Ephesians 1: The Grace of God Blesses the Believer

Welcome to the first message series in the book of Ephesians! For the next seven to eight weeks, I’ll be taking a look at what Paul writes in this very important letter to the church at Ephesus. We start today by examining God’s grace in the blessings of the believer.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.  To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”–1:1-2

By saying, “Grace to you,” Paul makes it clear that we never outgrow our need to receive grace and remember the grace we’ve been shown in Christ. This enables us to live the Christian life with joy, and not get stuck going through the motions.

“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..” 1:3

I feel safe in assuming that nearly every Christian has asked God to bless him or her at least two or three times in their life. We want a good job, a good house, a good family, and a life free from pain and suffering. However, the Bible never tells us that these things are guaranteed for us, even as believers. But it does tell us that in Christ, we have every spiritual blessing available to us. What Paul has in mind here is our union with Christ, and the privileges that come with that, meaning that everything Christ has, we have.

Do you see this? Does it motivate you to worship God? Think about it–all the privileges Christ enjoys as the Son of God: the father-son relationship with God the Father, the rule and reign over the earth, love and acceptance by the God of creation–the Bible says WE now have, in Christ!

“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” 1:4

Dwell on this, Christian: Before He formed the world, before He said, “Let there be light,” before you were a thought in your mother’s mind…God knew you. He knew your name, your face, your personality…and He knew your sin. He knew all our sin. He knew how, after creating us in His image and tasking us to enjoy Him and rule over His creation, we would slap His face and say, “No.” And He still made us. He still chose to create us and, more than that, initiated a foolproof plan to save us and bring us back to Himself. He chose us.

How does this help us in this life? For those who struggle with worth—if you are in Christ, the Creator of the universe knows you by name. You were chosen before the world began. Our worth and our identity is secure, not in what we have done, are doing, or will do, but in that our Father in heaven chose to glorify Himself by saving us by His grace.

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” 1:5-6

Do you ever feel like God is simply putting up with you? That all of your sin gets you one step closer to being thrown out of God’s house, and the next screw-up will be the last straw?

There’s good news for you: In Christ, all believers are adopted by God the Father as His children. We are not just God’s servants, we are God’s children. We are His dearly beloved, blood-bought children, and He will never forsake us nor abandon us.

Indeed, it was the “purpose of His will.” This means that God didn’t begrudgingly save you! God wished it, God willed it…He chose to save you! We remember that we are working for God’s glory and seeking to be like Jesus as God’s children. We are joyfully imitating our Father and telling the world how great our God is!

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 1:7-10

No one is free from the problem of guilt, because guilt is a very real problem. It cannot be solved in therapy, it cannot be medicated, and you cannot stuff it way down your subconscious and hope that it goes away.

Praise God we don’t have to live in our guilt or suffer eternity apart from Him, because Christ dealt with our guilt on the cross. If we are in Christ, we are forgiven by His blood, and our guilt is done away with. We no longer are slaves to guilt or fear.

“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.” 1:11-12

In Christ, God gives us an eternal inheritance with Him. The richest man in the world couldn’t leave a better inheritance for his kids than God does with us. We receive fellowship with Him forever, the right to reign with Christ, and eternal holiness and happiness in Him. So when we lose everything in this life, remember that we have an inheritance in Christ that cannot be taken away or lost.

“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.” 1:11-14

Lastly, God blesses us with Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God Himself, not God’s power or God’s anointing. God actually dwells within us! The Spirit assures us we are God’s children (Rom. 8:16) and is the guarantee of all God’s heavenly blessings for us.

All of this leads Paul to pray in verses 15-23 that the church would dwell on and grow in the knowledge of God’s love and blessings for them in Christ. He prays that the “eyes of (their) hearts (be) enlightened, that (they) may know what is the hope to which” God calls them.  He wants them to know more and more of the greatness of God and His blessings.

This should be our prayer for one another in the church, that we would remember all God has done for us in Christ, so that we may have fullness of joy and grow in our walk with Him.

If you are in Christ, remember all God has done for you. Remember it, dwell on it, and walk with God in fullness of joy and faith. If you are not in Christ, I urge you to recognize you cannot save yourself, and I urge you to trust in Jesus to save you and turn away from your sin to trust Him to help you live in righteousness.

Lord, may we remember all that we have in you. May we dwell on your goodness to us, and how you chose us before the foundation of the world, how you redeem us and adopt us, and give us an inheritance that cannot be taken away. May we make your name famous as we joyfully imitate you.

God bless,

Neal E.

Join us next week as we examine Ephesians 2, where we see the grace of God in giving us spiritual life and saving us.

Treasuring God and Destroying Anxiety: Matt. 6:19-34

When you go to bed at night, what gives you comfort?  What gives you peace as your head hits the pillow?  Your job?  Your family?  Your possessions?  Your good looks, or high IQ?  What is it that you treasure?

Today, we finish up Matthew 6, as we continue to look at Jesus’ words to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount.  This passage (v. 19-34), detail Jesus’ words concerning treasure and anxiety, two things that, according to Jesus, are closely related.

We often hear words like “materialism,” and assume that it’s a much bigger issue now than it was in Jesus’ time, since they “didn’t have as much back then.”  But every culture and every time period has struggled with idolizing worldly treasures, whether it’s a strong ox or camel in the 1st century, or the latest iPhone in the 21st century.  Idolatry has been and always will be a problem, so long as there is sin in this world.  Thankfully, Jesus is the answer to our idolatry.  Let’s hear what He has to say:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

According to Forbes.com, Bill Gates’ net worth sits at just under $80 billion, making him the wealthiest man in the world.  Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has solidified his place as one of the most successful businessmen in world history.  He is, without a doubt, rich.  The man could literally swim in piles of money.

Gates is 59 years old.  In fifty years, Gates will most likely be dead.  His money will go to his surviving family.  His money will not go with him into eternity.  At the end of his life, Bill Gates’ net worth will do nothing to save him from the wrath of God.  It will do nothing for him in the next life.  When all is said and done, money is simply a piece of paper that means nothing.

Tom Brady has four Super Bowl rings, two MVPs, and 10 Pro Bowl selections.  He will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterbacks to ever play professional football.  He has fancy cars, fancy houses, and is married to a supermodel.  By worldly standards, Tom Brady’s doing pretty well.

When Brady dies, his Super Bowl rings won’t keep him from death.  His nice cars and celebrity lifestyle won’t last forever.  His NFL records will collect dust in a history book, remembered by fans, perhaps for a short while, until the next great quarterback comes along.

Death truly is the great equalizer.  I’m certainly not speculating on the nature of these people’s relationship with the Lord, as I have no clue what they believe about Jesus, but their lives serve as an example to all of us of the fleeting nature of material possessions.

The problem with earthly treasure is that it is temporary.  You can’t take it with you into heaven.  As Jesus says, “moth and rust” destroy these “treasures.”  They are eternally worthless.  You made $100 billion in your lifetime?  Great!  How much is that worth on your death bed?  You lived in the nicest house in the nicest neighborhood, your kids went to the nicest schools…great!  What does that mean when you’re staring death in the face?

Jesus calls His followers to pursue that which is eternal, that which will last forever–heavenly treasure.  But what is heavenly treasure?  What does that mean?

The Bible tells us that there is a reward for those who follow Jesus.  For those who turn against their sin, trust in Jesus to come rule and reign in their hearts as Lord and trust in Him for salvation, there is: eternal life, adoption by the Father, fellowship with God and the church forever, and rewards for obeying Jesus in this life.  A life lived to the glory of God with faith in Jesus Christ yields all the treasure, all the reward, of union with Christ and obedience to Him.

Why chase after money when I can hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”  Why chase after the false god of sex when I have fellowship with God?  There is more pleasure in one second of fellowship with God than there is in a lifetime of sex (yes, even the gift of sex God gives in marriage).

Ultimately, the reward of following Christ, of storing up heavenly treasure, is not the benefits that come from union with Christ, as discussed above.  It’s not the heavenly treasures God gives to His obedient children.  These are certainly part of that great reward, and Jesus most definitely had these things in mind, but the greatest reward of following Jesus is Jesus Himself.  If we could have forgiveness without Jesus (which is impossible), it wouldn’t be worth it.  The point of forgiveness is the restoration of our relationship with God.  If we could have eternal life without God, it wouldn’t be worth it.  To ask the oft-asked question: If you could go to heaven and God not be there, would you still go?

All of us would like to answer that question in the negative, but if we’re honest, sometimes we want the things of God more than God Himself.  The things of God are good, and we ought to thank Him for them, but we must pray that God would help us desire Him more than His gifts.

Jesus makes it clear in verse 21 that whatever it is that we’re chasing after directs our lives: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  In the Bible, the word “heart” refers not just to our emotions, but to our will, to our minds, and symbolizes that which leads our lives.

So, if we’re treasuring this world, we will not follow God.  We will follow after this world, and forsake God.  But if we treasure God, and all that He is, we will follow Him, be guided by Him, and forsake the world.  Brothers and sisters, let’s do that.  He’s much better.

Jesus also says similar truths about our eyes:

“The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In the same way our treasure directs our hearts and the direction of our lives, what we set our eyes on often decides what we chase after.  If my “eyes are on the prize” of that job, or that relationship, that’s what I’m going after.  But if my eyes are on Jesus, on knowing, trusting, loving and obeying Him, I’m going to seek Him.  Again, brothers and sisters, let’s set our eyes on Jesus.

This is an all-or-nothing deal, according to Jesus.  He says, in verse 24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”

The word translated “money” here is the word “mammon,” meaning money or possessions.  For many of this, we glance over this passage, because, for us, we don’t idolize money.  Well done!  If I’m being honest, I don’t struggle with the desire to have a lot of money.  Never have.

However, we all have those false gods that tempt us to worship them.  Maybe it’s your job.  The corporate ladder of success is appealing to you.  Maybe it’s your family.  You wake up, burdened to be the best husband/wife, father/mother you can be.  Maybe it’s sports.  You want to play the best, or, if you’re like me and totally unathletic, you immerse yourself in the world of sports, enjoying watching other people play the sports you love, and there’s a temptation to identify yourself by your team affiliation.

Idolatry is common to every person that’s ever lived.  And Jesus makes it clear that if we are to be His disciples, if we are to be saved, we must choose: Will we follow God wholeheartedly?  Or will God be an add-on to my already busy life?

The problem, for those who want the latter, is that God refuses to be an add-on.  Jesus makes it clear that if you’re not willing to give up all else in order to gain Him, you cannot be His disciple (Matt. 16:24-26).  Jesus will either be everything to you, or He will be nothing.  If you are a Christian, your life must be consumed with knowing Jesus, trusting Jesus, being like Jesus, and glorifying Jesus, or you don’t know Jesus.

Thankfully, when we all fail to love Jesus above all, when we all fail to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we’re reminded that He took up His cross and died for us.  And that allows us to repent confidently, to confess where we’ve failed, trusting Jesus to forgive us and restore us.  None of us treasure Jesus perfectly, but, by God’s grace, we turn away from treasuring this world to treasure Him, trusting in His saving and empowering grace to help us in the fight.

When we treasure Jesus, it destroys anxiety.  The root of anxiety is fear.  Fear that if I don’t have this relationship, my life will be ruined.  Fear that if I don’t get that job, I won’t be successful.

When we fear and worry over these things, we exalt them to the place of God, allowing them to direct us and control us.  But when we treasure God, we allow Him to direct us, and we can trust in Him to provide all that we need:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Because God is our God, not money, not food, not clothing, we can trust God to provide those things as we need them.  And we trust in Him to provide, not for our sake, but so we may continue to live our lives for His glory.  We’re called, not to “let go and let God,” but to trust God and get going for His glory.

When God is our God, things like food, jobs, clothing, sex, houses, relationships, etc. become avenues, not for sinful idolatry, but for the enjoyment of the common grace of God, as we glorify Him for His many gifts and use them as we can to advance the gospel.

Seek first the kingdom.  Put your eyes on Jesus.  Treasure Him.  Trust in Him.  Kill anxiety by killing idolatry.

Lord, may you destroy our idols by showing us your goodness.  May we trust in you, treasure you, and rest in you.  May your beauty make the things of this earth grow dim, as we seek our joy in you.

God bless,

Neal E.