"Three Things You Need to Know"
(Delivered Sunday, February 6, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Why is it that there are some professing believers in Christ who always seem to repeatedly flounder and struggle in the same old problems and hang-ups and fears that plagued them before they came to Christ? And why is it that there are others who have made the same profession of faith, and yet seem to rise above their problems and hang-ups and fears, and go on to live victorious, vibrant, exciting Christian lives? What's the difference between them?
Plainly, there's not a difference to be found in Christ Himself. If He saves one sinner, He's the same Savior that saves another sinner. And there's no basic difference to be found in terms of the essential nature of those He saves. All are equally 'dead in trespasses and sins' apart from Him; and once they are saved by Him, all are equally incapable of living the victorious Christian life in their own power. And there isn't any difference to be found in the resources that the Savior imparts to those He saves. When He saves someone, what He gives them is His own self; and He doesn't give a greater portion of Himself to one and a lesser portion to another. So where is the difference to be found? What is the reason that some professing believers excel unto victory, and others seem to perpetually flounder over and over again?
I have an answer. The difference between those who excel and those who don't is simply this: Some know the spiritual blessings that are already theirs in Christ - and know them with such conviction of heart that they live as if those things are true; and others don't!
You see, there are resources that God has provided through Christ to all who believe; and those who excel in the walk with Christ are the ones who understand this, who have quit searching around for other resources to meet the needs of life, who know - with understanding and discernment - what it is that God has given them, who believe on and trust in those things with all their heart, and who then live faithfully in the truth of what they know. In other words, some who have placed their trust in Christ simply 'get it', and some 'don't'; and the one's who 'get it' are the ones who excel, and grow, and go on to live lives of great victory.
The apostle Paul makes this point for us in the latter half of the first chapter of Ephesians. It's a passage in which he lets his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ know how he prays for them; and in reading it, you'll see how he basically prays that they will 'get it':
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
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There is an important assumption that stands as the basis of all that Paul says in this passage. It's found in an assertion that he makes in Ephesians 1:3 - at the very beginning of this wonderful letter: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . ."
First, Paul asserts that it is none other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us. Paul writes elsewhere; "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). Because it's the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who personally blesses us, we can be sure that we'll never lack anything that we need.
Second, Paul asserts that this God has blessed us with "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places". "Every" speaks of the completeness of the blessing. "Spiritual" speaks of the nature of the blessing. "Heavenly" speaks of the sufficiency of the blessing. And "in Christ" speaks of our permanent connection to this blessing through Him. As Peter has written, "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue . . ." (2 Peter 1:3).
And third, Paul speaks of His blessing as something that is already ours in full. We're told that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "HAS blessed us . . ." It's not that God simply CAN give us every spiritual blessing if we would only ask hard enough, or that God WILL give us every spiritual blessing if we will wait long enough. Rather, the granting to us of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is presented as something already done - and all of it being ours in the fact that we have Christ Himself. As Paul writes elsewhere of Christ, "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him . . ." (Col. 2:9-10). If you have Jesus, you already have all the spiritual blessings of the Father that you will ever need. You are already complete in Him.
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And let me explain why that is such an important thing for us to know and believe. As human beings, all of us have certain, fundamental needs. These needs are spiritual in nature; and they are all legitimate and real things for us to need. We all, for example, need hope - a sense that there is a future for us, and that this future is a good one. No one can live in continual despair of the future. No one can live in this world without hope. We also need a sense of value and worth. Everyone needs to know that they matter to someone, and that they are important and have purpose, and are loved and treasured. And finally, everyone needs the power and resources necessary to deal with the troubles and situations of daily life. No one can live a fulfilled life while they believe they are the helpless, passive victims of unpredictable and ever-changing circumstance.
Those are three things everyone needs: (1) a positive sense of hope for the future, (2) a healthy sense of significance and value, and (3) the confidence that they have the power to meet the trials of life. God has designed us with those needs. He has designed us in such a way that those basic needs are met fully only in Him. And all of them are met completely through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
But here's the problem. Because of our falleness, we seek to meet those legitimate spiritual needs through other means than through a relationship with Christ. Even professing believers - those who claim to have trusted Christ - often do so. They say that they believe on Jesus Christ; but they also believe the lie of the devil that God's blessings through Christ are somehow insufficient to meet their needs. And so they also turn to the popular 'guru's' and 'experts' and 'pop-methods' of the day to meet these needs. Such 'professing Christians' behave like the people that the prophet Jeremiah describes in Jeremiah 2:13; "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water." Those who turn to these other things to meet their needs remain unfulfilled and frustrated - and their needs remain unmet.
And once again, it all boils down to this: Those who experience a pattern of victory in Christ - those who are the truly 'fulfilled' believers - are those who know the truth of what they have in Christ, and who live a life of acting upon what they know. It is as simple as that. They are the one's that "get it".
Paul prayed that his friends in Ephesus would "get it". And dear brother or sister in Christ; I am eager that we too will "get it". My prayer is that, together, we will carefully heed the things that God's word is saying to us in this passage, and will live a completely distinct kind of life as a result. My hope is that - by God's grace - we will know the spiritual blessings we already have in Christ - and I mean 'know' them from the heart; 'know' them with certainty; 'know' them experientially. And that we will then get up and, from now on, live as if these things that we 'know' are absolutely true - because, in Christ, they ARE true!
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Let's consider this passage a little closer. First, notice . . .
1. WHO IT IS THAT NEEDS TO KNOW THESE THINGS (v. 15).
These things that Paul prays about are not true of everyone. Not everyone has a legitimate claim to "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places". Paul is very specific about who it is that needs to know these things when he says, "Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints . . ."
First, think about that word "Therefore . . ." This points us back to what he had just said in verses 4-14; where he describes the wonderful work of all the members of the Trinity in bringing us to salvation in Christ. He wrote of the Father's part in this salvation through Christ:
. . . Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace by which He made us accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:4-6).
He also wrote of the work of the Son of God in our salvation:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth - in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (vv. 7-11).
He finally wrote about the work of the Holy Spirit in our salvation:
In Him [that is, in Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (vv. 13-14).
If we are saved, it is plainly because we have believed on Jesus Christ. But Paul's words in the preceeding verses reveal to us that, if we have believed, it was because God the Father first chose us for salvation, and because God the Son first provided the redemption for us through His own blood; and - having believed - the Holy Spirit then sealed us in Christ forever. That, then, is the significance of Paul's word "Therefore . . ." The things that Paul wants "known" are to be known by those who specifically have been predestined in eternity past, redeemed in time, and sealed for all eternity by the triune Godhead. And the things that he wants them to "know" are a consequence of their having been so wonderfully saved by God's grace.
But it's not just that they are the passive recipients of God's grace from before time. They are also those who demonstrate God's call in their lives by, in time, having consciously believed and placed their trust in Jesus. Paul says, "Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus . . ." In other words, those individuals that the triune Godhead had, in eternity, secured for salvation are also those who, in time, hear the gospel message about the cross of Jesus Christ and believe on Him for that salvation.
And what's more, they are not only predestinated for salvation, and not only believe on Jesus at a point in time, but they also demonstrate that conscious faith by living lives of genuine love toward all those who likewise believe on Him. Paul says that he not only heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, but also, "your love for all the saints." They feel not only a sense of communion with the Father through Christ, but also a sense of communion with all others whom Christ has likewise saved.
All of this is to say that the spiritual blessings that we are to "know" are not for everyone to know. They are things to be "known" by a very particular group. Specifically, these are blessings that belong only to those who are the redeemed in Christ - those who were chosen for salvation by God, who prove God's choice of them by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and who then demonstrate that faith in Jesus by a love for all the saints.
Are these things true of you? Then these spiritual blessings are for you to know about as well!
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So; these things are for those to "know" who are in Christ. And then, notice . . .
2. HOW CRUCIAL IT IS THAT THEY KNOW THEM (v. 16).
Paul expresses something of the importance of all this when he writes that, after having heard about these believers, he said, "I also . . . do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers . . ."
Paul was a great prayer-warrior for the believers under his care. If you read his New Testament letters, you'll find frequent references to his prayers for those to whom he writes. Paul heard about the Ephesian believers' faith in Christ, and about their love for all the saints; and that moved him to pray for them. It moved him to thank God for them; but it also moved him to pray that they would know the things that they needed to know.
This was not the only time that Paul prayed that they would "know" the truths about the spiritual blessings that were theirs in Christ. In chapter 3, he writes;
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).
Paul often prayed that his believing friends would go on in their faith to know the spiritual things that are true of them. And he wanted them to know deeply the things that he was writing about to them in this morning's passage; and so he prayed that they would. We really get a sense, then, of the importance of these things in the fact that he said he didn't cease to either give thanks for these believers or to make mention of them in his prayers. He knew how necessary it was that they "knew" the spiritual blessings that were theirs; because, unless they knew them, they could not live according to them.
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There was another reason he prayed this for them; and that was because they couldn't know these spiritual blessings were theirs unless God graciously enabled them to do so. This leads us to our third point . . .
3. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN SO THAT THEY CAN KNOW THEM (vv. 17-18a).
Paul tells them that he makes mention of them in his prayers, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him . . ."
He refers to God as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ"; and this identifies Him to us as the God who planned our redemption through Jesus, and brought it about all the way to our adoption in Christ, and who will see it through all the way to our glorification with Christ. That's how Paul referred to God in verse 3; "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".
But He also refers to Him as "the Father of glory". Certainly, it's appropriate to think of Him as the Father of glory, because He is the Father of His glorious Son Jesus. But it's also appropriate to think of Him this way, because "glory" is what His great work of saving us will result in - His glory through us. Three times, Paul has already mentioned that what God was going to bring about in our salvation was His own glory. In verse 6, it was "to the praise of the glory of His grace'; and in verse 12, it was "that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory; and in verse 14, it was "to the praise of His glory." This one who is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ" has proven in our salvation to be "the Father of glory". And of course, He is "the Father of glory", because He brings us to full glory in Jesus His Son.
But notice Paul's point: It's only through the grace of our glorious Father God that we could ever truly come to "know" the rich spiritual blessings He has given us. And so, Paul prays that this "God of our Lord Jesus Christ - the Father of glory" would grant to us "the spirit" (that is, an inner disposition) that is characterized by "wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him".
"Revelation" is the act of God in which He grants truth to us that we would not otherwise know; and "wisdom" is the ability to apply that truth rightly in our lives. And these must be given to us by God. The great spiritual blessings we have in Christ are not things that we "discover" as a result of research or philosophic inquiry. They are not things that we would come up with - or even could come up with - in our own minds. We could never know the spiritual blessings God has for us unless He graciously passed the information on to us. The Bible tells us; "'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
And more than that; we would not even know how to "know" the information He gives us about our rich spiritual blessings in Christ, unless He had also graciously changed us, and made it possible for us to receive the information. Paul prays that all of this would occur, "the eyes of your understanding [or, as some of your Bibles say, "the eyes of your heart"] being enlightened."
Apart from God's grace, we cannot know the truths of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. Paul describes our condition apart from the grace of God in 4;18; ". . . having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." But when we place our faith in Jesus, God graciously opens the eyes of our hearts so that we can know the things He wants us to know. How good He is to us!!
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So then, we've seen who it is that must know these things; and how important that it is that they know them, and how it can be that they can even know them at all. And that brings us, finally, to . . .
4. WHAT THE THINGS ARE THAT THEY NEED TO KNOW (vv. 18b-23).
There are three things God wants us to know. And dear brother or sister in Christ, they are truly wonderful things! What great riches are ours in Christ!! What a wonderful thing it is that they are already our possessions fully in Him!!
Do you remember that everyone needs to have a sense of hope? People need to know that they have a future, and that this future is good. Not everyone, of course, has cause for such a hope. Those who are apart from Christ, as the Bible says, are described as "having no hope and without God in the world" (2:12). But that's not true of those who are in Christ. And so, the first thing Paul prays is "that you may now what is the hope of His calling . . ." He wants us to know what the destiny is that He has called us to in Christ.
For one thing, we need to know that we are destined to receive a rich, eternal inheritance in Christ. The apostle Peter once wrote that we have been born again to a "living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Because He lives, we also will live with Him. And this resurrection is "to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (vv. 4-5). No one will ever be able to take that inheritance from us. We may not have our hands on this inheritance at the moment; but it is, nevertheless, our possession right now. It is kept safe for us in heaven - no matter what may happen to us before we get there.
We also need to know that we are destined to a glorious eternal home with Christ. Jesus said, "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3). Jesus longs to have us with Him forever. We will dwell forever with Him, beholding His glory. And we'll never miss this glorious destiny; because Jesus Himself will come and get us, and take us to dwell in the glorious place He is preparing for us. This too is a part of "the hope of His calling".
And we need to know that we are destined to be glorified together with Him. It's God's purpose to conform us to the image of His own Son. This is the purpose of the work He's doing in us now, in a temporal way, through the church - "till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . ." (Eph. 4:13). But it's also something that God will, one day, completely bring about in us - fully bringing us into the glory of Christ Himself. John wrote, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). A rich inheritance, an eternal home with Christ, complete conformity to His own glorious image - these things and more are ours as "the hope of His calling".
I heard a story once about a man who was riding into town in a wagon. He was on his way to receive a rich inheritance that he had just been granted. It turned out that, as he was about a mile away from town, a wheel on the wagon broke; and this forced him to walk the last mile into town. He was pretty grouchy about having to walk a whole mile; but then he stopped to realize what he was on his way to do - and he laughed at how silly it was to complain! A mile's walk is an inconvenience; but it was certainly no big deal when he was on his way to receive an inheritance so rich that he could buy as many wagons as he wished.
And it's the same with us. We may have trials in life. There may be many times of sickness, or loss, or trouble, or need along the way. But if we truly know what God wants us to know - what is the hope of His calling - then the trials and troubles are certainly no big deal when we're on our way to receive a share in such a rich inheritance forever!
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Another thing everyone needs is a sense of worth and value. They need to know that they matter and that they are loved. And so, a second thing that God would want those of us who are in Christ to know is, "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints."
Now think of those words! ". . . What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." In the previous words, God wanted us to know that we have an inheritance awaiting us from Him. But in these words, God wants us to know that He has an inheritance in us! We are a precious inheritance - or "portion" - to Him!
Do you know that, when Jesus went to the cross, He went with the purpose in mind of redeeming us out of our sins and bringing us into a relationship with Himself forever? He did it in order to receive us! He wants us! His saints are a cause of great joy to Him, because He has placed His love on us forever! Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before Him"; and we - being washed clean of our sins and glorified with Him forever - are that "joy that was set before Him"! Paul said that Christ's love for the church is an example of how a bridegroom loves his beloved bride: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her . . ." And why? ". . . That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Jesus Himself even prayed, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). In fact, Jesus even affirmed in His prayer for us that His Father loves us as He loves His own Son (v. 23)!
Oh, dear brother or sister in Christ; we have great value in Him! God the Father looks upon us as a great gift to His own Son. Jesus longs for us as a bridegroom longs for his own bride. If we only understood how precious we are to Christ, we would never think of ourselves in the same old way again! And Paul prays that we would have our eyes opened to understand this - to know "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints"!
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There's one more thing we need to know. Everyone needs to have a sense of confidence that they will be able to meet the challenges and trials of life. Everyone needs the power and resources necessary to deal with the troubles and situations that come their way. And so, God wants us to know "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe".
As a pastor I often counsel with people who are facing important life changes. They need to break free from some addictive behavior; or they need to repent of sin; or they need to cease a habit or adopt a new one. And often, I hear people cry out that they just can't do it. And in a sense, they're right. They just can't do it - on their own! But did you know that, in Christ, there is nothing that God calls us to do that He cannot enable us to do? There is literally nothing impossible for the man or woman of Christ!
You may not feel that way about yourself; but the truest thing about you isn't what you feel about yourself, but what God says about you in His word. And He says that you possess great power in Christ to do the things He calls you to do. The apostle Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). In Ephesians 2:20, he says, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). There is literally nothing that God will ever call us to do, that He doesn't also supply all the power we need in Christ to do it!
Paul goes to great lengths to describe the greatness of the power at work in us - speaking of the "exceeding greatness of His power according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead . . ." And think of that. He is saying that the power that is at work in us through Christ is the very same power that the Father worked in Christ Himself! Look at what he prays! He prays that we will know
. . . what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
That's the power that is at work in you and me!! Let me ask you; do you have troubles and trials in life pressing in on you? Are they greater than you can handle in and of yourself? Well tell me; are they a greater trial than dying on the cross was? And yet, God's power was sufficient to raise Jesus from the death of the cross and seat Him in great glory at His own right hand. And that same power is the very power that is at work in you!! There is no problem that you could ever encounter that His power is not more than sufficient for!
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We have it all in Christ, don't we? We have hope, we have love, and we have power. I believe Paul affirmed these same three things, in reverse order, to Timothy when he wrote, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). All of these rich spiritual blessings are already yours in Christ - and yours to the fullest degree possible!
Now let me ask you; do you believe these things? Do you really "know" them - that is, know them experientially? Please remember what I suggested at the very beginning. The difference between a professing Christian who lives a victorious life in Christ and one who continually flounders in the same old problems and troubles and failures over and over is this: the victorious Christian is the one who "gets it". He or she knows what the spiritual blessings are that God has given to all His saints. He or she believes these things and takes them as facts that are true of themselves, and then gets up and faithfully lives accordingly. Will you be one of them? Will you be one who "gets it"?
The apostle Paul says this in 4:1 to these Christians for whom he had prayed; "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called . . ." Dear brother or sister in Christ; walk like these things are true!!
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