The book of Ephesians is a wonderful letter by the Apostle Paul to the church. In Ephesians, God, through the Apostle Paul, underscores the importance of the church in God’s program, and therefore in our lives. The book tells us how to live together, how to grow together, how to work together.
So, I urge you to listen closely to the Word of God. But don’t be a hearer only, but also a doer. Ask God to change you through his Word.
God’s Glory Manifest through the Church
I’ve entitled this series, God’s Glory Manifest through the Church. That is really the theme of the whole book.
The book of Ephesians has two parts. Chapters 1–3 is theology, doctrine. Paul lays a doctrinal foundation that undergirds the second part of the letter. Then chapters 4–6 spell out the practical ramifications of that doctrine and show us how we are to live.
Another division of the book is in three parts—Sit, Walk, Stand. Chapters 1–3 are sit back and see all that God has done for you in Christ. Chapters 4–5 are now walk out what is true of you. And chapter 6 is stand firm in your faith against the schemes of the devil.
In this post, we’ll look at chapter 1. Chapter 1 is in the “sit” part. In other words, Paul is explaining theology. But it’s not just dry doctrine. These are glorious truths that are to cause you to marvel, to expand your thinking, to enlarge your vision of God and your salvation.
Are you ready to have your mind expanded?
Ephesians 1:1–2 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is Paul’s normal introduction. He introduces himself as an apostle of Christ—a messenger, a representative of Christ—one who is writing with the authority of an apostle. He addresses this letter to the saints, the “holy ones,” believers in Jesus who are faithful in Christ. And he prays that God’s grace and peace will be theirs.
Then, Paul launches into an amazing doctrinal treatise—but it comes across more as a poem, a song of praise, as he exults in all that God has done for his people. Now let’s read verses 3–14 together. It’s broken up into sentences in the English, but it’s one long sentence in Greek from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Ephesians 1:3–14 3 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,4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Spiritual Blessings from the Triune God
The first thing I want us to notice is that the Triune God was involved in our salvation. It was the joint work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each has a role to play in your and my salvation. Paul starts with God the Father.
Ephesians 1:3 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
He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is the theme verse for the rest of this passage.
God has blessed me. God has blessed you. Amen? How has he blessed us? He’s given us every blessing. Not every physical blessing, but every spiritual blessing. There is not one spiritual blessing that he has withheld from you or from me. Where are those blessing? Two locations are mentioned. First, they are found “in Christ.” Only those who are in Christ have these blessings. They can’t be found in ourselves, in Buddha, in Mohammed, in Joseph Smith, in Mary, in our possessions or families, or in anything or anyone else; they are only in Christ!
And secondly, Paul says that these blessings are “in the heavenly places”; they are not on earth. Our treasure is in heaven. Yes, God does bless us with physical, earthly blessings—rain, air, food, family, friends, health. Those are part of his providence that all of his creatures enjoy, both the saved and the unsaved. But for his children alone, he has spiritual, heavenly, eternal blessings that are found in the person of Christ.
God the Father
So, what it is that God has blessed us with. Paul now begins to list these blessings, and as he does it, he shows the particular role of each person of the Trinity in our salvation. First is God the Father.
Ephesians 1:3–6 3 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,4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
What are the first of these blessings that Paul describes?
- God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
- God predestined us for adoption to himself as sons.
What did you do to earn your salvation? Let me ask it this way: what had you done when God chose you? Nothing! He chose you before he created the world.
These phrases, “before the foundation of the world” and “predestined” speak of God’s activity in eternity past. They mean that God was active in your salvation long before you exercised faith in Christ, in fact, long before you were born. In other words, God is the initiator of our salvation. Before the world was created, he was at work to save you. He chose you that you should be holy and blameless. In his great love, he predestined you to be his son—to be adopted into his family. And this was all “according to the purpose of his will.”
Listen, if God wills something, I guarantee you it will come to pass. If you are a believer in Christ, it’s not because you are smarter than other people, or because you mustered up enough faith to believe, or because you are better than anyone else. It’s because God loved you and he chose you. “We love because he first loved us.” My salvation does not depend on me, my works, my goodness, my abilities. As Paul said in Romans 9:16 – “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
I want us to notice a phrase in verse 6: “to the praise of his glorious grace.” That is a statement of purpose. God blessed us by choosing us and adopting us for what purpose? To the praise his glorious grace, that our election, our predestination, our sonship, our salvation should result in his glorious grace being praised and exalted. As Paul says in chapter 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Grace is when you get something you don’t deserve. Did we deserve to be chosen? Did we deserve to be loved? Did we deserve to be adopted? Of course not! In the next chapter of Ephesians, Paul will say that all of us were dead in our trespasses and sins, follower of Satan, sons of disobedience, and children of wrath. But God is the one who acted to save us.
The gospel, our salvation, is to magnify and display and praise God’s glorious grace to his underserving creatures.
God the Son
Next, we see the work of God the Son.
Ephesians 1:7–12 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 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, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
Want some more blessings? Well, here they are.
- God redeemed us through his blood.
Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, left the glory he shared with his Father, came to earth, lived a perfect life, took upon himself our sin and shame, died on the cross, paying the penalty for our sin, and then he rose again, conquering death. By his death, we are redeemed, bought back—redeemed from slavery and given sonship, taken from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ, removed from under God’s wrath and placed in Christ, where we are under God’s favor.
God the Father initiated our salvation. And God the Son accomplished our salvation. He is the agent of salvation. He is the one who came to accomplish all that God had planned for us.
Next Paul says that we have forgiveness of our trespasses. In other words:
- God forgave us all our sins.
By Jesus’ death, we are forgiven—forgiven of all our sins, past, present, and future. He took all of our transgressions and nailed them to the cross. His death was the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
And then finally, as sons of God, we share in Christ’s inheritance.
- God gave us an inheritance.
We are co-heirs with Christ. I inherit along with him as a son of God. We have an inheritance in heaven that is undefiled, unfading, and reserved for us. Hallelujah! Doesn’t that make you excited, and grateful?!
God the Spirit
And then in verse 13, Paul moves on to the role of the third person in the Trinity—the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13–14 13 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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
God the Father initiated our salvation. God the Son accomplished our salvation. And God the Spirit applied our salvation. We are born again by the Spirit of God. He is the one who quickens our dead spirit and gives us new life. He is the one who baptizes us and places us in the body of Christ.
When does he do this? He does it when we hear the word of truth, the gospel, and believe in Christ. That’s our part—hearing and faith.
- God sealed us for the day of redemption.
The Holy Spirit seals us. Ephesians 4:30 says we were sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. That is a seal of ownership. We belong to God. We are his, and no one can snatch us out of his hand.
And then Paul says that the Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance. That word “guarantee” means a down payment, a deposit, earnest money, if you will. God’s Spirit to us is his guarantee that we will receive our inheritance. He’s given us the first part, and we’ll get the rest when he comes again.
One repeated phrase is important in this passage, and it speaks to God’s ultimate goal in our salvation, his purpose in giving us all of these spiritual, heavenly blessings in Christ.
Ephesians 1:4–6 In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.
Ephesians 1:11–12 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.
Ephesians 1:13–14 When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [you] 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.
All that we have in Christ, all that God has done for us in Christ—our salvation, our redemption, our adoption, and our future inheritance—all of it is for the praise of God’s glory. It is his work—from beginning to end. He deserves all praise, all glory, all honor.
And what Paul will go on to say in chapter 4 is, “In light of all that God has done for you, in light of your new identity in Christ, in light of God’s purposes and plans, here is the way you should live, both individually and corporately.” Our good works, our unity as a church, our love and service—all of it is for the glory of God, to declare his praises.
Our Position “in Christ”
There is another phrase used 12 times in this chapter. It’s the phrase “in Christ” or “in him” or “in whom.” It speaks of our present position—our identity. This phrase speaks of our union with Christ. It is foundational not only to our identity as an individual believer, but to our corporate identity as a church.
What does it mean to be “in Christ”? I understand being under Christ’s authority, or inspired by Christ’s example, or following after Christ, but the preposition “in Christ” is a little harder to understand. I read an illustration that I think will help.
Imagine yourself at the Cincinnati airport, about to board a plane. The plane is on its way to sunny Orlando, and that is where you want to be, especially on a cold day like today. What relationship do you need to have with the plane at this point?
Would it help to be under the plane, to submit yourself to the plane’s authority in the whole flying-to-Orlando thing? Or would it help to be inspired by the plane? To watch it fly off and whisper “One day, I hope to do that, too.” What about following the plane? You know the plane is going to Orlando, and so it stands to reason that if you take note of the direction it goes and pursue it then you too will end up there.
We all know that the key relationship you need with the plane is not to be under it, behind it, or inspired by it. You need to be IN it. Why? Because, by being in the plane, whatever happens to the plane also happen to you. If the plane got to Orlando, and if you were in the plane, then you got to Orlando.
In the same way, when you are “in Christ,” what happened to Christ also happened to you. Whatever is true of him is now true of you because you are united with him. Scripture says, He died, and so we died. He is raised, and so we are (and will be) raised. He is vindicated, and so we are vindicated. He is loved, and so we are loved. He’s an heir, and so we are heirs. In Colossians 3:3, Paul says our life is hidden “in Christ.” Christian—that is your identity!
In Adam vs. In Christ
In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul contrasts Christ and Adam—the two great heads of the human race. Death and condemnation comes through the one, life and salvation comes through the other. All of us are born “in Adam.” The certainty of our death is secured because of our location—in Adam. That’s where all of us were born. In Adam we are separated from God, under his wrath, blind to the things of God, destined for hell.
But when we come to Christ, we get transported to a new location—“in Christ.” He is our new head, our new identity, our new location. Now, all that is true of Christ is true of us.
Union with Christ and His Church
Union with Christ also means unity with each other. Ephesians 1 is filled with “us” and “we” and “you” plural—y’all—which speaks of the corporate nature of God’s work and the corporate nature of our union with Christ. Together the whole the church is united with Christ; we are his body.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
In Christ, we are all one. This means that our ethnic, economic, and gender relations are radically altered. We receive each other in full fellowship, because of where we are located. The question is not who you are (Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, old or young, rich or poor), but where you are. If the answer to the where question is “in Christ,” then we stand together and must receive and welcome and accept one other.
Our salvation not only unites us to Christ, but to his body as well. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes on to talk about the church as the body of Christ. Our union with Christ, he says, is like the union of a hand and an arm, or an eye and an ear. We are one body, but have different gifts, different roles.
The church is not simply a voluntary collection of like-minded individuals. It’s not something we opt into after becoming a Christian, in the way you might opt into attending a conference or reading a book or joining a club—something to help you on your individual journey. No, when by faith you are united to Christ, that union connects you both with him and with his body, the church.
So, what’s the application in all of this? Well, a large part of it is doctrinal—this is the “sit back” part and marvel at all that God has done for you in Christ. I trust that the Holy Spirit will take these truths and expand your thinking, enlarge your mind and heart, and apply these truths in many ways in your lives. But let me draw out a couple applications.
The first application has to do with our identity. When I read these verses, and meditate on them, it reminds me of who I am. These words from Paul give me a whole new identity. I’m not forgotten by God, I’m chosen by him. I’m not abandoned by God, he’s adopted me. I’m not under his wrath, he’s forgiven and redeemed me. I don’t need to worry whether God will accept me, I’m in Christ. While I won’t get much of an inheritance in this life, I’m God’s child and will inherit all things along with Christ.
That’s who I really am, not how I may feel when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, not how I may feel when people put me down or talk behind my back. My identity is not in my past mistakes, but in the present reality of being “in Christ.”
Let me ask you—where is your identity? Is it in what others think of you? Is it in your past experiences—whether good or bad? Is it in your career? Your abilities? Your marriage? Your kids? Your money or possessions? Or is it in Christ—in whom you are God’s adopted child, accepted and bound for heaven?
And then secondly, I want us to think about what it means to live, to exist, “for the praise of his glory.” God created us for his glory; he chose us for his glory; he saved us, redeemed us, adopted us, and sealed us—all for his glory.
How might that knowledge and understanding affect how you live? What are you doing that detracts from God’s glory? How might you be robbing God of the glory due him? What can you do today, this week, that will reflect God’s glory and cause him to receive more praise? How might your priorities need to be changed so that God get more glory? These are important questions that I hope you will take time to reflect on.