition of what constitutes “good works.” Question 62 asks “But why can’t our good sporks be either all of or part of our righteousness before God?” In other words, is it possible that our works can be part of our salvation? The answer, of course is, “Absolutely not!” Our works are defiled by sin. Heidelberg answers the question in this manner: 

“Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be totally perfect and entirely conformable to the divine law. In contrast, even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled by sin.”

How does this question assist us with the proposition that Paul is making here, that we have been created for good works? To begin with, it gives us the definition of what constitutes a good work. It must be “perfect and conformable to the divine law.” Perfection is a reference to being free from sin and the divine law is the law of God.

To anticipate the objection…”How can we be ‘created for good works’ when ‘none but God is good’?” Indeed, this is why Paul points out that the good works have been prepared by God that we might walk in them. Paul is not saying that the believer does truly good works in his own strength or power. Yet, in grace, God prepares good works for us to do, places us in a position to do those good works, and then brings about the good work by His own hand through us, graciously permitting us to participate in the process. We are  like the child sitting on his father’s lap behind the steering wheel of a car and being allowed to touch the steering wheel. The father is doing the driving but we get to participate.

So, as we strive to grow in our faith, seeking out those good works which God has created us to walk in, what should govern our path? The simple answer is that the law of God should govern us. How do we know what work is good? We must examine the law and live by it. How rarely Christians do that, though. True, we are not saved by the Law, but that does not mean that the Law is invalid. It simply means that another has taken our place in the dock and will be judged by the Law as we deserve to be judged. Yet, as we seek to live out a life that is grateful to God for his good gift to us, our response ought to be to live according to the Law. And note…we don’t get to pick and choose, God gives us the Law as a whole and we ought to strive to obey it as a whole…part of which is keeping the Sabbath Day (as a whole day!), which has been almost uniformly ignored in the American church.

Christian, if you wish to live out those good works that God has prepared for you, start by practicing the Sabbath day as God designed the day to be practiced. Make it a day of rest and wholly seeking after God, not as an additional day of the weekend. See what God does with you from there.

God’s Handiwork

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

The word ποίημα (poiema) refers to that which has been made by another, more typically, a creation made by the hands of another. This is a theme that is present from the beginning of the Bible to the very end. God made Adam and Eve and God will remake us as glorified beings. God made the creation and God will remake the creation in the new heavens and earth. God is the potter and we are the clay. We are described as “new creations” in our regeneration as we are made believers and disciples of Jesus by the work of God’s hands.

There are two observations that ought to be driven home by these words. The first is that the created thing has no say over how it is created or what its purpose will be. The creator has the power and the right to make some items for honored use and others for dishonorable use. The clay has no rights over the potter but the potter has complete rights over the clay. We have talked a great deal about God’s sovereignty in election thus far, in the context of this passage, we can add to it the notion of God’s sovereignty in our sanctification. God has remade us and in that making, we are not our own. We belong to our maker and He and only He has the right to determine what we should or should not be doing. 

In a broad sense, it is good works for which we have been created. And you will notice that those good works were prepared for us beforehand. In other words, God does not create us and then say, “Hmmm…how shall I use this person?” God has a purpose and a plan and creates us with that purpose and plan in mind. To simplify the idea with an analogy, a regular screwdriver can be used for lots of things — prying open cans of paint, loosening jammed windows or doors, banging in a nail or brad. Yet, a regular screwdriver was not created to do these things; it was created to tighten and loosen screws whose slots match the slot on the screwdriver. When used that way, its function will be best served and it will last longer without being broken or otherwise damaged. yet, the company doesn’t just put material in a mold and wonder what is going to come out. They set forth to manufacture a regular screwdriver that can be used to tighten or loosen flat-head screws. God has made you and me in a certain way with certain purposes in mind. Our design is thus different and situated to our calling; we will live longer and more fulfilled lives if we live in accordance with that design. 

The second point that is worth noting here is that when God does a work of creating something anew, it is normally found in the context of redemption. God is redeeming the creation in the new creation to come. Even the remaking of the world as a result of the Flood is a kind of redemption — the land washed clean from the filth of sin. And, so when Paul is using this language, calling Christians a craftsmanship of God, a new creation, etc…, we should see this as a reference to redemption. Not just to our individual redemption but also to our redemption as part of the body of Christ. And so, as we think about the notion of being redeemed as a new creation for the purpose of good works, we ought to ask ourselves how we can best live out that role.

Don’t Boast

“It is not by works in order that no one should boast.”

(Ephesians 2:9)

Why would someone boast about something they did not earn or merit? I believe that it is safe to say that if we truly understood the notion of salvation by grace, boasting would never even begin to be a part of our vocabulary or mindset. We are but humiliated worms before the grandeur of God and he has chosen to bestow upon us something more wonderful than we can conceive. He has chosen to transform us from the worms that we are into men — glorified men in the image of His Son. And he does this at the cost of trampling His Son underfoot — the place we deserve to be.

Yet, people do boast. Sometimes Calvinists are guilty of thinking that their election was a result of who they are or something that they did. Even worse, sometimes Calvinists think that their election is a result of their church membership and that God has reserved a space in heaven just for them because of the long list of deeds that they have done in conjunction with their church membership. Such a view is a distortion of the Biblical doctrine of election and it is a perversion of what Calvin taught. 

The Arminians and Wesleyans and others who adhere to a kind of free-will, decision theology are guilty of the same thing, though. Many will brag about their decision to choose Christ or about the way they wrestled through all of the arguments against God as if they had anything to do with their salvation. They tend to deny election entirely or they twist its definition such that it becomes meaningless, making them deniers of the Word of God and rejectors of the notion of grace. 

Whether the Arminian error or the Calvinist error, salvation is not of you. It is of God’s grace through faith. And God chose in his sovereignty to save his elect in this way to prevent his elect, sinners as we are, from boasting. It is not the one who labors for salvation nor is it the one who chooses salvation, it is God who chose to save some out of his mercy (Romans 9:16). If works has anything to do with our salvation, then grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6). It is a merciful thing that God has done, you know, robbing us of any foothold for pride. Pride destroys and the sacrifice acceptable to God is a pure and contrite heart. 

So, if you find someone boasting in their election or telling others how they had decided to choose Christ, beware. They are either woefully ignorant of the scriptures or are ignoring them. Ask them to show you in the Scriptures anywhere that teaches them that they can boast in their participation in their salvation. It simply cannot be done. Then humbly show that person this passage. If we must boast, let us boast in Christ and in Christ alone, not in the things we have done.

P.S. and a vent… As I look back on close to two decades of ministry, it strikes me that on occasion (not very often), I have been challenged to answer the question: “What have you done in your ministry here?” When that is said it usually has been intended in a hurtful manner but it also vastly misunderstands the scriptures and grace. Yes, we are saved to good works, but those works, as Paul will explain, are prepared in eternity past for us to do — in other words, it is God who gets glory for them, not us. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that the good works we do are to be done in secret and outside of the eyes of men. The best and proper answer that we can give to those who challenge our ministry in this way is to say that we have been Christ’s unworthy servants. 

My point in bringing this up, other than venting for a moment, is to share my heart with you. Every faithful pastor does many good works as part of the warp and woof of his ministry. And, most of them will never be known by most of the people in the congregation. Further, that is a good thing. We have too many false pastors in this world that go about boasting over all of the things they have done, we don’t need any more. So, if you are tempted to challenge your pastor in this way, don’t. Instead, pray for forgiveness for making room for boasting in your or another’s life.

Kindness

“and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus in order that he might demonstrate in ages that are coming, the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

(Ephesians 2:6-7)

One of the distinctly Christian ideas that Paul mentions here is the idea of kindness. The word in question is the Greek word χρηστότης (chrestotes), which speaks of how one interacts with others. In particular, it captures the notion of walking with integrity and righteousness toward other people while also having a spirit of benevolence towards them. In other words, your desire is to see them succeed and whatever they are seeking to achieve and that there is no sense of animosity that would lead you to slight that person in any way for said success.

Conceptually, the idea is simple enough, but how rarely it is genuinely practiced in the western world. How often, what is found is much more cutthroat and much more selfish. Granted, in context, Paul is speaking of the way that God acts toward believers; yet, given that we are called upon to imitate God, this is one of the areas in which we should be imitative.

So, what is the solution? The solution is simply to go out of your way to practice kindness toward others. Not only will you be imitating God, but it will demonstrate to the world that you are different because of that relationship with God and perhaps, even in these acts of kindness, you will discover that your witness speaks volumes.

Raised Us Up and Seated Us in Christ

“and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus in order that he might demonstrate in ages that are coming, the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

(Ephesians 2:6-7)

Here we have one of those instances where the Biblical authors speak of something that is yet to come as if it has already taken place and is a reality in our lives. In theological circles, it is what is often called a “prophetic present.” All of this is based in the realization that God is sovereign and he has ordained all things since before the foundation of the earth. And thus Paul can say that as Jesus has risen from the dead, so have we. We have not yet experienced that reality in its fullness, but Christ’s resurrection is an iron-clad promise that we too, who are in Christ, will rise. And further, that the regeneration that we have experienced in coming to faith — our sin dead spirit being brought to live — is a foretaste of something greater that is yet to come, but that will come in the ages that are coming.

Notice too, the language about the riches of God’s grace. This, we have spoken already above, but notice the context in which Paul is making this statement. Just in verse 5, he has spoken of being saved by grace. We did not earn God’s grace, it is free to us. Yet Paul wants us to see that God is no ordinary benefactor. Not only does God graciously save us, but that he pours out the blessings of his grace to us in Christ. 

“In Christ,” though, is the operable phrase. Too many people over the ages have read this and thought of God having a storehouse of good treasures that he is waiting to pour into our lives if we just ask. They tell us of wealth and success and fame, and people fall for it over and over. No, my friends, these riches are riches that are found in Christ. They are the riches that come from a deepening relationship with him, not from earthly or worldly comforts that will be consumed or lost to time. God’s gift to us in Christ is one that grows and deepens every day of our lives, but if we are really going to enjoy the treasure that it is, it means we must nurture that gift with Bible study and prayer. 

Yet, may I humbly suggest that is the way we ought to receive any gift, or at least, that is the way we ought to show our appreciation for the gift. That we treasure it, that we study it, and that we learn the character of the one who has given us such a gift. If we would naturally do that with earthly things, why do we disdain from doing so with heavenly things? How often we act more like spoiled children, believing that we deserve the gifts of our heavenly father rather than realizing that we deserve nothing but wrath and that He has instead given us Christ and offered us the riches of heaven which we will one day enjoy, ruling alongside of our Divine bridegroom and Lord.

By Grace You Have Been Saved

“even as we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved —“

(Ephesians 2:5)

Paul will go on to further explain the final phrase in this verse…”by grace you have been saved. What ought to be said here is that this is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian church. To deviate from this means to enter into a world of cultic thought if not activity. No, it is not by your works that you are saved; neither is it by your good character, your good intentions, your good name, or your church membership — no, it is by God’s grace and apart from the grace of God, there is no salvation available to mankind.

How often we speak with people and ask, “Why do you think you will go to heaven?,” that an entirely different answer is given. People say things like, “I’m basically a good person” or “My family and I have served God in this church for generations.” The first statement is certainly not so (there is none good but God) but the second may be so; nevertheless, it does not earn you the right to claim heaven. You simply cannot earn God’s favor as your works are all and always tainted by your sin. Your offering of sinful works to God will be no better received than that offering given by Cain, who did so without faith. No, if you are saved, beloved, it is because of God’s grace and his grace alone.

And because it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that saves, then salvation begins assuredly with God and God alone. You did not choose to be saved; God chose to save you. You may perceive yourself as having “accepted Jesus into your heart,” but if such be true, then it is only because God pummeled the dead rock of your heart into a fleshy substance which he remolded and remade into something living. He did that, not you. It is not about you; it is about what God is doing in you, to you, and with you. It is all about God. 

Friends, cease clinging to the notion that you have done something to contribute to your salvation; it is a foolish and un-Biblical idea that only leads to pride (Paul will soon get to that). You were no more born again by your own choice than you were born by your own choice in the first place. Yet, free-will decision theology has run amok with the church. And so I say put that foolish notion off and let the words of the Apostle Paul define your understanding of salvation — it is by grace that you have been saved and it is not of works (not even of one little tiny work!). If there were an avenue for works in even the smallest of discernible ways, then as Paul writes in Romans 11:6, “grace would no longer be grace.” Oh, the arrogance of man when man claims something of God’s as his own.

Dead is Dead

“even as we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved —“

(Ephesians 2:5)

Okay, we have driven this point home repeatedly, but dead means dead and a dead man can do nothing to serve himself. Before we are born again, we are spiritually dead — commonly born dead on arrival in this world — and until God places sends his Holy Spirit into your sin-dead life, sin is all you pursue. Sin is all you can pursue. Sin is all you desire to pursue. Get the point?

Yet, notice the language about being made alive. God does not make us alive and send us on our way, no, we are made alive with Christ. In other words, our regeneration is not so that we can be spiritually alive on our own nor does it leave us to our own devices. Not at all. We are regenerated with the aim of being bonded to Christ and that works itself out in the life of the Church, which is the body of Christ. People today will foolishly say that they can be spiritual apart from the church. That is about as sensible as saying that a body part can stay alive apart from the body. If a limb is amputated, the body will go on living but the amputated part will wither, die, and rot. True, a digit may survive for a short time if preserved in ice…but it will only survive if grafted back onto the body (this is how church discipline is designed to work!).

Do not be misled, brothers and sisters. God has called us to identify with a True Christian Church. True, you ask? Yes, one that practices the sacraments properly as Jesus taught them, one where the whole council of God is preached from the Scriptures, and one where church discipline is practice for the chastening of sin. The Belgic confession says that if your church does not actively pursue these three things; flee for your life — your spiritual life that is! — and find a church that has all of these marks (even if that means driving a ways to do so — it is good for your soul). Too many churches will lull your soul to sleep rather than enlivening and enlightening it.

God’s Great Love

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,”

(Ephesians 2:4)

Many of the great truths of the Christian faith are found in these verses that are before us — truths about grace, love, and sin. Yet, this is a verse that is often misconstrued as model for evangelism. People will say, “God loves you, so turn to him in faith…” And while it is true that God is the very standard by which love is measured and that his love is great beyond all of our comprehension, Paul is not saying that God loved all people in this case. Remember to whom he is writing. He is writing to saved Christians — people who are already believers — people who have already experienced the love that God has for them through their regeneration. God, indeed, has a great love for his elect, and that is all that Paul is stating. There is love indeed for God’s people, but not for all people without exception.

So, why can’t we say, “God loves you” as a general call to faith? The simple answer is that we do not know who the Elect are until faith is demonstrated in their lives. When it comes to evangelizing unbelievers, we just don’t know and it would be dishonest of us to promise a reprobate soul that God loved them and sent his Son to die for their sins. Sometimes the same question needs to be asked within the church. I have known many who say the right things about faith and God but yet live like pagans do. Could they be Elect? Maybe? It is hard to tell. To God’s elect, we can extend the promise of God’s love with a clear conscience, to others, not so much.

But what about children? Doesn’t Jesus love the little children, all the little children of the world? We do know that is a song and not a Bible verse. And we do know that song better suits a Unitarian Universalist church rather than a Bible-believing Church. Don’t we? Nevertheless, when we are talking to covenant children (kids of parents who are believers and thus are being raised in the church), we can say, “God loves you” with a clear conscience because we believe that God ordinarily builds his true church through covenant families — that the promises of God are said to be given to believers and to their children. Thus, when it comes to covenant children, we treat them as if they are regenerate until they demonstrate by their lives that they are not so. And part of treating a child as part of the covenant is reminding them of the covenant promises that God gives by faith to his own — one of those promises being his love.

So, yes, if you are a Christian this day and reading this, God loves you with a great love. Yet, if you are not, the only thing that can be said is “repent and believe.” Just as there is no neutrality on our part toward God, there is also no neutrality on God’s part toward us.

The Mind’s Desires

“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”

(Ephesians 2:3)

Sometimes there are little nuances in a text that can almost go unnoticed as we read through them and this verse contains one such little gem. When speaking of being children of wrath and being under the power of sin, Paul speaks of us pursuing the “desires of the flesh and of the mind.” As evangelical Christians, most of us are used to hearing the language of the lusts or desires of the flesh as a reference to sin, but in this case, Paul includes the lusts or desires of the mind as well.

By those who reject the doctrines of grace, it is suggested that the will of fallen man is just barely free enough to choose Christ. This is the kind of synergistic teaching that is found in Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Wesleyanism, and modern Free-Will theologies. And with but one phrase, Paul refutes each and every one of these schools of thought. No, it is not just our flesh that is depraved, but our minds and wills too. We choose wrath and nothing but wrath until there is a gracious regenerative work done upon us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as John writes, Jesus did not entrust himself to men in the early days of his ministry because he knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).

You may remember that we discussed how in regeneration, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened (see discussion of Ephesians 1:18). What is important for the Christian is not to be able to discern our own will or what is right according to our own minds (that is the sin of Adam and Eve!) but what is important is that we learn to discern what is the will of God…for it is God’s will that is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Without regeneration, our minds will only desire what our flesh desires; one of the changes that takes place in regeneration is that our minds desire what God desires. Indeed, that is often a struggle and we will not ever achieve that perfectly until we are in glory, but it is to be our desire. At the same time, this means that a mark of a believer — and most certainly a mark of a mature believer — is that we love the things of God and desire to think as God would have us think about matters, not as the world would do so. A worldly mind seeks pragmatic ends that achieve the desires of the person; a godly mind desires the glory of God even at great personal cost or sacrifice. How great a contrast is found between these two mind-sets. How great is the chasm between the believer and the unbeliever. And, how sad it is when churches look to the earthly wisdom of those who do not strive to discern the will of God.

Children of Wrath in the Church

“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”

(Ephesians 2:3)

Paul has made his point already, yet continues to drive home its significance. How do you live? Do you live like a Christian or do you live like the world? Indeed, Paul makes it very clear that we all were “of the flesh” at one time, but now that you claim Christ is your Lord and Savior, do you still live according to the flesh? Are you known as one who makes decisions based on the Truth of the Bible? Are you one who is known for your love for the brethren, or are you spiteful and vindictive when you don’t get your way? Are you one who is known by the fruit of the spirit or are you one who is known by the works of the flesh? Does being a Christian mean more to your life than informing what you do on Sunday mornings?

We could go on, but the point is made. A Christian is one who is a Christian in both word and deed, not one who just talks the talk. A Christian is one who is known by their love for other believers and who seeks to be obedient to the Law of Christ in all things. And though we will not get things perfect all of the time — frankly, we will fall short all of the time — perfection is that which we seek. We won’t enjoy it until glory, but we should hunger for it here. Too many people go to church their whole life and yet never change in these basic areas. How sad it is when the church contents itself with complacency.

Paul insists that we are to live differently than we once lived when we were children of the flesh. And before our regeneration and conversion, we all were such. May we crave holiness and not the things of this world. Can you only imagine what our cultural witness would look like if we really lived like Jesus said we ought to live?

Prince of the Power of the Air

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

“The prince of the power of the air,” this is the term that Paul uses to refer to Satan in this context. When combined with Paul’s reference to him as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Jesus’ reference to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30), some have developed a theology that suggests that Satan is some sort of legitimate force that reigns in sections of this earth or peoples of this earth where the Gospel has not yet gone.

First of all, we should make clear that even in light of these references, Satan is at best a usurper, seeking for himself that which is not his just as Cain sought the blessings of his brother’s sacrifice. Satan also has no power apart from that which God permits him and thus God sets the boundaries and the length of the leash upon which the roaring lion is tethered. The Christian must be prepared for battle against him but should never fear him.

With that in mind, there is a theology that seems to rise to the surface periodically that is unhelpful at best and superstitious at worst. It suggests that until an evangelist takes the Gospel to a given location, Satan has dominion there. Upon what can that be based? God is omnipresent, is he not? While the Gospel has not been taken or received in a given location as of yet, that does not mean that such a locale is under the dominion of the devil. It simply means that Christians yet have work to do. 

So, why then do Paul and Jesus use language such as this? Certainly this is giving the devil more than his due. To begin with, the language of satan being the god of or the ruler of this world is meant to set up a contrast. Christians become citizens of heaven whereas the wicked are only ever seen as those who dwell in the earth (you see this contrast play out prominently in the book of Revelation). Thus, those of earth worship the things of wickedness and the fall, hence they turn to their god and ruler, who is none other than the devil himself. It is not a popular thing to say, but it can still be fairly said that unless you worship the God of heaven, you are worshiping the devil.

As to the language that we find here, we should see Paul as making a distinction between the air — ἀήρ (aer) in the Greek — and the wind — πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the Greek. Much could be said here about the uses of each word, but let it suffice to say that the Bible presents the former as being more or less inert and not affecting anything whereas the latter is seen as life-giving. Never once do we see air performing this function, it is just there. If the devil has any power, it is over nothing of eternal consequence and it will fade like the grass in the summer heat. The Spirit, in contrast, is not like air, but like the wind, and goes where he chooses.

Priorities and Life

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

As we have noted several times already, this letter is not written to people in general, but to believers in the church. Paul’s words once again reinforce that notion when he speaks of the sins “in which you once walked.” One of the most telling marks of a Christian is that the way they conduct their life is different than the way the world functions. This includes, but extends beyond just “good morals” and reflects a change in purpose. Those who live according to the world will live to serve themselves; those who are Christians will live to serve Christ first and foremost. 

There is a principle about which I have spoken for years, and that has to do with the way priorities are spoken of in western culture. For example, people most commonly say things like: “this is my first priority, this is my second…” It is my belief that we are not designed to compartmentalize our lives in that fashion. In fact, I would submit that we are only ever able to have one priority in life and that everything we do flows out of that priority. Further, I think that there are ultimately but two options: God or self. 

If God is your priority in life, you will still be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but you will be all of these things because you recognize them to be aspects of the way you serve and honor God. If self is your priority, then you still may be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but only insofar as those things serve your needs. The world says, “be true to yourself.” The Bible says, “be true to God.” which will it be?

Paul is writing of the change that takes place in the life of the believer. “Once we served self, now we serve God,” is the heart of his message here. Once we pursued the fashion of this world; now we pursue righteousness, holiness, and Truth. Once we served the devil, either explicitly or implicitly; now we serve Christ. Once we were numbered amongst the “sons of disobedience;” now we are called “Children of God.” 

Dead Means Dead

“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”

(Ephesians 2:1-2)

Shall we simply begin with the notion of being dead in our trespasses? One might think that this is but a simple phrase or idea, yet the consequences of this idea are far ranging in the life of the church today. So Paul speaks to these Christians and tells them that they were once “dead in their trespasses and sins.” Clearly they were alive on a physical level, and so, it is of spiritual life and death that Paul speaks.

Jesus says that lest you be “born again” you cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). John speaks of the believer as one who has passed from death to life and that the love of the brethren is the outward sign of this inward change (1 John 3:14). Similarly, Paul writes that those who indulge themselves in their pet sins are dead even though they are spiritually alive (1 Timothy 5:6) and that those who have been raised with Christ (a reference to the resurrection) will seek things where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-4). It should be said that even earlier in Colossians, Paul wrote of those who were dead in their sins (Colossians 2:13) and that those who are born again are rising from the dead in a spiritual sense (Ephesians 5:14…note that the language of being dead in our trespasses also shows up again in verse 5 of this same chapter). In many ways, it is a reminder of Psalm 80:18 which prays to God that he should give life to his people so that his people will praise his name — a reminder that another litmus test of genuine faith is genuine and sincere worship. There is no spiritual life apart from God and thus, prior to the regeneration worked upon us by the Holy Spirit, we are dead before Him.

The notion is a fairly simple one and one that can be traced through the Scriptures. So, why would people contest it? Sometimes they contest it even without knowing it. Think of it this way: can a dead man do anything on his own? One of the responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor has to do with caring for those who have lost loved ones to death. I do not wish to sound disrespectful or discourteous, but the dead can do nothing on their own. So, if we are going to extend the analogy, it should be vigorously asserted that those who are dead in their sins can do nothing to serve themselves or benefit their spiritual life; there must be a supernatural work of God that is wholly done by God and God alone.

Even so, many in the church follow more of a Wesleyan or Arminian line of thinking about those who are spiritually dead. Instead of dead, they view the person who is not yet regenerated as being spiritually very sick. They still insist that God must do a supernatural work, but they also insist that God only works on those who first choose him. But if a person is able to make a choice — if a person is able to do anything — they cannot be spoken of as being dead, can they? And thus, many Christians, hoping to preserve the illusion that they have a free will to choose or reject the mercies of God, will deny this very clear language that the Apostle uses, suggesting that “dead” doesn’t really mean “dead.” 

No, beloved, dead means dead and a dead man can do nothing to either aide or harm himself. And those who are spiritually dead are just that; they are spiritually dead, unable to either aide or harm themselves spiritually. A supernatural work of God must take place. And that means that God does not work because man asked him to work; God works because in his eternal decree, he chose to work in the life of said person, whomever that person may be. It is about God’s doing, not ours. He chose to save us, we did not choose him. If you feel as it you did choose Him at one point, it is only ever because you were responding to the work he was already doing in you. God is sovereign over your salvation if you are saved; you are not. To argue otherwise is to do a disservice to the text.

All things under His Feet

“And he subordinated all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of whom is filling the all in all.”

(Ephesians 1:22-23)

Paul continues his doxology by citing Psalm 8:6 directly, speaking of the language of all things being subordinated to Christ. And, at first glance, we might be tempted to dismiss this citation as simply being exalted language or our exalted Lord. And, if we do that, we will miss several important principles that Paul is setting before us.

The first has to do with the way that Paul is applying Psalm 8. Remember, when someone quotes a passage from the psalms (really from any place in scripture), then the author is directing us back to the original so that we might understand the citation in its context — in the case here, in the Old Testament Psalms. 

David writes Psalm 8 as a psalm that is designed to magnify God for his power in creation — he begins with the familiar language of “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” What becomes plainly apparent is that as we move down the psalm, we see the Dominion Mandate from Genesis 1:28 being fleshed out, but here, in poetic form. Man is given rulership over all of the creation as God’s regent. Just a note of digression here, as the psalms were meant to be sung as the hymnal of God’s people, this is just a reminder of how important it is to God that we sing theology. But, I digress.

What becomes immediately apparent is that Paul is applying this psalm not just to humans in general, but to Christ. Indeed, the Dominion mandate was given originally to Adam, the first covenant head and now is applied by Paul to Christ, who is the second Adam, the greater covenant head. That which the original Adam failed to do, the greater Adam does. He does it in part through his church through the Great Commission (hence the language of the filling at the end of this verse) and he does it in its fullness in the new creation. Thus, the work of dominion will not be completed by mankind as a whole — that would be appealing to Adam’s failed covenant headship, but in Christ, the successful Covenant head.

When we begin to look at both the psalm and this passage in Ephesians in this way, we will also notice that in verse 4 of Psalm 8 you also have a reference to the “son of man.” Again, if looking at Psalm 8 alone, one would simply apply this to those who are the children of Adam. Yet, with Paul applying this to Christ, it adds meaning to Jesus’ own self-designation as “the Son of Man.” Often we only think of this as an allusion to Jesus’ humanity or to Daniel 7:13, but we must also remember that for Jesus to fulfill the original man’s failed covenant and intercede for fallen man, he first had to become man.

Further, we find the language of the church being the body of Christ with Christ as the head. Much could be said here as to this analogy which Paul likes to use, but the most important aspect in the immediate context is that of headship. Jesus is the head of the body. That means, if the body is going to function and live, it must do so in conformity to the will of Him who is the head. When churches simply do what they wish for their own purposes, it is rebellious at best and outright dying (or dead) at worst.

It is true that sin often causes confusion within the body, much like a stroke does, creating a blockage between the brain and the rest of the body. Yet, that is not the ideal nor should it be something with which the church should be content. Indeed, the purpose of church discipline is for the chastising of sin, so that the body may behave like Jesus calls the body to behave so that it may indeed reflect the fullness of Christ to a watching world.

Jesus is King — Take Dominion in His Name!

“Which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and sitting him at the right hand in the heavenly places above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and every name which has been named — not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”

(Ephesians 1:20-21)

One of the beauties of Paul’s letters is not only is he a systematic thinker who lays out the depths of theology before the church of Jesus Christ, but also that he occasionally breaks out into benedictions. It is an ongoing reminder to us that while the Christian faith does have intellectual content, that content of our faith ought always draw us to bask in the awe that we have for our savior. How remarkable and amazing is our God! Truth about Him and praise for Him must never be made separate. As the Sons of Korah wrote:

“Great is Yahweh! Worthy of Praise! 

In the city of our God and on his holy mountain!”

(Psalm 48:2, verse 1 in English translations)

Yet, we must not stop here, presuming that this is merely an expression of Paul’s awe for our Savior. For indeed, in praising Christ, he lays out an important principle. The principle is that Jesus is enthroned over all creation. He is not waiting for some future reign as some Christians would suggest, but he already reigns from heaven on high. And he reigns over all things. He certainly reigns over his church, which Paul will bring out in the verses that follow, but he rules over nations and powers and authorities in heaven and earth. He has been exalted on high and before him every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ reign over creation is not that of a coming and future King, but it is that of a present and eternal King.

One of the sad things in the world today is that many Christians behave and act as if they are a people without a king. They are waiting as it were, but they see no royal authority in power, only chaos reigning on earth. Many behave, then, as if it did not matter how they lived and many more behave as if this world is a fearful place. My friends, that is not the attitude of the Apostle Paul. No. He sees Christ exalted on his throne and ruling over the world. Indeed, the enemy has sought to usurp power and hold territory that is not his own, but it is our role as the church to attack such ideas and to engage the enemy with the confidence that only comes from the knowledge that our King reigns over all creation — things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. We have nothing to fear in the created order — only Him who has redeemed us from death. 

Think about how radically our culture would change if the church adopted the mindset of the Apostle Paul rather than the mindset of the defeatists. At times, I have been accused of being a “triumphalist” in my theology. To that, I say, “so be it,” for indeed, if I am triumphalistic, then the Apostle Paul is even mores. Christ reigns over all creation and he has commissioned us to take dominion of all creation through the Gospel — by making disciples of all nations. Shall we take dominion over the creation in the name of our glorious King or shall we return to our petty squabbles, fighting to preserve our own little insignificant places on the rock we call earth? What will it be?

His Power toward Us — Those who Believe

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

Okay, time to make some people grumpy. What a way to start off. Here’s the problem, people in the west have bought into the idea that human beings are all part of a “brotherhood of man” and that as such, we are all children of God. And in that myth, our problem lies. While there is but one race (the human race), which makes the prejudices that we might have a foolish proposition, within that one race, there are two lines of people. There are some who are children of God and others who are children of the devil (1 John 3:9-10). What distinguishes between the two lines? God’s seed abides in his children and the seed of the devil abides in his. 

This, beloved, is what we call election, plain and simple. God has chosen some as his own and places his seed in them. We do not deserve this privilege nor did we earn it or choose it (Romans 9:16). It is a work of God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And why might such an idea make people mad? It is plainly taught in the Scripture? It makes people mad because they have bought into a wrong side — a wrong paradigm that makes God responsive to the desires of man — and changing paradigms is often a difficult process. In addition, this very principle means that the blessings of God of which Paul is speaking in this text, only belong to the believer. They do not belong to those outside of the faith. 

And thus, Paul writes, that all of these things which we have been speaking, through the power of God, have been “toward us, those who believe.” The unbeliever is not adopted into God’s household and thus cannot address God as “Father.” The children of the devil can have no assurance of glory and eternal life in heaven. The reprobate do not have light for their eyes that would give them spiritual sight — they are left blind so that they will not turn from their wicked ways and repent (remember Isaiah’s language that we cited above). And yes, people often get testy when confronted with ideas such as these. 

Yet, if you are a believer, then these promises do belong to you. What makes one a believer? We talked a little about assurance above, but it is worth going back to Paul’s language of Romans 10:9-13. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Indeed, there is much that can be said as we unpackaged these verses, but on the most basic level, there must be faith in the historical bodily resurrection of Christ. That does not mean you believe that he spiritually rose and “lives in your heart,” but that he physically rose and ascended into heaven where now he sits at the right hand of God as King over his Church and over his creation. 

Yet salvation is not just a matter of belief; it is a matter of confession that Jesus is Lord. That is simply another way of saying that Jesus is not just a King, but that he is your King and that you live your life in submission to him. That, of course, sends us back to John’s language which speaks of practicing righteousness or practicing sin. You cannot confess Jesus as Lord with any sense of integrity or meaning if you do not seek to live in obedience to His Law. No, we are not saved by our obedience; our obedience is the testimony that we are saved. If someone seeks to live life however they wish and cares not for what the Word of God commands of him, that person cannot be said to be a Christian and thus these promises do not belong to him. Sobering, isn’t it?

Being one of “those who believe” is not something that only requires church attendance from you — a couple hours on Sunday mornings. No, being “those who believe” is something that demands a lifestyle from you — one that is in submission to the Word of God in every way possible. No, we won’t get it right all of the time, but that is not the call. Our call is to strive in that direction so that our King is honored by the actions of those who profess Him. 

The Riches of His Inheritance

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

Following the line of logic that this spiritual sight gives us assurance of our salvation, how is this assurance the “riches of the glory of his inheritance”? Usually when we think of “riches,” we think of wealth and gold and things that bring us physical comfort and pleasure. Or maybe, we might put it more succinctly, riches refer to those things of value in our lives.

Yet, beloved, what could be more valuable than the assurance of your salvation? Truly, there is nothing. The snakes that offer you a prosperity gospel think that worldly wealth is what is in sight here, but worldly wealth is not extolled in Paul’s writings especially. There may be places in the Old Testament where such is extolled but those Old Testament statements and pictures are shadows of a spiritual reality that is more fully revealed in Christ in the New Testament. And Jesus clearly teaches us that heaven is the only place where our treasures should be stored up.

So, indeed, our assurance is of the greatest value of all. And in that we find the riches and glory (think, “weightiness” or “importance”) of our eternal inheritance. And, to those who point you to wealth on earth, remind them that God only gives wealth on earth to be used for the building up of His Kingdom, pointing men and women toward Christ.

Assurance of Salvation

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

And thus, when there is light in the eyes of your heart — when the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes so that you may see with eyes of faith and not with natural sight — what is the end goal? It is that we may know the hope of God’s calling. This is a matter of both confidence and assurance.

Assurance is a question with which many Christians struggle. “How can I know that I am saved?” people often ask. Arguably the two most poignant passages that can be pointed to are in Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 8:16. In the first, the prophet makes the very clear statement that the righteous shall live by faith. This passage, of course, is quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and then in Hebrews 10:38. The second passage mentioned above speaks of the Holy Spirit testifying to our spirit that we are children of God. Since only those who are elect to salvation are God’s children, if the Holy Spirit so testifies to us that we are God’s children, then that is a mark of the faith we have.

True, these two passages are somewhat subjective. Nevertheless, they give you a clear starting point. Look at your life. Do you live righteously? Or, at least, do you try to do so to the best of your ability? And, when a Christian brother or sister points out sin in your life, do you seek to reform that sin because you want to honor Jesus by the way you live? If this describes you, it is a pretty good indication that you are a true Christian. And, if the testimony of the Holy Spirit affirms with your spirit that you are a born again believer — a child of God — then again, you should take this as assurance.

In a more objective sense, 1 John also offers us a very clear indicator of the mark of a Christian versus the mark of a non-Christian. There are various questions about what one believes regarding sin, regarding the person of Christ, and how one lives out their faith. One of the most striking questions that John asks is whether you love your brothers and sisters in faith. John goes as far as to say that if you see a fellow believer in need and you close your heart to him when you have the ability to help, then God’s love does not abide in you (1 John 3:17). In the verses that lead up to this statement, John addresses things from the other perspective and states that everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and eternal life does not dwell in him (1 John 3:15). So, more objectively, perhaps, you can ask yourself, have you hardened your heart against a fellow Christian and are refusing to help him or her when they have need? If so, you are not a believer according to the Apostle John. Repent and sin against your brother no more.

Faith gives assurance, but that faith needs to be a genuine faith — one that affects not just the perception you have of yourself but also the way you live. And that is where the boldness of hope comes into play. Part of the reason that the Christian does not live in the same way the world lives is because we have a hope of something better. What is the world to us when we are promised both heaven and a new creation? Why would we even want to build our treasure here where it can be spoiled or taxed away from us? No, as Christians we store up our treasures in heaven. We do not allow our churches to function as businesses; we function like military outposts in enemy territory, laboring to tear down every stronghold that raises itself up against the knowledge of God. We have the boldness or confidence to live in that way because we hav the hope of glory. Beloved, if you are a true Christian, you will seek to store your treasure in heaven and not on earth. Be at work building the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.