“I AM BLESSED”
I was scrolling—not trolling—through my Facebook feed earlier this week. Nevertheless, I did come across something fishy. One advertisement that swam past said: “Discover the hidden, destructive, sabotaging patterns that are robbing you from freedom and fulfillment in life and your relationship.”
No one likes to be robbed. One of the saddest feelings in the world is when you feel like your life is going nowhere, everything seems pointless, small, insignificant, stupid. The comedian Bill Maher said, “Suicide is man’s way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me—I quit.”
That’s funny … well, a least it’s insightful.
Did you hear what happen at a WWII concentration camp in Hungary? Prisoners were forced to do nauseating work in a sewage plant. But something was accomplished. Then the plant was destroyed by allied bombers. So the Nazi officers said to themselves, “We’ve got to keep these men busy.” So they made the prisoners shovel sand into carts and drag it to the other end of the plant and dump it. The next day they were ordered to shovel it back into the carts and take it to where they started. The hokey pokey went on for days.
Finally one old man began crying uncontrollably; the guards hauled him away. Another screamed until he was beaten into silence. Then a young man who had survived three years in the camp darted away from the group. The guards shouted for him to stop as he ran toward the electrified fence. The other prisoners cried out, but it was too late; there was a blinding flash and a terrible sizzling noise as smoke puffed from his smoldering flesh. In the days that followed, dozens of the prisoners went mad and ran from their work only to be shot by guards or electrocuted by the fence.
We don’t do well without a destiny, a purpose … assurance that what’s going on in our lives is moving towards something significant, substantial, and splendid.
If we’re open to hearing what the apostle Paul has to say in our text this morning, our hearts will be established in the assurance of our destiny. So, let’s consider the text.
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. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
A Preface Before the Blessings
1. The White Elephant
Okay … maybe I should start by naming the white elephant in the room. People have thrown punches over the issues of election and predestination before. It’s a difficult passage, but not because we don’t know what it says. It’s difficult because we don’t like what it says.
After 20 years of theological studies at the highest levels and 45 years in the church I’ve been unable to wiggle free of three truths: (1) I’m not God; (2) God is in control; and (3) I’m responsible. I think I could live with #2, if #1 and #3 weren’t true, but they are.
In Isaiah 55 something was written that might be a spoon full of sugar to us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa 55:8–9).
Fine, I’ll buy that. As much as I want to be God, I realize I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I’m out of luck.
2. Changing Perspectives
Now, I don’t think we understand how ethnocentric we are. How fixed in assumptions, customs, thought patterns, etc. we are. It’s not until you have a chance to step outside of your culture that your assumptions get challenged and you begin to be reflective.
Elisabeth Elliot was a Christian author and speaker. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was killed in 1956 while attempting to make missionary contact with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. She said that when the Acus Indians had a cold and blew their nose, they would hold up two fingers beneath their nostrils. They’d blow their nose onto their fingers and then flick it off onto a bush. She explained to them that were she came from it was done differently. They said, “This might be a breakthrough in civilization. How do you do it?” She showed them a handkerchief and told them that she would blow her nose into it. Then they asked, “What do you do with it then?”
“Well, I put it back in my pocket,” Elisabeth said.
“You don’t touch it with your fingers, but you save it? … Oh, that’s really civilized.”
What do you do with it? That was a question she’d never considered.
When you live in another culture, you don’t see your culture or origin the same. When you come home, you don’t quite fit in anymore, you have different reactions—you’ve become thoughtful. The first time I went overseas as a missionary was in 1994. I spent the summer in China, and saw a lot of poverty, and when I came home the only thing on the new was the Baseball Strike, I was appalled.
Paul is pulling us away from the human—anthropocentric—point of view here. He says, “You’re not the center of the universe.”
That’s our bane, isn’t it? If things aren’t working out according to our plan; if we’re not getting what we need, aren’t feeling fulfilled, we say: “It’s unfair! God, you’re fired! You don’t know what you’re doing.”
So Paul’s saying, “Let’s take a cross-cultural adventure here; let’s look at things from God’s angle.” Then he starts describing things from that perspective and he’s like a snowball running downhill in an avalanche—in Greek the whole passage is one run-on sentence. And with every yard the ball rolls he’s worshiping, “Oh my goodness! Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The Occasion for the Blessings
“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.” “That’s great!,” we say, “I like blessings. How did I get them, what was the occasion … cause I’d like more?”
And the answer follows: You got them because he “chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4).
Okay, let me see if I got this: If I’m blameless, I’ll get blessings, right?
No, no, no.
Remember we’re looking at things from God’s point of view. He chose you in order that you would be holy. “To be holy” is to be “set apart.” In other words, by grace he called you out of what was common and set you apart. God makes us holy.
When I was growing up my mother had a china cabinet with fancy plates and gravy boats. She also had a box with fancy silverware. Unless it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinner, those items never touched oxygen. They remained behind the glass. They were set apart for special use.
If you are in faith, then God set up apart.
If you think about it, there is something quite comforting about this. “We love him, because he first love us” (1 John 4:19). The effectual love of God somehow invaded our interior worlds, touched our soul, and filled it with the capacity to love God in return.
“Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth / Would care to know my name.” We sang about that earlier in the service.
Hey … that makes me feel loved. That’s a blessing.
The Essence of the Blessings
Did you notice what our passage called the blessings? “Spiritual blessings” That’s interesting.
1. The Blessings are Spiritual and Present
A lot of folks don’t know what that means. They’re like: “I’ll take Jesus. Does it work?” They don’t want to know if Jesus is true, they want to know if he works. What are they after? A better life and they’ve got a laundry list of prayers God can start working on.
But the emphasis here is on spiritual blessings, and what is more the tense isn’t future, but past tense: “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” In other words, you already have the blessing in Jesus.
The best way to get at what the blessings are is to go on to something else our passage says: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5).
2. The Blessings Lie in Adoption
I want you to focus on that word adoption. Because Paul is saying that is the blessing where everything sits. If you are in Jesus by faith, then God is your Father.
Please understand that there is a great difference between a creator and a father. We say things all the time like Henry Ford is the father of Model T. We understand that he doesn’t tuck it in at night, that he doesn’t hold it when it has a bad dream.
Some of you have had good fathers. Some of you haven’t. When God is your Father, he loves you with wisdom, consistency, love, and compassion.
There is a story of a woman who was asked to share her spiritual journey at a dinner party one night. She began by stating that she was a job-related accident—she was the daughter of a prostitute. She was brought up by family members and constantly shuffled between the homes of her relatives. As an early teen, she’d been drawn into a church youth group where, through friends, she began to discover and respond to the love of God in Christ. After high school, she attended a Christian college, met a young man, fell in love, and got married. Her husband provided well for them, and they had a wonderful home and two lovely children.
From the outside, it seemed like a fairytale “rags to riches” story.
But her home, marriage, and family were being torn to pieces by her compulsive need to know and find her father. She spent every ounce of energy and all of the resources she could muster to discover who her father was. She badgered her mother about who her clients had been nine months before her birth, but of course her mother didn’t have the foggiest idea. Finding her father seemed impossible.
Then one day while home alone, standing in front of her kitchen sink washing dishes, the anguish of her heart swelled and tears streamed down her face, dropping into the dishwater. She cried out, “Oh God, who is my father?”
She heard a voice say, “I am your Father.”
The voice was so real that she spun around to see who had snuck into the kitchen. No one stood behind her.
Then she heard the voice a second time: “I am your Father, and I have always been your Father.”
In that moment she was released from the obsessive need to know who her biological father had been. In that moment she learned that in spite of the strange dynamic surrounding her conception and birth, she was a person spoken forth out of the heart of God’s love.
We’re all God’s creation, but not his children. We become God’s child by adoption.
3. The Blessings Come at a Cost
Many of you have heard of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That parable makes many points and one of them is how adoption works. Let me show you …
Perhaps you remember that the father had two sons. The elder son stayed home and the younger son, took his inheritance and blew it on everything he could think of. Since he took his inheritance, that means that what was left belonged to the elder son. So when the prodigal came back saying, “I’m a penniless fool. I’m stupid. Just make me a servant,” and the father said, “No … Put a robe on his back, a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and kill the fattened calf. My son who was dead is now alive,” perhaps you can see why the elder brother was miffed. Dad, “You can’t do that. He has no self-control. We’ll be broke. In fact, he can’t get back in except at my expense. The rest of the inheritance you’re spending on him is mine!”
When God the Father says, “I adopt you as my son or daughter,” it costs something. In fact, the elder brother, Jesus has to pay. But Jesus isn’t like the elder brother in the parable. Jesus willingly paid the price, he welcomes you into his inheritance.
To adopt you is the greatest thing God could do for you. Here’s why …
The goal of adoption is that the adoptive parents would treat the child like it was their natural child. Some families really struggle with that. God doesn’t. Jesus said: “Father, you have loved them even as you love me” (John 17:23).
Think about the difference that makes …
4. A Slave Versus a Son
A son or daughter, knows their sonship. They know the Father loves them. They know that the depth of that relationship is their inheritance. They can rest because of that relationship.
But how does a slave relate to the head of the house? A slave relates to the head as a boss. A slave is full of anxiety. A slave is afraid of being cast out or beaten. A slave works not out of freedom and love, but out of duty and fear. A slave and a son has different motives.
Are you a son or a slave?
Let’s go a little deeper …
A slave is emotionally up and down. They get blown all over the place … when they perform well they’re up, they think, “I’m worthwhile.” When their performance stinks—even against their own standards—they feel like failures. A slave is often critical, judgmental, they’re quick to jump on folks when they’re criticized. They want to control people and the environment because they don’t want anything to go south; they don’t want anything to reflect poorly on them.
Brittany and I went back and watched 5 seasons of Downton Abby this summer. I was surprised at how the servants downstairs acted. They were so catty: sensitive, touchy, resentful, always defending themselves, always joking for positions always full of fear and anxiety. A slave thinks like that cast of characters. A slave thinks, “I can’t be wrong, it can’t go wrong … if it does I’ll not be loved. I’ll get fired!” That concern comes from a spirit of slavery, not sonship.
On the other hand, a son or a daughter is emotionally stable. Why? Because he or she knows that they are not accepted on the basis of their performance. Doing well is a great way to honor God and serve their neighbor, but it’s not the reason a son is in the family—Jesus is. So a son doesn’t get a big head when things go well, no lose her head when things go poorly. A son isn’t afraid of being rejected, isn’t defensive, doesn’t jump down someone’s throat when criticized. Because a son knows that his or her dignity and identity is absolutely secure in Jesus’ righteousness, not in his or her success. And so son rests in the Father’s love.
Corrie ten Boom, together with her father and other family members helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust by hiding them in her closet. She was caught and imprisoned for her actions. She said that when she was a little girl, her father tucked her into bed at night. He talked and prayed with her, then laid his big hand on her little face. Later, when she was imprisoned in a concentration camp, she would ask God to tuck her in, praying, “My heavenly Father, will you lay your hand on my face?” Reflecting on those hard nights, she said, “That would bring me peace, and I would be able to sleep.”
Some of you know the taste of rejection. Some of you know the nagging need to be accepted, or loved, or listened to. Some of you know hard and restless nights, fears, anxieties. Well, there is good news here. For if you are in Jesus by faith, then God made you his.
Jesus washed you and paid the price to give you an inheritance. And that inheritance, is an intimate relationship with the Father. That’s the inheritance of adoption: You have a Father. And that’s a spiritual reality. You can’t touch it, but you can rest it in.
You don’t need to fight, because you have a Father. You don’t need to flee to your favorite form of self-medication, because you have a Father. You don’t need to be absorbed in that spirit of slavery, because you have a Father. A son or daughter lives trusting their Father’s heart.
The Purpose of the Blessings
“Adoption is … the highest privilege that the gospel offers” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). To be right with the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by the Father is greater.
As I close I want to leave you with one more thing that Paul draws our attention to. Adoption is great, but it’s kinda like looking at a single tree and not getting a view of the forest. So in verse 9 and 10 he shows us the forest: “Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
The big picture, the purpose, is that God is reuniting all things in Jesus. He is fixing the system.
A clock is a system. Open up the back of a mechanical wristwatch and you’ll see the system. Open up the hood of your car and you’ll see a system. Another wonderful systems is the way your lungs work. In goes oxygen; out goes carbon dioxide. I don’t understand that, but I’m thankful for it. But if you go to another planet and take your spacesuit off, your lungs won’t work right. They weren’t made for that system.
Now, in Colossians it says, “All things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]” (Col 1:16). This means that our lives, our relationships, our families, our communities, our economies, our psychology, our biology, everything was made to function under Christ. But Adam and Eve pulled themselves out of that system when they made themselves their own masters. They broken the system, and everything began to decay.
Alienation does that. When we are all running around with the spirit-of-slavery, rather than the spirit-of-sonship everything decays.
But the Father is putting the system back together in Jesus. He’s uniting things in Jesus. He’s adopting us into a family in Jesus. He’s calling us to rest in his Fatherhood in Jesus. There’s no perfection this shade of heaven, but resting in our sonship takes us down roads we’d otherwise not travel—like confession, forgiveness, and more.
For example, I can be wrong before you. I can tell you that sometimes I’m stressed out by all the set up we do, sometime I’m critical of my own performance. Sometimes I’m carrying on like a slave and forgetting my sonship. I can confess these things because I don’t need to look good in front of you. Why not? Because the Father accepts me in Jesus. Jesus is my dignity.
That’s living in and under Jesus. When we’re together at rest in the Father’s embrace, freed from ourselves by justifying and adopting grace, the systems of our lives, our relationships, our families, our communities, our psychology, etc. to some degree get put right. That’s exciting!
God has destined us to play a part in uniting all things in Jesus. It’s to that end he has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” that is, blessed us with wonder of his Fatherhood “to the praise of his glorious grace.”