Go with me again to Ephesians 1. We come now to the end of the Bible’s longest sentence which runs from verse 3 through verse 14.
I’ll read Ephesians 1:11-14.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)
Dear Heavenly Father, we have all learned that this present life comes with many disappointments. But we also know, through your Word and Spirit, that we can have hope for something far greater. Even today, you have given us your Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance to come. Let that be a comfort to us. No matter what struggles that we might face, renew our hope for that better kingdom to come, a kingdom united in Christ. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
The Fullness of Time
Paul has now taken us through the past and present aspects of our salvation. In the past, God “chose us in him … he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:4-5). In the present, “we have redemption through [Christ’s] blood” and all of the great riches which God lavishes upon us (Eph 1:7).
We may think of redemption in the past tense because Christ died so long ago, but the Bible doesn’t present it that way. Turn over to Ephesians 2. In verse 5, Paul says, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5). Obviously, Christ procured our redemption, our salvation long ago, but the Bible doesn’t present a sinner as saved until God personally redeems him. He must first be called out darkness and justified by faith in Christ. Verse 8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).
Better yet, consider Romans 3 where Paul writes:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)
In his account of the gospel, John wrote, “To all who did receive him [that is, Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). On the one hand, God has always known his children because he chose them for adoption even before the foundation of the world. On the other hand, they cannot officially become his children until the righteousness of Christ is applied to them at the moment of faith. As Paul said, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Ro 1:17). Another possible translation would be: “The righteousness of God is revealed in faith from beginning to end.”
I make this point because I don’t want us to think of our salvation as some mystical concept of which we’re far removed. God’s people are not going to wake up in heaven one day, thinking to themselves, Well, what do you know? Christ saved me.
No, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). Paul said, “The Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus…. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Ro 8:2; 16). That is a personal, experiential reality for the redeemed in Christ.
In one sense, God’s people have always been saved. In another, we are still being saved. Ultimately, however, our salvation won’t be complete until the return of Christ, which is what Paul brings to our attention here. So the history of redemption has three phases: past, present, and future, though Paul rolls them all together in this text.
Technically, Paul began his summary of what is to come in verse 10. He said that once the “fullness of time” has come, Christ will “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). He’s pointing to our divine inheritance as God’s redeemed family.
As I said last time, history is continually moving toward its climax when everyone will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” and “new heavens and a new earth” will become the permanent home of those whose names are found in “the book of life” (2Co 5:10; 2Pe 3:13; Rev 20:12).
Paul says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance” (Eph 1:11). Once again, let’s not overlook that tiny phrase which Paul uses several times even within this one passage. We are blessed “in Christ” (Eph 1:3). God “chose us in him” (Eph 1:4). “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph 1:7). God’s purpose is “set forth in Christ” (Eph 1:9). He repeats it a total of six, maybe seven times in what was originally one sentence. It must be important.
No matter what aspect of our salvation that Paul mentions, he consistently anchors the thought in Jesus Christ. Our election is in Jesus Christ. Our redemption and forgiveness are in Jesus Christ. Our calling is in Jesus Christ. Our hope and faith are in Jesus Christ. Our eternal reward is in Jesus Christ. The entire scope of salvation depends on Jesus Christ.
So God chose a people, and those people believe in him, but that’s not enough. God’s justice must still be satisfied. The penalty for our sin must be paid. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1Co 6:9). Atonement for our sin must be made or else the penalty will be ours to pay. Without his death and resurrection, there can be no basis for God’s choice. There can be no hope. There can be no inheritance. It all hinges on Christ and Christ alone.
Peter once preached, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12). In Romans 6, Paul wrote:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)
Though it’s difficult for us to fathom, we are so united with Christ that Paul could say we were “with him” as he suffered and died on the cross. I have this mental image of a group of cowering, miserable sinners watching God’s wrath being hurled at them from heaven when Jesus jumps into its path. He takes the blows himself while everyone else sits idly by, safe and protected. The judgment which God meant for sinners struck his Son instead.
As a result, John says, “We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him” (1Jn 3:2). In other words, having died with Christ, having been raised with Christ, existing and abiding in Christ, we will eventually be fully “conformed to the image of [Christ]” (Ro 8:29).
We Have Obtained An Inheritance
“We have obtained an inheritance” (Eph 1:11). That entire phrase is a single word in the original Greek. More important, though, is the tense which Paul uses. It’s not exactly past tense, but it’s not really present or future tense either. He writes in what we call the aorist tense. In the Greek language, when someone wanted to refer to an inevitable future event, they would describe it as though it had already happened. They would use the aorist tense.
For example, Paul makes a similar statement in Ephesians 2:6: “[God has] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Even though we’ve not yet entered that glorious place where Christ is currently seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Paul writes about it as though we’re already there (Heb 1:3). The aorist tense is used to express the certainty of it. No, we haven’t yet received our eternal inheritance (a fact that Paul makes clear in verse 14), but we absolutely will.
How can Paul be so sure? Maybe I’m abiding in Christ right now, but what if I lose my head and turn back to my sin? What if I live in rejection of the Savior and his righteousness?
Here’s what Christ himself had to say about it:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 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.” (John 10:27-29)
Any questions?According to Paul in Ephesians 4, we can “grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” but God’s Spirit has “sealed [us] for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). To the Philippians, he said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6).
According to Paul in Ephesians 4, we can “grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” but God’s Spirit has “sealed [us] for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). To the Philippians, he said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6).
There’s no going back. You may struggle with sin until you’re dying day like King Solomon, but God has “sealed [you] with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph 1:13-14). It’s not a matter of if we acquire it, but when we acquire it.
Having said that, we should never tempt God. Paul told the Corinthians:
I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
He also told them, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2Co 13:5). Paul did not give these warnings to suggest that eternal security is a myth. But the sad truth is, not everyone who claims Christ is actually saved. To be in church is not the same as to be in Christ.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
My point is, those whom God has chosen and Christ has redeemed “have obtained an inheritance” (Eph 1:11). It’s absolutely certain. But what isn’t certain in our world of sin and depravity is the true identity of every redeemed person in Christ. The wheat and weeds are growing together, making it impossible to “[gather] the weeds [without rooting] up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:29). So Paul simply advises, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2Co 13:5).
What is this inheritance that God has promised us in Christ? I suppose that term may encompass a lot of things: peace, wisdom, joy, strength, victory, power, spiritual discernment. The possibilities are nearly endless because we are the “children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:16-17). Ultimately, though, our inheritance is glory itself, a place in God’s eternal kingdom.
Having Been Predestined
Paul continues, “Having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we … might be to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:11-12). I skipped a phrase because I want to follow the order of the original Greek.
For the note-takers, I have three points to make here.
1) God predestined us.
Let’s not forget how this passage began: “[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3). “Predestined,” however, is a slightly different term. It’s not a complicated term, and it’s closely related to God’s choosing, but it is different. Pre means beforehand. Destined refers to one’s destiny or destination. So when God chose his people before the foundation of the world, he also predestined them or appointed their destination.
It seems strange that Christendom would waste so much energy debating this word. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about this passage, and he pointed out that Paul was referring to God choosing the Gentiles in addition to the Jews. In other words, God’s choice and subsequent predestination have little to do with individual people. I agreed with him, but only to a point.
A major theme in Ephesians is the unity of Jews and Gentiles together within the body of Christ. But if the end result of God’s choice is redemption and an eternal inheritance, then I fail to see how this passage applies to groups of people without also applying to specific individuals. God doesn’t redeem all Gentiles; he redeems individual Gentiles.
Plus, it’s not as though Ephesians 1 is the only place in the Bible to learn about predestination. Consider, for instance, Romans 8:
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
Who does God predestine according to that passage? “Those whom he foreknew,” “those who love God,” “those who are called according to his purpose.” Those whom God chose before the foundation of the world are also predestined. Their destinations are determined beforehand.
2) God predestined us by his sovereign power.
Paul says, “[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). “Works” is translated from the same word from which we get energy. It alludes to God’s creative power. Just as God once spoke the world into existence, he uses the same creative force to determine the fate of his people.
Let’s pause long enough to appreciate the magnitude of that statement. Every person, every event, every detail, every prophecy, and every fulfillment that culminated in the death and resurrection of Christ for our redemption was part of a plan which God designed and fixed even before creation. The entirety of history is basically one long sentence flowing from the mouth of God. He speaks, and it is.
One writer described it this way: “You’re living in sentences. This world was spoken by God. The collapse of empires are God’s comma splices, and the birds are his quotation marks.”
We occasionally sing a song that I’ve grown to love more and more over the years: This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. In the version we sing, the last line says, “In battle we must trod. Jesus who died shall be satisfied. The kingdom turns back to God.”
What is the period at the end of God’s story? He will “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). So “according to the counsel of his will,” he is moving history toward that ultimate resolution (Eph 1:11). Like any good author, he knew the end before he penned the first word. Every sentence brings us one step closer to our inheritance as God’s chosen people.
3) God predestined us by his sovereign power to glorify himself.
Are you surprised? God created the world for his glory. Why wouldn’t he also redeem and recreate this world for his glory? He deserves it. He is God. According to Paul, it’s all “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).
How many times does Paul say that we have nothing to boast about? When talking about Abraham, he said, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Ro 4:2). Later in Romans, he says, “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Ro 9:16). Here in Ephesians, he says, “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
Was Paul suggesting that works are irrelevant? Absolutely not. He argues against the tenets of Antinomianism more than once. In Romans 6, he says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Ro 6:1-2).
At the same time, Paul wants to make it abundantly clear that our works flow from the grace of God. First, the Bible says, “Work out your own salvation” (Php 2:12). But those instructions are typically followed by this important reminder: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:13).
Even our salvation is to the praise of God’s glory. I’ve heard it said that the four most important words of the Bible are the first four words of the Bible: “In the beginning, God” (Ge 1:1). If you want to maintain a proper perspective on just about anything, then remember “In the beginning, God.”
When You Heard the Word of Truth
Next, Paul says, “So that we who were the first to hope in Christ … In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him—” stop right there (Eph 1:12-13). Having shown us the divine perspective of salvation, Paul turns the coin over to show us its outworking in our lives, and the result is faith.
Romans 10 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Ro 10:17). Peter said, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1Pe 1:23; 25). Similarly, James wrote, “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18).
As the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ moves through this world, God is using it as a sword in the hand of his Spirit to bring his people out of darkness. Not everyone believes his Word because not everyone is effectually called. But as Acts 13 tells us was happening in the days of the apostles, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Ac 13:48). They recognized the Savior in the words that they heard from the apostles and others. They were drawn to its message. It’s what we call irresistible grace.
For centuries, theologians have debated when exactly spiritual life begins for the child of God. Some have said that the Spirit’s work of regeneration is a process that can take years to accomplish. Others say that it happens instantaneously either well before the sinner first believes or at the very moment he believes.
Here’s what I know.
1) Regeneration is entirely a work of God.
God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Eze 36:26). Despite whatever means he employs in the conversion of his people, God is the only one capable of bringing dead sinners to life.
2) Regeneration is a profound, substantial transformation.
Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co 5:17). It stands to reason that a dead person who has come alive will be drastically different.
3) Regeneration leads us away from sin to Christ.
John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1Jn 3:9). He’ll always be tempted by sin. He’ll continue struggling with sin. But that’s just it; sin becomes a struggle for him. He’s no longer totally enslaved by it.
Furthermore, his affections are turned to Christ. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (Jn 14:3). The very essence of spiritual life is to have an intimate knowledge of God and his Son.
We could go even further by quoting Galatians 5 where Paul said, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:22-24).
So when does spiritual life begin? As far as we can know, it begins at the moment when God transforms us to see ourselves as the sinners we are and Christ as our Lord and Savior. Or, as Paul said, “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him” (Eph 1:13). Whatever God might do within us before that moment is practically irrelevant. Only God knows.
The Guarantee of Our Inheritance
Notice what happens once we come to faith: We are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:13-14). Despite the certainty of our inheritance, we don’t possess it yet. So God’s Spirit serves as a down payment if you will. Again, Paul told the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:16-17).
The Spirit with all of the fruits that grow from him is like the official seal on an important document. He testifies to our security in Christ. He makes it known that we belong to God. In biblical times, not even a king could revoke his own decree if he had marked it with his seal.
The word “guarantee” in the Greek once referred to earnest money. It was a literal down payment. If a man wanted to secure something that he intended to buy, he would make a down payment. It was a commitment, a pledge that said, “Don’t you worry. I’ll be back to pay the rest and pick up my property.”
God makes that same pledge with his Spirit. God guarantees us that we will receive our full inheritance as his adopted children. To think of it another way, the Spirit is the engagement ring on the finger of Christ’s bride.
Once again, Paul doesn’t want us to lose sight of why God has done what he’s done or promised what he’s promised. So at the end of this rather long sentence, he says, “To the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:14). Let us never forget that the primary purpose of our salvation is for the glory of God. We are not the main characters in history. We are not saved and blessed for our glory but for God’s glory.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). Amen.
Our Wonderful and Gracious Father, we thank you for our faith and hope in Christ. We thank you for your Spirit who has sealed us with your promise to one day bring us into your unified kingdom. We thank you for our eternal inheritance. And we praise you for all that you are and all that you’ve done. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Preached at Joy Christian Church (Benson, NC) on May 21, 2017.