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To the Praise of His Glory…Amen!

“who is the downpayment of our inheritance, into the redemption of his possession, to the praise of his glory.”

(Ephesians 1:14)

We have seen this language already in Ephesians , but it is worth reiterating again and again. Why does God give us the Holy Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance while also bringing us into redemption? It is for His glory and his glory alone. It is not because we are special, loved, or otherwise worthy of this gift. It is because Jesus is special and loved and worthy of this and he did all he did for God’s glory (John 8:50). We do receive the care and love of God not as a result of anything in ourselves, but entirely because God desires to act in a way that he will be glorified and rightly so. It’s not about you and it is not about me; it never has been. It is about God and it is about His glory — we simply are given the privilege of praising Him for who he is and to be able to do that, God must change our hearts.

Humans, professing Christians and non-Christians alike, tend toward being self-centered and selfish. We wish to merit something before God and be seen as great in his kingdom. Recently I had a run in with a gentleman who proclaimed himself one of America’s most important theologians. My experience is that if you need to tell others how important you are, you probably aren’t. But it’s sad, because people often think in categories like this. People think that without such and such a person, the church could never do this ministry or that ministry. People think that without these big names within cultural America, like Ravi Zacharias  or R.C. Sproul, that the church could not function. And while I am grateful for men such as these, the church can do just fine without them. We just need to stop looking to human “superheroes” and start looking to our divine King, Jesus Christ. And we need to obey his commands as given in scripture. He will honor himself in and through us. 

Again, it cannot be said enough, we are to honor God and not ourselves. This is Paul’s point. As the old Christian poet put it, “nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” Or, more accurately, God brings me to himself as a slave bereft of anything that might make me desirable to Him and he binds me to the cross so that I may never be lost. And slowly, ever so slowly, he changes me, conforming me into the image of His Son. It is not because I deserve it and it is not because I can somehow cling strongly to the Cross of Christ. It is because He has done it in me for His own glory and praise. And indeed, I will give it.

I am His Possession

“who is the downpayment of our inheritance, into the redemption of his possession, to the praise of his glory.”

(Ephesians 1:14)

Do you notice the language that is used here? Paul is writing that as Christians, because of the work of Christ, we have been redeemed into God’s possession. His possession? What exactly is that referring to? 

In short, it is a reminder that when you have been redeemed from something you are also being redeemed to something else. No, we don’t become our own men and women. No, we don’t get to choose who we will serve. We are like a slave that has been purchased from one master and placed in the family of another master. Jesus’ work sets you free indeed (John 8:36), but not free from all things, free from sin and death, the greatest enemies that you face. But the believer is now brought into the household of God and given a new (and benevolent) master and thus, it is Him that we now serve.

This is one of those areas that the universalists and the Wesleyans tend to fall short in their theology. The universalist will argue that Jesus’ death applied to all of mankind, making the person free to be their own person and to live however they wish. The Wesleyan argues in his notion of “prevenient grace” that Jesus again dies for all mankind, giving us the ability to choose to enter his house and serve him if we desire. 

Yet, none of that is what the Apostle Paul is saying here. He is clearly stating that the faith we are given is a downpayment (assurance) that we have been redeemed (halelujah!) into God’s possession. We belong to God and in turn, have an obligation to serve and follow Him: obedience to our new and greater Master and Lord. There is no middle ground and there is no matter of me choosing this or that. If I am redeemed from my slavery to sin and death, I now become a slave to Christ and to righteousness. This indeed may not be a popular notion in our age of rampant individualism, but is the language of the inspired text. Upon which will you stand as authoritative?

Questions of Assurance

“who is the downpayment of our inheritance, into the redemption of his possession, to the praise of his glory.”

(Ephesians 1:14)

The classic definition of faith is found in Hebrews 1:11:

“And faith is the essence of that which is hoped for, the proof of things not seen.”

This is a definition which we have explored elsewhere and does not bear repeating here. The main idea that the author of Hebrews is driving home is that the faith given to us is part of the proof that God is working within our lives — proof to us and proof to the world. What follows, then, in Hebrews 11, is a series of examples from the lives of those with faith as to what that faith looks like when it is lived out in a believer’s life. One might summarize the chapter this way, “If you live boldly for God and for His Kingdom then it is an indication that you have faith and the faith that you have (as it comes from God) is that which affirms that you are genuinely a child of God.

Paul is alluding to that same idea here. Paul again, ties this idea of a downpayment (or earnest) with the notion of being sealed by the Holy Spirit in 2 Corinthians 1:22 and reminds us that this is once again a work of God in 2 Corinthians 5:5. Why a downpayment? That is simply because we will not understand the fullness of the sealing of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of our faith until we are glorified in the presence of our King and Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet, for now, God gives us a little taste of such things in this life through the faith we are given — and this is a big part of the assurance that we have.

Over the years as a minister, one of the questions that I have often fielded is that of assurance. “How can I know that I am saved?” people ask. Certainly, one of the places I go is to Romans 10 and ask, “Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?” Then I ask, “Do you confess that Jesus is Lord of your life in word by action?” Assuming the answer is “yes” to both of these questions, then my response is to remind them of God’s promise that you will be saved. Remember, our salvation rests in God’s will and power and not in our own. 

That said, people often want something that is more experiential in nature (not that a living testimony of Jesus’ Lordship is not experiential — it most certainly is!). So, in such cases, I remind them of this passage and of that in Hebrews 11:1. I ask, “Do you have faith?” If the answer is “yes,” then that faith comes from God himself and he has given it as a kind of “good-faith payment” to assure you that in the fullness of time, what he has begun in you he will make complete and whole. Though you see as through a mirror dimly now, you will one day see as if face to face. If you struggle with assurance of salvation, be encouraged by the faith you have, it is deposited in you by God as a sign that he will fully apply the payment worked by Christ on the cross and bring you eternally into his presence.