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 eulogeō (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, “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.
D. 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.”
Blessed with Christ’s Blessing (1:3)
We should praise God, because he blesses us with Christ’s blessing (Eph. 1:3). Paul says, “The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). We really need the last part of this verse to be able to explain the first part. The words “in Christ” remind us that our “spiritual blessing” includes several important elements.
We Are in Union with Christ (1:3a)
Twelve times in verses 3–12, Paul refers in various ways to believers’ spiritual union with Christ. The words appear so frequently that we may grow numb to their significance. However, we will not miss the impact Paul wants to make on our hearts if we track to the end of the chapter. There Paul identifies the One with whom we are united. He is the Son of God the Father and was
raised … from the dead and seated … at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:20–23)
Paul says that we are united to the One who is above every earthly power and authority in this age and the age to come. He is Lord. Yet we share his honor and blessings by being united to him.
Paul spells out the blessings: Christ is risen from the grave with power over sin and death; he is seated in the heavens with the Father; his power and privileges exceed anything on earth; and we share his glory. He is head of all things, and all that is precious in church and world is filled with him. All of these blessings we share by the marvelous grace of being united to Christ.
We struggle fully to apprehend all the goodness and glory of our union with Christ. The beauty of a sunset, the power of a storm, the purity of a child’s prayer, the majesty of a hero’s glory, the wonder of love’s passion, and the hope of eternal glory when such earthly blessings fail—all these are of him, all are under him, all are by him, all reflect the wonder, majesty, purity, power, and beauty of who he is. And because we are in union with him, they are ours, too.
We Are in Heaven with Christ (1:3b)
If such wonder is ours to enjoy, then a song may come to mind: “Heaven, I’m in heaven.…” And that is just the point that the apostle makes in the first part of verse 3. There he reminds us the blessings of Christ not only involve being in union with Christ but, through that union, being in heaven with Christ.
Paul says that God “has blessed us [past tense] in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). Does that mean that God is in the heavenly realms—up there—blessing us down here? Yes, but it means more also. Paul will later remind us with these same words that God raised Jesus “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:20). Jesus is in the heavenly realms; believers are united to him. So where are we? It is clear: we are also blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. This is precisely what Paul says in the following chapter: “God raised [past tense] us up with Christ and seated [past tense] us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
Because we are in union with Christ, who is in heaven, then we are in heaven with God. The apostle urges praise for God not so much because the Father is in heaven blessing us, as because we are there with him being blessed by him. As hell is total, conscious separation from the blessings of God, so the spiritual dimension of heaven is total and conscious union with God. In our union with Christ, we are already partakers of this spiritual reality, even though it is not fully realized until we are in our glorified state freed of our mortal bodies and the constraints of our temporal existence. This means we are already experiencing aspects of heaven, although we are not yet there.
The benefits of this “already and not yet,” Paul has already stated: grace and peace (Eph. 1:2). We face difficulty, danger, and the deceit of our own hearts, but heaven and all its benefits are already ours. The difference the “already and not yet” makes can be compared to an experience our family had some time ago. On our family vacations, we enjoy going to a cabin that adjoins a deep set of woods. At certain times of the year the woods are so dense that when we have been out hiking, it is difficult to find the path back to the cabin. As night closed in during one such hike, we knew that we would not be able to spot our regular landmarks. So we began to angle through the woods in the direction we thought the cabin was. It got darker and darker; no familiar landmarks came into view. The children assumed that we were lost. I kept a brave face, as if I knew where we were, but ultimately I turned around to tell them the real situation. But just as I turned, a light from the cabin caught my eye. In the dark and dense woods we had actually walked past the cabin, but seeing the light, I knew we were safe. We were not yet inside, but the light meant that we were already safe and secure. What was my reaction to being “home”? Relief, and peace.
It is a similar reaction that Paul intends for us. He does not promise that we will never have to walk through the dark and dense woods. Trials are still here, disease still comes, finances are still hard, jobs and relationships remain difficult, and next steps may remain uncertain, but in Christ we are already home. We do not have to worry that there will be no place for us or that our God will not receive us, because he has already united us to his household through his Son and included us in his purposes. This gives us the confidence to be courageous in the face of opposition whether inside or outside the church. We say with the psalmist, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). Such confidence enables us to be less worried about the dollars and cents of a troubling bill, and more willing to consider how God is calling us to be faithful; less concerned with the wrath of a godless boss, and more willing to entrust ourselves to God’s care. Because we have eternal security that the deprivations of this world cannot deny, we are able to stand for truth when peers demand compromise, or stand up to a child who claims that our discipline will erase his love for us. The reality of our heavenly status in Christ makes earthly challenges less intimidating even if they are not less real.
But what if we do not feel worthy of such honor, or capable of earning such blessing? What if we face the same trials and temptations as did the Ephesians?
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.