>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, July 12, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Ephesians 1:3-14.

Today’s passage is a difficult one to sort through and understand on the first pass. Paul has a tendency in some parts of his letters to go off on tangents, and then trace back to the original thought without missing a beat. He also has a tendency to come up with some really long sentences. Today, we get the best of both worlds in one passage. Believe it or not, verses 3-14 are actually one long sentence in the Greek.
What amazes me most about this prayer that Paul lifts up at the beginning of the letter is the number of times he uses the phrase “in Christ,” or something similar. In just twelve verses, he uses the phrase ten times. That is a pretty high percentage, and it tells me that there is something important about this idea of being “in Christ.” So, what is it? What is it about the Christian life that makes it so crucial to be “in Christ?”
Paul begins the prayer by essentially giving thanks to God simply for who He is, but in doing so, he makes some significant theological statements. First of all, we are blessed in Christ and we are chosen in Christ before the very foundation of the world. A lot of times when we think about God’s plan for salvation, we look back to creation and notice that everything is declared good by God. Well, almost everything, the one thing that isn’t declared good is the fact that the man is alone, but that’s another message for another time. We build up creation as though it was the time when everything was perfect, but what if the creation story is meant to tell us something else? What if creation is not about how humanity messed everything up, but how things will look when all things on heaven and on earth are fully reconciled to God?
I think, in the creation story, we are given a snapshot of what eternity will look like. Because notice what Paul says here. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Christ’s role as redeemer of all humanity wasn’t a last minute decision that was caused because of the fall of humanity. It is an essential part of the person and role of Christ. God wasn’t surprised by the sin of humanity. God is never surprised by what we do. It’s not like we sin, and God sits on His throne and says, “Whoa! I didn’t see that one coming!” Redemption isn’t God’s way of making up for something that He missed. Redemption is a part of who God is. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life;” not, “I became the way, the truth and the life.”
Redemption was a very clear destination, not a detour. Redemption doesn’t happen on accident, it is the result of a very intentional decision. God’s plans of redemption were laid out from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. Ultimately, where we end up for eternity is a result of whether or not we follow this path of redemption.
I’m going to tell you something that at first will make you say, “Well, yeah. Of course.” But stay with me for a minute. Your direction determines your destination. If you want to go to Indianapolis, and you head out to I-74 and go west, you’ll never get there. At least, not without some significant detours and turning around. We realize this when we are driving, but do we realize it when it comes to our spiritual lives? Take a second to think about your spiritual life right now. What direction is it heading? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If you’re thinking “I don’t know,” or “what is this guy talking about” then I think we have a directional problem. If we have a destination in mind, we don’t tend to get in our car and just drive around in circles. But we do that in our spiritual lives. Why? Ultimately, our destination is redemption and reconciliation with God, so why are we wondering around in circles? Why are we going places in our lives that don’t take us to our destination?
Paul says in his prayer that we are blessed and chosen for a purpose. That purpose is so that we should be holy and blameless before God. But is that direction that we are headed? Think about what your last week looked like. Did it look like a life that was headed towards redemption and reconciliation? Did it look like a life that would end up with you being holy and blameless before God? You know the answer to those questions better than I do. If the ultimate destination is the presence of God, what are we doing to go in that direction?
Now, some people will read through this passage and see a theological buzzword: “predestined.” For centuries, Wesleyans and Calvinists have had a fair amount of debate concerning the doctrine of predestination. As a Wesleyan myself, and having this congregation as a part of the Wesleyan tradition, I think it is important for us to understand a Wesleyan perspective on predestination. Those who are predestined to eternal life with God are those who believe in the gospel and place their trust in Christ.
It’s not about a cosmic game of dodgeball in which God either picks you, or He doesn’t. It’s about going in the direction that leads to redemption. It’s about the path that you take. Paul says that we are predestined for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we become children of God. The direction is predestined, not the individuals. It is only through Christ, and not by any other means that we enter into God’s presence. It is in Christ that Paul say we have three things: verse 7 – we have redemption; verse 11 – we have an inheritance; and verse 13 – we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.
First, in Christ, we have redemption. Paul is very specific about this. We have redemption specifically through the blood of Christ. And this redemption is specifically the forgiveness of our sins according to the grace of God. Forgiveness is not something that we earn. It is not the result of our hard work. It is not something that we are owed. Forgiveness is solely because of the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Forgiveness and redemption are a part of God’s plan that came to fruition at just the right time in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that it is possible for all things to be united together in him, as Paul says, things in heaven and things on earth. All of creation is redeemed. All of creation is redeemed, and it is because of the grace of God.
Second, in Christ, we have an inheritance. The word for “inheritance” has some interesting history behind it, especially as we understand it from the perspective of ancient Israel. In the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, this same word is used when the tribes are given a portion, or allotment of the Promised Land. Translating that into the New Testament, it seems to signify a place for us in heaven. Jesus says in John 14 during his last night with the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house. There is a place for those who put their trust in Jesus. It is our allotment, if you will. The land in the Old Testament was recognized to belong to God, but by His grace, the land became the possession of the people. In the same way, by God’s grace, we have an inheritance, and that inheritance is our place in heaven.
This inheritance, which is to be given to those who place their trust in Jesus, is specifically for the glory of God. Again, it is the free gift of grace that allows us to have this inheritance. Our salvation is not just for our own good, but so that we might be praise and glory to God. Salvation is more than a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Ultimately, our salvation is not for our own sake, but for the glory of God. And how is glory brought to God because of our salvation? By the way that we live it out. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it’s true. We bring glory to God by the way that we live our lives. The way we live out our faith serves as a crucial witness for those around us of what it means to be saved by the grace of God. When people look at your life, are they seeing a life that glorifies God? Pray about that this week.
Finally, in Christ, we are sealed. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit when we hear the truth of the gospel and believe in Jesus. The work of the Spirit in our lives is the seal of our salvation. It cannot be broken. In ancient times, a messenger of the king would be given a letter and it would be sealed with the king’s emblem. If it arrived at its destination, and the seal was broken, it was grounds for execution by the messenger. The only one that could break the seal after the king gave it to the messenger was the recipient. No one can break the seal of your salvation, which you have received from the King. The only way that it can be broken is if you, as the recipient, break it.
We are given the promise of the Holy Spirit to be with us and work within us as long as we stay connected with God. If we break off that relationship, then that promise is no longer guaranteed. There are some who would say that once you are baptized, then that’s it, you’re in heaven, regardless of what you do with the rest of your life. But I don’t think that is what Scripture tells us. Scripture is pretty clear that no one outside of ourselves can take away our salvation, but we can certainly walk away from it.
One example that I can think of right away is Saul. He turned away from following the Lord, and God’s spirit left him. He eventually went a little crazy and David was raised up as king. I think we can all think of somebody who has strayed away from the faith. Maybe they were raised as believers of Christ, but for whatever reason, they decided to go their own way, which brings me back to what I said earlier. Direction determines destination. If we place our faith in Jesus, and walk beside him every day of our lives, then it is pretty clear where we will end up. But if we walk away, if we start going in a different direction, then the only thing that is clear is where we will not end up. More often than not, you end up where you are headed. The question then becomes, “Is where you are headed where you want to end up?”
If you are living “in Christ” then your direction is clear. Spend some time this week walking alongside Christ. I’ll reiterate the challenge to spend 15 minutes a day reading your Bible. That’s one way that you can walk alongside Christ this week. If you’re having a hard time doing that, pick up in Psalms and read one psalm a day. Or even Proverbs, there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so you could read one a day for a month. Just do something. Like most things in life, your relationship with God doesn’t develop on accident. Intentionally set yourself in a direction to live in Christ, and you’ll end up there.