God's Inheritance is the Church
Passage: Ephesians 1:11–14
The Blessings of Inheritance and the Holy Spirit
In the opening 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul takes us to the summit of a theological Mt. Everest and gives us a panoramic view of God's plan for salvation and the spiritual blessings God has poured out upon us. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he pulls back the curtain on mystery of eternity past and writes that before the world was created God chose us and predestined us for adoption. Then he takes us to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ where God in His mercy provided redemption and forgiveness of sin. From that summit Paul then calls our attention to eternity future and gives us a glimpse into the mind boggling things God has in store for us and the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to seal us for that day.
Let's read verses 11-14.
Most of us have probably found ourselves pretty focused these past two weeks on the financial crisis this nation is facing. While there's a wide range of opinions about how severe the crisis actually is and what we should do to solve this crisis, it is a reminder of something that even a year ago - maybe even a month ago -might have seemed unthinkable: the US isn't immune to severe economic problems. The economic structure of this nation isn't so strong that it couldn't come toppling down under the right circumstances.
That should not cause the Christian to fear, but it does remind us that our security isn't to be found in this world. The Bible tells us that this world is passing away and all the systems and structures of the world will eventually fail and fall. The Christian's hope is in an eternal kingdom and in Christ's faithfulness to deliver us safely to that kingdom.
Thinking about Eternity
I don't think many Christians today think enough about eternity. I am quite certain I don't.
When I was a new Christian I remember being very excited about eternity. There was a hope that filled my heart when I realized that this world isn't the end of life - for those who trust in Christ death is the gateway to life! Sometimes a joy would well up in my heart knowing that Christ had saved me for eternity. Following Jesus Christ affects everything about this life, and there is much that God calls us to pay attention to in our walk, but we must not forget that at bottom Christianity is not centered in this world. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." We need to remember our kingdom isn't either.
The church is constantly being tempted to accept this world as her home...but if she is wise she will consider that she stands in the valley between the mountain peaks of eternity past and eternity to come. The past is gone forever and the present is passing as swift as the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz. Even if the earth should continue for a million years not one of us could stay to enjoy it... We do well to think of the long tomorrow. ~ AW Tozer
Not only does Paul helps us to climb that peak and catch a glimpse into that "long tomorrow" but God has given us His Holy Spirit to help assure us of our future hope in that "long tomorrow". Consider two points from these verses:
I. The Christian's eternity is rich because we are God's inheritance
I thought as I sat down to study this passage for this morning that I would be preaching on the subject of our inheritance in Christ - in other words all the eternal blessings that are ours in Christ. That is how most English versions translate this verse: "In Christ we have obtained an inheritance". Now, that we have an inheritance in Christ is absolutely true and Paul will pray in a few verses that our eyes will be opened to see the riches of our inheritance in Christ, but as I studied these verses, I found that the more likely meaning of this passage is that in Christ we have been made an inheritance for God. Or, perhaps a better word might be a heritage for God. Rather than our inheritance in Christ, it is God's inheritance in us.
In the Old Testament, God's people Israel are often spoken of as His heritage, His possession.
Deut. 32:9 But the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage.
Foreshadowing the day when the gospel would go to all the nations, God says to His Son (Jesus):
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. Psalm 2:8
God made Israel His heritage, not because they were strong or wealthy or large as a nation. To the contrary, they were weak and small and poor. There was nothing impressive about Israel that made God choose them. But the Bible says God "set His heart in love upon [them]." Deut 10:15
Paul now reveals the plan of God through gospel: after thousands of years of God dealing almost exclusively with nation of Israel, through Christ God has broken down the dividing wall and the Jews and Gentiles are all on the same footing - all those who hope in Christ and believe the gospel - are God's inheritance, His heritage.
Our greatest treasure
Actually, heritage and inheritance are closely connected. We have an inheritance in Christ because we are the heritage of Christ. This is the outworking of the amazing grace of God that has adopted us as sons and daughters! This points us to the source of the greatest joy we will experience in heaven.
The greatest treasure in eternity isn't just that we get to live forever - it's so much more than just endless existence. It's more than not having bad things happen to us and getting everything we want. Though that might sound like a huge improvement to this life, it could not sustain an eternity of joy and it would miss the greatest treasure we will have in heaven. We were created with a deep longing for more than just an endless life of bliss. We have a deep longing for relationship. It's in our DNA. It's how God created us.
The giant panda is thought to spend most of its life alone. It is content to eat, sleep, and rest, and do it all alone. So if you were to design eternal bliss for the panda there would be plenty of bamboo and peace and quiet so it ccould just "do it's thing" alone for ever and ever.
This is not how God created mankind. The best life in the world is going to be empty unless you have someone you love to share it with! Our joy is multiplied when we can share a beautiful sunset or an incredible experience with someone else. Deep within we know that a man who dies with a lot of stuff surrounding them but no one who really loves and cares about them dies a poor man. And a man who dies without any money or savings, but family and friends gathered around him or her telling how much they love and thank God for their life and will miss them and look forward to seeing them on the other side - well, we know that that person dies a wealthy man.
But even that's not enough. There is great joy in loving human relationships - but they never quite satisfy. We are created for more. The greatest human relationships are just an echo of the thirst that God created in us for Him. We thirst for our Creator. We were created to worship - everyone worships something, might be themselves, might be a rock star, an athlete, a politician, might be money or fame or fill in the blank - but we are worshippers and we were created to worship our Creator, the One true God and to know Him. That is eternal life - to know and love and worship and be in loving relationship with our Creator God and His Son Jesus Christ. Our greatest treasure in all of heaven will be God Himself!
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
For the Christian, the fact that we were created for loving relationship with God is probably not news. But when Paul says that we are His heritage that tells us something that should take our breath away: tells us that God treasures us. We belong to God, not as property, but as beloved sons and daughters and God treasures and loves us. God chose us and adopted us and redeemed us and forgave us all in Christ in order to draw us close to Him forever and ever as His children - His heritage. As Steve said last week, God is telling us, "I love you." And to make that statement in strongest possible terms He gave us the Holy Spirit.
- God sealed us with the Holy Spirit (vs. 13)
A seal was a mark of ownership and authenticity. God gave the Holy Spirit to seal us and authenticate us as His very own. That's why Paul writes to the Romans that if we do not have the Spirit of Christ we do not belong to Christ. Receiving the Holy Spirit authenticates God's ownership of us.
That seal also symbolizes God's protection from judgment. In Ezek. 8-9 God shows Ezekiel a vision whereby he sees Jerusalem and the leaders in idol worship and then six angelic figures who are poised to destroy the city, but first a seventh man is told to find those in the city who belong to the Lord, whose hearts have also hated the idolatry of the city, and to put a mark or seal on their foreheads. Then the six angels are told not touch them. They were protected from judgment by the seal. We are reminded that those who are saved by faith in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit are sealed - protected from judgment. Never need to fear the judgment of God. He has sealed us with His Spirit.
- Guarantee of the Holy Spirit
Some versions of the bible use the term "down payment". It was an earnest - a way of signifying serious intent to come back and finalize the purchase. We have been redeemed by God and He has guaranteed that He will not leave us orphans - we are His heritage.
As I was thinking about this concept of God leaving a down payment to indicate His earnestness in taking final possession of His inheritance, I had a rather sad childhood memory. I was a little boy - maybe 5 years old - and my dad and I were running errands and he parked the car and said he'd be back in a few minutes. I waited and waited - what seemed forever to me, until this thought came to me: maybe he's not coming back for me. Maybe he abandoned me. I thought about how I had probably disobeyed him recently (I did that fairly often) and I started crying and saying, "daddy, I'll be better. I'm sorry for disobeying."
Now, my father had no intention of abandoning me (and he came back soon after), but God never wants us to fear being abandoned by our heavenly Father and when we see the activity of the Spirit in our lives (even when its faint) it assures us: He will never abandon us. He has left His Holy Spirit as a down payment until the day He redeems His possession.
II. The Christian's eternity is glorious because God's purpose is to glorify Himself in us
We might wonder, how can we be God's heritage? We can maybe understand that God would give us an inheritance, but how can we be called God's inheritance? His portion? What does that say about us?
¨ We could come to the conclusion that we are pretty hot stuff - so incredible that God says, you're enough for me. I'm gonna make you My inheritance cause it doesn't get any better than you! Nah!
¨ The answer is found throughout these 11 verses and again in the last verse (14): to the praise of His glory.
What we give to God is glory. Praise. Because the truth is we will be there due to nothing we have done or earned. We will be there with no credit due our name - in fact we will have deserved to be cast away forever. That we should be so low and God should raise us so high will glorify His grace and mercy and love. All the redeemed and all angels will sing His praise - and we will display like nothing else ever could what a glorious God God is!
In that we will find great joy. Not that God makes much of us, but that we can make much of Him. That the mercy we received abounds to His great glory - we will love forgetting about ourselves and not demanding or wanting center stage, but joining our voices in multitudes who together lift up Jesus Christ.
Together all the redeemed will display the grace and love and mercy and sacrificial giving of God and His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit - and angels and man will join their voices to praise Him and give Him glory.
Stott wisely points out that :
Everything we have and are in Christ both comes from God and returns to God. It begins in His will and ends in His glory. For this is where everything begins and ends.
¨ Good news - we don't have to die to enjoy eternal riches. They are ours now.
¨ If you are a Christian, by the grace of God you are God's heritage. He has redeemed you, forgiven you.
¨ He loves and treasures you now.
¨ Satan whispers: "He has abandoned you. He's not coming back." Remind yourself of presence of Holy Spirit in life - no, He has sealed me and given me a down payment.
¨ By the Spirit of God our hearts are being changed so we don't live for our glory - we find our joy in Christ being glorified through us.