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.
Presently we don’t live in heaven physically, but in a sense we do live in the heavenly realm. Though we are not in heaven, we are experiencing heavenly life. We have the life of God within us. We are under the rule of a heavenly King, and we obey heaven’s laws.
As a result, we experience “a foretaste of glory divine,” as Fanny Crosby noted in the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” We are living in a new community, enjoying a new fellowship that will fully come to fruition in a place called heaven.
1:3 Following his brief salutation, the apostle lifts his voice in a magnificent hymn of praise, soaring into some of the sublimest heights of NT worship. Here we have the overflow of a heart that adores God for the blessings of grace. In these verses (3–14) Paul traces God’s activity in salvation from eternity past through time and on into eternity future. And this necessarily involves a discussion of the mystery of God’s will—believing Jews and Gentiles as co-sharers of the glorious inheritance.
He begins by calling on all who know God to bless Him, that is, to bring joy to His heart by praise and worshiping love. The blessed One is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. At certain times Jesus addressed God as God (Matt. 27:46). At other times He spoke of Him as Father (John 10:30). The blessed One is also the Blesser. We bless Him by praising Him. He blesses us and makes us glad by showering us with the riches of His grace.
He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Here is a pyramid of grace:
every spiritual blessing
every spiritual blessing in the
every spiritual blessing in the heavenly
places in Christ
Notice first how unstinted are His heart and hand—every spiritual blessing. Notice, too, that these are spiritual blessings. The simplest way to explain this is to contrast them with the blessings of Israel under the law. In the OT, a faithful, obedient Jew was rewarded with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from his enemies (Deut. 28:2–8). The blessings of Christianity, in contrast, are spiritual, that is, they deal with treasures that are nonmaterial, invisible, and imperishable. It is true that the OT saints also enjoyed some spiritual blessings, but as we shall see, the Christian today enjoys blessings that were unknown in previous times.
Our blessings are in the heavenly places, literally “in the heavenlies.” Instead of being material blessings in earthly places, they are spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. The expression, in the heavenly places, is used five times in Ephesians:
1:3 The sphere of our spiritual blessing
1:20 The scene of Christ’s present enthronement
2:6 The scene of our present enthronement in Christ
3:10 The locale from which angels witness God’s wisdom exhibited in the church
6:12 The region which is the source of our present conflict with evil spirits
When we put these passages together, we have a truly scriptural definition of the heavenly places. As Unger put it, they are “the realm of the believer’s position and experience as a result of his being united to Christ by the baptism of the Spirit.” All spiritual blessings are in Christ. It was He who procured them for us through His finished work at Calvary. Now they are available through Him. Everything that God has for the believer is in the Lord Jesus. In order to receive the blessings, we must be united to Christ by faith. The moment a man is in Christ, he becomes the possessor of them all. Chafer writes, “To be in Christ, which is the portion of all who are saved, is to partake of all that Christ has done, all that He is, and all that He ever will be.”
In Christ is one of the key expressions of Ephesians. There are two closely related lines of truth in the NT—the truth of the believer’s position and the truth of his practice.
First, the believer’s position. Everyone in the world is either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Those who are “in Adam” are in their sins and therefore condemned before God. There is nothing they can do in themselves to please God or gain His favor. They have no claim on God, and if they were to receive what they deserve, they would perish eternally.
When a person is converted, God no longer looks upon him as a condemned child of Adam. Rather He sees him as being in Christ, and He accepts him on that basis. It is important to see this. The believing sinner is not accepted because of what he is in himself, but because he is in Christ. When he is in Christ, he stands before God clothed in all the acceptability of Christ Himself. And he will enjoy God’s favor and acceptance as long as Christ does, namely, forever.
The believer’s position, then, is what he is in Christ. But there is another side to the picture—the believer’s practice. This is what he is in himself. His position is perfect, but his practice is imperfect. Now God’s will is that his practice should increasingly correspond to his position. It never will do so perfectly until he is in heaven. But the process of sanctification, growth, and increasing Christlikeness should be going on continually while he is here on earth.
When we understand the difference between the believer’s standing and his state, it enables us to reconcile such seemingly opposite verses as the following:
|Believers are perfect (Heb. 10:14)
|Believers should be perfect (Matt. 5:48)
|Believers are dead to sin (Rom. 6:2)
|Believers should reckon themselves dead to sin (Rom. 6:11)
|Believers are a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9)
|Believers should be holy (1 Pet. 1:15)
The first column deals with position, the second with practice.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians itself is divided into two halves that parallel this truth: (Chaps. 1–3): Our position—what we are in Christ; (Chaps. 4–6): Our practice—what we should be in ourselves. The first half has to do with doctrine, the second half with duty. In the first three chapters our position is often described by such phrases as “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in Him,” “in whom.” In the last three chapters the phrase, “in the Lord,” is often used to express the believer’s responsibility to Christ as Lord. Someone has well said that the first part of the letter pictures the believer in the heavenlies in Christ, whereas the last part views him in the kitchen.
Now we are ready to consider some of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places which are ours in Christ.
- Blessed (be) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Goodness, truth, and beauty are combined in this initial doxology, in which the apostle, in words that are beautiful both in the thoughts they convey and in their artistic arrangement, pours out his soul in true adoration for God’s goodness in action. He ascribes to God the honor due him for spiritual blessings past (election), present (redemption), and future (certification as sons with a view to complete possession of the inheritance reserved for them). The apostle realizes that divine blessings bestowed upon God’s people should be humbly, gratefully, and enthusiastically acknowledged in thought, word, and deed. That response is the only proper way in which these spiritual bounties can be “returned” to the Giver. The circle must be completed: what comes from God must go back to him! That is the meaning of saying, “Blessed (be).…”
The sentence begun by “Blessed (be)” rolls on like a snowball tumbling down a hill, picking up volume as it descends. Its 202 words, and the many modifiers which they form, arranged like shingles on a roof or like steps on a stairway, are like prancing steeds pouring forward with impetuous speed. Says John Calvin, “The lofty terms in which he [Paul] extols the grace of God toward the Ephesians, are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all on flame, to fill them even to overflowing with this disposition.” Paul’s “heart aflame” is bent on setting other hearts aflame also, with sincere, humble, overflowing praise to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Cf. Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31. Since Jesus was and is not only God but also man, and since he himself addressed the first Person of the Trinity as “my God” (Matt. 27:46), it is evident that the full title “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is justified. As to the term “Father,” it is evident that if the title “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” places emphasis on Christ’s human nature, that of “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” calls attention to the Son’s divine nature, for not nativistic but trinitarian sonship is referred to in this thoroughly trinitarian epistle, in which the Beloved, by whatever name he is called, is constantly placed on a par with, and mentioned in one breath with, the Father and the Spirit (2:18; 3:14–17; 4:4–6; 5:18–20). Christ is the Son of God by eternal generation. See also N.T.C. on the Gospel according to John, Vol. I, pp. 86–88. Now, calling the first person of the Holy Trinity “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has a very practical purpose, as the apostle shows plainly in 2 Cor. 1:3. In his capacity as Father of our Lord Jesus Christ he is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” Via Christ every spiritual blessing flows down to us from the Father. And if Christ is “the Son of God’s love” (Col. 1:13), then God must be the Father of love, the loving Father. Note also that beautiful word of appropriating faith, namely, our: “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How close this draws Christ to the believers’ hearts, and not only Christ but the Father also. Truly, Christ and the Father are one! On the title “Lord Jesus Christ” see verse 2 above.
Paul continues, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. The Father blesses his children when he lavishes gifts upon them in his favor so that these bounties or these experiences, of whatever nature, work together for their good (Rom. 8:28). Together with the gift he imparts himself (Ps. 63:1; cf. Rom. 8:32). While it is not true that the Old Testament regards material goods as being of higher value than spiritual, for the contrary is clearly taught in such passages as Gen. 15:1; 17:7; Ps. 37:16; 73:25; Prov. 3:13, 14; 8:11, 17–19; 17:1; 19:1, 22; 28:6; Isa. 30:15; cf. Heb. 11:9, 10, it is true, nevertheless, that between the two Testaments there is a difference of degree in the fulness of detail with which earthly or physical blessings are described (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 28:1–8; Neh. 9:21–25). God is ever the wise Pedagogue who takes his children by the hand and knows that in the old dispensation, “when Israel is a child” it needs this circumstantial description of earthly values in order that by means of these as symbols (e.g., earthly Canaan is the symbol of the heavenly), it may rise to the appreciation of the spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). The New Testament, while by no means deprecating earthly blessings (Matt. 6:11; 1 Tim. 4:3, 4), places all the emphasis on the spiritual (2 Cor. 4:18), and it may well have been that in order to emphasize this difference between the old and the new dispensation it is here stated that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ blessed us with every spiritual blessing. It is best to allow the context to indicate the nature and content of these blessings. Though, to be sure, the very word every clearly proves that it would be wrong to subtract even a single invisible bounty from the list of those “vast benefits divine which we in Christ possess,” yet the context indicates that the apostle is thinking particularly of—or subsuming all these benefits under—those that are mentioned in the present paragraph, namely, election (and its accompaniment, foreordination to adoption), redemption (implying forgiveness and grace overflowing in the form of all wisdom and insight), and certification (“sealing”) as sons and heirs.
The phrase “in the heavenly places” or simply “in the heavenlies” (used in a local sense also in 1:20; 2:6; 3:10, and probably also locally in 6:12) indicates that these spiritual blessings are heavenly in their origin, and that from heaven they descend to the saints and believers on earth (cf. 4:8; and see N.T.C. on Phil. 3:20 and on Col. 3:1).
For the meaning of “in Christ” see on verse 1 above. It or its equivalent occurs more than ten times in this short paragraph (1:3–14), clear evidence of the fact that the apostle regarded Christ as the very foundation of the church, that is, of all its benefits, of its complete salvation. It is in connection with Christ that the saints and believers at Ephesus (and everywhere else) have been blessed with every spiritual blessing: election, redemption, certification as children and heirs, and all the other benefits subsumed under these headings. Apart from him they not only can do nothing but are nothing, that is, amount to nothing spiritually.
The Aspects of Blessing
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, (1:3)
Paul here presents six aspects of the divine blessing he is about to unfold: the blessed One, God; the Blesser, also God; the blessed ones, believers; the blessings, all things spiritual; the blessing location, the heavenly places; and the blessing Agent, Jesus Christ.
The Blessed One—God
Such gracious truth is introduced appropriately by praise to the One who has made such provision: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. From eulogeoō (blessed) we get eulogy, a message of praise and commendation, the declaration of a person’s goodness. Because no one is truly good but God (Matt. 19:17), our supreme eulogy, our supreme praise, is for Him alone.
Goodness is God’s nature. God the Father not only does good things, He is good in a way and to a degree that no human being except His own incarnate Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, can be. Consequently from Genesis to Revelation, godly men, recognizing the surpassing and humanly unattainable goodness of God, have proclaimed blessing upon Him. Melchizedek declared, “Blessed be God Most High” (Gen. 14:20). In the last days,0 “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” will be “heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’ ” (Rev. 5:13).
Nothing is more appropriate for God’s people than to bless Him for His great goodness. In all things—whether pain, struggle, trials, frustration, opposition, or adversity — we are to praise God, because He is good in the midst of it all. For that we praise and bless Him.
Consistent with His perfection and praiseworthiness, the One who is to be supremely blessed for His goodness is Himself the supreme Blesser who bestows goodness. It is He who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift,” James reminds us, “is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Paul assures us “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God blesses because He is the source of all blessing, of every good thing. Goodness can only come from God because there is no source of goodness outside of God.
The Blessed Ones—Believers
The us whom God has blessed refers to believers, “the saints … in Christ Jesus” Paul addresses in verse 1. In His wonderful grace, marvelous providence, and sovereign plan God has chosen to bless us. God has eternally ordained that “those who are of faith are blessed” (Gal. 3:9).
When we bless God we speak good of Him. When God blesses us, He communicates good to us. We bless Him with words; He blesses us with deeds. All we can do is to speak well of Him because in ourselves we have nothing good to give, and in Himself He lacks no goodness. But when He blesses us the situation is reversed. He cannot bless us for our goodness, because we have none. Rather, He blesses us with goodness. Our heavenly Father lavishes us with every goodness, every good gift, every blessing. That is His nature, and that is our need.
The Blessings—Everything Spiritual
Our heavenly Father blesses us with every spiritual blessing. In the New Testament pneumatikos (spiritual) is always used in relation to the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it does not here refer to immaterial blessings as opposed to material ones but to the divine origin of the blessings—whether they help us in our spirits, our minds, our bodies, our daily living, or however else. Spiritual refers to the source, not the extent, of blessing.
Many Christians continually ask God for what He has already given. They pray for Him to give them more love, although they should know that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). They pray for peace, although Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). They pray for happiness and joy, although Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). They ask God for strength, although His Word tells them that they “can do all things through Him who strengthens” them (Phil. 4:13).
God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). It is not that God will give us but that He has already given us “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” He has blessed us already with every spiritual blessing. We are complete “in Him” (Col. 2:10).
Our resources in God are not simply promised; they are possessed. Every Christian has what Paul calls “the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). God cannot give us more than He has already given us in His Son. There is nothing more to receive. The believer’s need, therefore, is not to receive something more but to do something more with what he has.
Our heavenly position and possession are so certain and secure that Paul speaks of God’s having already “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
The Location of Blessing—The Heavenly Places
These abundant, unlimited blessings from God are in the heavenly places. More than heaven itself is included. The heavenly places (cf. 1:20; 2:6; 3:10) encompass the entire supernatural realm of God, His complete domain, the full extent of His divine operation.
Christians have a paradoxical, two–level existence—a dual citizenship. While we remain on earth we are citizens of earth. But in Christ our primary and infinitely more important citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Christ is our Lord and King, and we are citizens of His realm, the heavenly places. That is why we are to pursue “things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).
Because we are members of God’s dominion, unlike the “sons of this age” (Luke 16:8), we are able to understand the supernatural things of God, things which the “natural man does not accept” and “cannot understand … because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14).
When an American citizen travels to another country, he is every bit as much an American citizen as when he is in the United States. Whether he is in Africa, the Near East, Europe, Antarctica, or anywhere else outside his homeland, he is still completely an American citizen, with all the rights and privileges that such citizenship holds.
As citizens of God’s heavenly dominion, Christians hold all the rights and privileges that citizenship grants, even while they are living in the “foreign” and sometimes hostile land of earth. Our true life is in the supernatural, the heavenly places. Our Father is there, our Savior is there, our family and loved ones are there, our name is there, and our eternal dwelling place and throne are there.
But we are presently trapped in the tension between the earthly and the heavenly. Paul reflected that tension when he said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed … as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 4:8–9; 6:10).
The key to living as a heavenly citizen while living in an unheavenly situation is walking by the Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit,” Paul says, “and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). When we walk in His power He produces His fruit in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control” (vv. 22–23). We receive our heavenly blessings by living in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Blessing Agent—Jesus Christ
Christians possess every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places because they are in Christ. When we trust in Him as Lord and Savior, we are placed in a marvelous union with Jesus Christ. “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17). Our unity as Christians is more than simply that of common agreement; it is the unity of a commonness of life, the common eternal life of God that pulses through the soul of every believer (cf. Rom. 15:5–7).
All that the Lord has, those in Christ have. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). Christ’s riches are our riches, His resources are our resources, His righteousness is our righteousness, and His power is our power. His position is our position: where He is, we are. His privilege is our privilege: what He is we are. His possession is our possession: what He has, we have. His practice is our practice: what He does, we do.
We are those things and have those things and do those things by the grace of God, which never fails to work His will in those who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:10).
All Good in Christ
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
I have been a pastor in one place or another for more than two decades, and during that time I have probably put together between 1,300 and 1,400 worship services. These services have had various elements, all important: the sermon, Scripture readings, hymns, prayers, congregational responses, and other items. I value each of these. But as I have reflected on the worship of Christian people over this long period, I have come to believe that one of the most important aspects of all the various parts of worship is hymn singing. Why? Because it is in hymn singing that the congregation itself actively voices praise to God.
The sermon is important. We learn from the sermon. But doctrine, if it is rightly understood, leads to doxology. If we discover who God is and what he has done for us, we will praise him.
Praise to the Father
Paul must have understood this well, for most of his letters begin early on with a hymn of praise (and prayer) to God. We all know that Paul’s letters tend to divide into two sections: teaching and application or, as we could also say, faith and life. Doctrine is followed by duty. But usually, long before he gets to the duty section, Paul revels in what God has done for us by praising him. Romans reviews basic doctrine and praises God for it. Second Corinthians is another example. The same thing occurs in Galatians (briefly), Philippians, Colossians, and other letters. Of all these letters, none is so overflowing with this initial praise to God for his great blessings as Ephesians.
This is a remarkable section of Paul’s letter. To begin with, it is all one sentence—from verse 3 to verse 14. English translations generally break the words up for ease of reading, but in the Greek Paul simply begins with a note of praise to God for “every spiritual blessing” and then keeps going, adding phrase upon phrase and doctrine upon doctrine, as he lists these benefits. One commentator calls this “a magnificent gateway” to the epistle. Another calls it “a golden chain of many links.” A third calls it “a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colors.”
John R. W. Stott, who lists these and other descriptions of Paul’s great paragraph of praise, summarizes: “A gateway, a golden chain, a kaleidoscope, a snowball, a racehorse, an operatic overture and the flight of an eagle: all these metaphors in their different ways describe the impression of color, movement and grandeur which the sentence makes on the reader’s mind.”
But it is not just a great panorama of color and movement that we are confronted with in these verses. We also meet with a vast display of doctrines. In fact, they are interconnected, which makes it hard to analyze the paragraph.
Some commentators have noticed that the work of God the Father is chiefly described in verses 3–6, the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in verses 7–10, and the work of the Holy Spirit in verses 11–14. They have divided the paragraph along Trinitarian lines. John Stott provides a temporal outline—the past blessing of election (vv. 4–6), the present blessing of adoption (vv. 5–8), and the future blessing of unification (vv. 9–10)—followed by a section on the “scope” of these blessings. E. K. Simpson lists the blessings: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, wisdom and understanding, the unification of things in Christ, and the seal of the Holy Spirit.3 In his very extensive commentary, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones abandons any attempt to provide a neat outline and simply goes through the section significant word or phrase by significant word or phrase.
Probably the Trinitarian framework is most helpful. Paul is saying that the blessings listed come from God the Father, become ours in Jesus Christ, and are applied by the Holy Spirit. We notice, for example, that God the Father is the subject of nearly every verb in the section, and that the phrase “in Christ” or “in him” occurs throughout.
All Spiritual Blessings
I have said that in Greek, Ephesians 1:3–14 is one sentence. But it is appropriate that the New International Version (and some others) make verse 3 a sentence to itself. It states a theme and highlights what is to come. The verse says God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” and praises him for it.
What are we to make of the word “spiritual” in this sentence? The word could mean either of two things. It could mean that the blessings come to us by means of the Holy Spirit. The last verses of this section (vv. 11–14) certainly teach that. Or it could mean that these are spiritual rather than material blessings. The phrase “in the heavenly realms” which also occurs in this sentence, suggests that Paul is probably thinking of “spiritual” in the second sense. That is, he is thinking of blessings related to heaven rather than earth and is declaring that these blessings are freely given to us.
It is not that God does not give material blessings as well. He does. Jesus promised that his disciples would be provided with all things needful (see Matt. 6:25–34). The apostle Paul said, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). But these material provisions are relatively unimportant when measured against spiritual riches. Besides, although in this life we may have more or less material possessions, in spiritual terms we have not merely some but all blessings in Christ.
Ephesians 1:4–14 is a listing of these blessings. We will be looking at many of these in greater detail as our study unfolds, but it is worth looking ahead to the entire scope of them now.
- Election. Paul says that “he [that is, God] chose us in him [that is, Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (v. 4). This troubles some people, because they suppose that if God elects individuals to salvation, as this verse and others clearly declare he does, then the value of human choices is destroyed and the motivation for a holy life vanishes. This is not what happens. Instead of destroying the value of human choices, election gives us a capacity for choosing that we did not possess previously as unregenerate persons.
Before we were made alive in Christ we had a human will. But it was directed against God, not toward him. We could choose, but we always chose wrongly. When we were made alive in Christ we received a new nature, according to which God, who before was undesirable to us, now became desirable, and we willingly submitted ourselves to him. Again, so far as living a holy life is concerned, we are told in another text that God wills our holiness. So, far from being an excuse for unholiness, election actually guarantees the opposite. The only way we can know whether we are among the elect ultimately is whether we are living a holy life.
Election teaches that “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Indeed, Paul makes this clear in this passage. He teaches that God “chose” (v. 4), “predestined” (v. 5), “gave” (v. 6), “forgave” (v. 7), “lavished grace” (vv. 7–8), “made known his will” (v. 9), “purposed” (v. 9), “included” (v. 13), and “marked” us with the seal of the Holy Spirit (v. 13). It is God’s work from beginning to end.
- Adoption. The second spiritual blessing in Christ is adoption, for “in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (v. 5). Adoption means becoming God’s sons and daughters with all the privileges implied. On this basis we are said to be “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) and have the privilege of bringing all things to God in prayer and of being heard by him.
- Redemption. Redemption means being delivered from the slavery of sin by the death of Christ, which Paul indicates by saying: “In him [that is, Christ] we have redemption through his blood” (v. 7). In antiquity a person could become a slave in one of three ways. He could be born a slave; children of slaves were automatically slaves too. He could become a slave by conquest; the citizens of a city or nation captured by another city or nation would be enslaved. He could become a slave through debt; a person who could not pay a debt could be enslaved as the last possible resource for payment.
Significantly, the Bible speaks of people being slaves of sin in each of these ways. We are born in sin, receiving a sinful nature from our parents (“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” Ps. 51:5). We are conquered by sin (“Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me,” Ps. 19:13). We are also slaves of sin through debt (“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Rom. 6:23).
Redemption means Jesus delivering us from this slavery to sin by his work on the cross. Before, we were held captive and could not break free to do God’s bidding. We did not even want to. Now we are freed to serve God by Jesus’ death. As Peter writes, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18–19).
- Forgiveness of sins. Paul links forgiveness of sins to redemption, writing, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (v. 7). But although they are closely linked, forgiveness of sins is something different from redemption. Redemption means being freed from sin’s power, so that it no longer rules over us. Forgiveness means having God wipe the slate clean. The Bible seems to go out of its way to magnify the wonder of this forgiveness. David wrote, God “forgives all my sins” (Ps. 103:3). Jeremiah quotes God as saying, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). John declared, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- The revelation of God’s purpose in history. Now Paul reaches the greatest heights of wonderment and rapture when he speaks of God’s great purpose in history, namely, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (vv. 9–10). Paul lived in a very broken world, as we do. He saw Greek pitted against Roman, Jew against Gentile, rich against poor, aristocrat against commoner. He saw people struggling for themselves and, above all, struggling against God. “Is this to go on forever?” he might have asked. Fortunately, Paul knew the answer to that question. The disharmony of the world is not to go on forever, for the same God who has predestined us to salvation in Jesus Christ has also predestined all things to be brought together in submission to him.
Paul wrote to the Philippians: “At the name of Jesus every knee [shall] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue [shall] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).
- Sealing by the Holy Spirit. Seals authenticate documents and declare that the promises contained in them are good. This is what the Holy Spirit does for Christians. So when Paul says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13), he is saying that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is an authentication that believers are truly God’s and that none of the promises God has made to them will fail.
- An inheritance. The Holy Spirit, though a seal on the document, so to speak, is actually more than certification of God’s promises. He is himself a portion of our inheritance. Paul speaks of this when he terms the Holy Spirit “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (v. 14). This is a nice turn of phrase. According to this verse, Christians are God’s inheritance. But the Holy Spirit, who is God, has been given to us as a down payment on the fullness of the inheritance which is already ours in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Only
The last part of verse 3 tells us that the spiritual blessings given by God are “in Christ,” which means, “in Jesus only.” In the last chapter I alluded to the importance of the phrases “in Christ,” “in him,” or their equivalents, pointing out that they occur, in all, 164 times in Paul’s writings. This is a difficult idea, but there is hardly a more important concept in the New Testament, since it is only by means of our union with Christ that any of these great spiritual blessings come to us. Even our election is in Christ, for God “chose us in him before the creation of the world” (v. 4).
We will be coming back to the phrase again and again as we work through this letter, and we will be looking at some of the more mystical aspects of the phrase then. Here it is more important to stress that these blessings can only be given to us through Jesus.
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it well: “If you leave out the ‘in Christ,’ you will never have any blessings at all. … Every blessing we enjoy as Christian people comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. God has blessings for all sorts and conditions of men. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount gives our Lord’s teaching that God ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good’ (Matt. 5:45). There are certain common general blessings which are enjoyed by the whole of humanity. There is what is called ‘common grace,’ but that is not what the apostle is dealing with here. Here he is dealing with particular grace, with special grace, the blessings that are enjoyed by Christian people only. The evil as well as the good, the unjust as well as the just, enjoy common blessings, but none but Christians enjoy these special blessings. People often stumble at this truth, but the distinction is drawn very clearly in the Scriptures. The ungodly may enjoy much good in this world, and their blessings come to them from God in a general way, but they know nothing of the blessings mentioned in this verse. Paul is writing here to Christian people, and his concern is that they should understand and grasp the special blessings and privileges possible to them as Christians; and so he emphasizes that all those blessings come in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and in and through him alone. You cannot be a Christian without being ‘in Christ.’ Christ is the beginning as well as the end. He is Alpha as well as Omega. There are no blessings for Christians apart from him.”
What does anyone have apart from Jesus Christ? Paul answers just a chapter further on in this letter: “Separate from Christ, [you are] excluded from citizenship in Israel and [are] foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
What is the situation when we are “in” him? We have “every spiritual blessing” and so praise God the Father, as Paul himself does, exuberantly. We will ask for our daily bread here, and other things besides. But if we suffer want here, in the final analysis it will be all right, because we still possess every spiritual blessing “in the heavenly realms.” John Calvin summed it up wisely: “Whatever happens to us, let us always assure ourselves that we have good cause to praise our God, and that even if we are poor and miserable in this world, the happiness of heaven is enough to appease us, to sweeten all our afflictions and sorrows, and to give us such contentment that we may nevertheless have our mouths open to bless God for showing himself so kindhearted and liberal towards us as even to adopt us as his children, and to show us that the heritage which has been purchased for us by the blood of his only Son is ready for us, and that we cannot miss it, seeing that we go to it with true and invincible constancy of faith.”
3 The doxology begins with eulogētos (GK 2329), a word best translated as “blessed be” or “praise be,” which corresponds to a Jewish berakah—an extended blessing frequent in the OT and in Jewish prayers. Paul also employs this tactic in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (cf. Ro 1:25; 9:5; 2 Co 11:31 for his other uses of the Greek term). The one to be praised is both God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The designation “Father” became a Christian way of understanding God after Jesus called God “Abba.” Neither “God” nor “Father” identifies his name: “God” expresses deity, and “Father” specifies his role in relation to Jesus. Again, this Jesus Christ is “Lord.” Paul adds the reason why God is to be blessed: he has “blessed” (from eulogeō) Christians with “blessings” (from eulogia), a Semitic pleonasm (redundancy). The verb “blessed” and the noun “blessing” are cognate to the first verb, translated “praise be.” “Blessings” are the benefits God has bestowed on his people. Paul adds both the location of those blessings and their extent.
The location of those blessings is truly unexpected: he has blessed believers “in the heavenly realms.” Paul uses this spatial expression here and at 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12. In the first three texts, believers enjoy a position in the heavenly realms with God or Christ; in the other two, rulers, authorities, and evil spiritual forces reside in the heavenly realms. Is this a literal location or a metaphor for some reality? While evil forces may well be said to inhabit some literal heavenly realms, and though Christ is literally in heaven somewhere, this can hardly be true for believers now in the same literal sense. So rather than presenting some arcane cosmology or topography of the heavenly spheres, Paul’s reference is more likely soteriological and eschatological. Though believers are not yet literally resurrected and seated with Christ (1:20; 2:6), the spiritual transaction that will eventuate in these realities has occurred. Through what Christ accomplished in his resurrection and exaltation, the “age to come” has overlapped the present so that those “in Christ” in this age experience the spiritual benefits that will be consummated in the next age. And because believers are still in “this age,” they continue to contend with their and God’s enemies until the end. I referred to this earlier as “realized” eschatology.
God’s blessings are boundless. Paul says God has spared nothing when it comes to blessing his people spiritually. The key lies in the addition of “in Christ.” They lack nothing in the spiritual realm because they are in him. The preposition “in” may also have an instrumental sense—the blessings come through Christ, and this certainly is true. The rest of the letter will show, however, that the locative sense of inclusion in Christ is the dominant sense. Lincoln, 22, puts it succinctly: “Believers experience the blessings of the heavenly realms not only through Christ’s agency but also because they are incorporated into the exalted Christ as their representative, who is himself in the heavenly realms.” Paul will unpack the implications of this corporate solidarity in more detail as he proceeds.
 MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 167). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1906–1907). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 72–74). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 7–10). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 8–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
 Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 47–48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.