“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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4)
What do we need to do to be saved? Be good to people? Love our neighbors? Keep the Sabbath? Don’t eat shellfish? Get baptized? Say you accept Jesus as your savior?
Not really. In fact, not even close. And Ephesians packs a punch when it comes to these spiritual truths.
Paul, for example, didn’t choose to follow Christ. In the first verse of Ephesians, he writes that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus “by the will of God.” Right from the beginning, Paul gives full credit to God’s will, not his own.
Verse 3 brings up our first theme for Ephesians: our blessings. God has blessed us in Christ with “every spiritual blessing.” There is nothing else for us to do. We receive the full blessing of God through Christ.
Paul was writing this letter to a very diverse group of early Christians. Many had doubts on the assurance of their salvation. And these Christians to whom Paul wrote lived in an extremely diverse city filled with sin.
Place yourself in one of the largest and richest cities in the Roman Empire. In fact, only Rome and Alexandria are larger than your port city of Ephesus. One of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis, has been built in your city and is a constant reminder of the polytheism and diversity of the city.
On one hand, it was a great place to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. But it also had a long history of superstitions from other religions. And many new followers of Christ held onto their old beliefs, idols, and lifestyles.
Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus to assure them that God’s blessings were all they needed. We don’t need anything else, he said, because God has blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing. Sacrificing to old idols wasn’t needed. We could rely on God alone because he made the ultimate sacrifice, in Christ.
In much the same way as these Ephesians were surrounded by sin and were unsure how to live among such a culture, we are living in a culture that promotes sin, packaged in so many appealing forms.
Fortunately, despite our sins, God chose us to be holy and blameless. This is only because of God’s grace.
Paul uses the term grace (χάρις) quite frequently throughout this letter (95 times). Later, he will expand on God’s grace and how it is the heart of Christianity.
It is a free gift to us. Because God chose us before the foundation of the world, we know His Grace wasn’t given to us because of anything we did. It was according to His will, not ours, that we received His grace. Does this grace mean we stop sinning? Of course not.
But it does something else.
These new believers in Christ’s salvation also needed encouragement to move away from their immoral, sinful lifestyle.
Because Ephesus was such a diverse city, just a simple stroll through the streets would be constant reminders of their old ways: drunkenness, sexual immorality, lying, stealing, and so on.
Every New Year’s I see countless resolutions from people on social media. Some are diets. Some are habits they wish to stop. Some are new goals to start. I think many of us start off fine.
Then at some point, we might forget a day of exercise. Or we might slip back into a habit and eat a bag of chips.
That moment creates a problem for us. We are no longer on a perfect trajectory. We slipped out of that new life and into our old life. Add in the fact that society loves the sinful life, well, it just makes it super tough to stick it out. It becomes appealing to just slip back into our old ways.
So Paul knew that new Christians needed some form of encouragement. And in these first few verses, we see where we get that encouragement.
It allows us to not worry that if we sin once more we will lose our salvation. It also gives us the assurance that God will help us along the way with encouragement. What is that encouragement?
It is in Christ.
We are predestined for adoption through Jesus Christ. He blessed us in Christ.
We see “in Christ” or “in the beloved” eleven times just in this passage. Paul is being extremely direct that we have a new identity in Christ, and this is what will transform Christians.
God uses the metaphor of adoption to illustrate that we have a new life and that it is one that has a very personal relationship with Him. The result of this new life is that Christians act to promote God’s glory, not their own.
Staying within the adoption metaphor, we don’t do good works to be loved by God or earn our salvation. We have just been assured by Paul that God adopted us and blessed us before the foundation of the world.
Instead, we do good works and celebrate God’s glory because He already loves us. Because he has already blessed us. We are already in Christ. As he explains in the next chapter:
”For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
This assurance allows us to separate ourselves from the sin of the world, and live a life that is holy so that we can be a light for His Glory. And it is that light that He shines through us that draws others to Him through His Word (Romans 10:17).
So we can do nothing to be saved. We want to do everything because we are already saved.
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.