Jeremy Sarber

The blessings of the new covenant

What does it mean to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? (Eph 1:3). We can promptly rule out material gifts because Paul says that we receive spiritual blessings. While God does often bless us with material, natural things, Paul is talking about something even greater. These blessings are divine in nature and distinctly spiritual. Furthermore, they are abundant. We do not receive some spiritual blessings, but every spiritual blessing.

Many of the things that we commonly pray for, technically, we already possess. At the very least, we already have access to them. For instance, we often pray for peace when our hearts are troubled. But Jesus told his disciples, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled” (Jn 14:27). We pray for joy, but Jesus said, I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). We pray for strength in times of weakness, but Paul said, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Php 4:13).

According to Peter, God’s divine power has already granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (1Pe 1:3). The fact is, we’re not waiting for every spiritual blessing. Those who abide in Christ already have every spiritual blessing. We already have access to what Paul in another place refers to as the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Php 1:19).

So the saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus are not lacking any spiritual need (Eph 1:1). No, the question is, are we utilizing what God has already given us? Our position as God’s people and our possession of every spiritual blessing is so certain, so secure that in the next chapter Paul says that God has already raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). More than a promise to be fulfilled in the future, Paul is describing a present reality for God’s redeemed family.

When we hear the term heavenly places, we’re prone to think about heaven itself, but that term encompasses the entirety of God’s domain. The word is not heavenly place but heavenly places. Paul uses the same phrase in chapter 6 when he says, We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). Of course, we’re not fighting spiritual evil in heaven itself. We’re fighting that evil here in this present world. We’re fighting the devil whom Paul refers to as the god of this world (2Co 4:4).

In J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament, he interprets Ephesians 1:3 this way: Praise be to God for giving us through Christ every possible spiritual benefit as citizens of Heaven!” (PHILLIPS). I believe his paraphrase really does get to the heart of what Paul is saying here. Though we—and I’m talking about believers—live in this world, we are also citizens of heaven. We have dual citizenship. As citizens of heaven, we receive all of the inherent rights and privileges that come with it even though we are currently in a foreign country.

The church exists within a paradox. At the present time, we live in a world full of sin and hostility, yet we’re also within the dominion of God, or what Paul calls heavenly places (Eph 1:3). This paradox is what led Paul to make such strange statements as, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2Co 4:8-9). On the one hand, we’re forced to experience everything that comes with being a citizen of this world. On the other hand, we don’t experience it quite like everyone else.

Most notably, we have access to the Spirit. Galatians 5 says, Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh (Gal 5:16-17). There’s a constant battle raging not only in this world but even within ourselves. But we have an advantage because God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).

Let’s not overlook that little phrase which appears so often in the New Testament—“in Christ (Eph 1:3). Our spiritual blessings would be possible apart from Christ. Jesus himself said, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). We owe everything to Jesus Christ.