The Gospel Observer

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19,20).
May 6, 2012


1) Ephesians 1:1-6 (Tom Edwards)


Ephesians 1:1-6
by Tom Edwards

In Ephesians 1:1-3, Paul writes: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  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[.]"

Paul's salutation reminds us of many of his other letters, but notice here in verse 3, the Lord has "...blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." The phrase "heavenly places" is used 5 times in the Bible -- and all in the book of Ephesians.  But is it always referring to the same thing?  We need to remember that the Greek word for heaven is used to stand for three different things: 1) that eternal place where God dwells, 2) the realm where the stars are, and 3) our atmosphere, the realm where birds fly and clouds are.  The adjective 'heavenly" also refers to these things; and, in addition, is used to refer to something that is "of [a] heavenly origin or nature."  So with these definitions in mind, consider how the phrase "heavenly places"  is used in the following verses:

Jesus is shown to be seated at God's right hand "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20).  Obviously, we know that to be heaven itself (cf. Heb. 9:24).  

Paul told the Ephesians that they were seated "in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2:6).  In what heavenly place can it be said that Christians are?  For one thing, how about the church?  As we saw, the term heavenly can also mean "of a heavenly origin or nature"; and can that not be said about the church?  It was built by Jesus who dwells in heaven: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matt. 16:18).  In building the church, Christ not only gives the law of admission, but also laws that are to govern the church in its work and worship.  Therefore, when we meet together in order to worship the Lord, and use His word to do so, are we not then developing a spiritual or heavenly atmosphere for our services?  So being part of the church is one sense in which we are in a heavenly place.  As J. W. Shepherd writes, "The church of God is the reign of heaven on earth.  The truth, services, and hopes are all heavenly.  The temper to be cultivated is heavenly."

It is God's plan that the "manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10).  Who are these "rulers and authorities"?  As the passage shows, they are those who dwell in heavenly places.  Though there are some differing views on this, it appears that this is referring to the angels, who are also spoken of as "dignities" (KJV) or "angelic majesties" (NASB) in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 1:8.  Thayer also shows that though this Greek word for "rulers" (Eph. 3:10) means primarily "beginning" or "origin," and then "the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader," it can also mean "5) the first place, principality, rule, magistracy 5a) of angels and demons."  And concerning the Greek word for "authorities," in the same passage, Thayer also gives as one of its fourth meanings, "the leading and more powerful among created beings superior to man, spiritual potentates."  From Ephesians 3:10, it implies that these heavenly beings, though angels, didn't know about all of God's manifold wisdom, but were now seeing that through the Lord's design and plan for the church.  This corresponds with 1 Peter 1:12: "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look." 

In Ephesians 6:12, we are shown that our struggle is not merely against flesh and blood, "but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."  We noted that one of the definitions of the Greek word for "heavenly" pertains to the region "of the clouds."   Notice also in Ephesians 2:2 how Paul portrays evil as being in the "air":  "in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience."  Thayer defines the Greek word for "air" as, secondly, "the atmospheric region."  

And, lastly, in our verse under consideration, God has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).  In all five of these passages where the phrase "heavenly places" is found, "places" is not in the original Greek and is probably italicized in your Bible version to indicate that.  E.M. Zerr,  therefore, views the term "heavenly" in Ephesians 1:3 as describing these spiritual blessings -- because they are from heaven.  And, as this verse shows, one must be in Christ in order to have these blessings. 

Paul then states in Ephesians 1:4-6 the following: "just 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 to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."

"...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...."  It is verses like this that many Calvinists interpret to mean that God arbitrarily chose, before the beginning of time, certain persons to be saved.  And that this choosing was not based on whether the person would have faith or wouldn't have faith -- or even if he wanted to be saved or not -- but, rather, it would be totally up to God.  For the Calvinist views man's election as being unconditional.  In other words, there is nothing that man needs to do to be saved; and one reason for that is because if man were born totally depraved, as the Calvinist claims, then he would never have the ability nor even the desire to be saved.  So if that be the case, salvation would have to be completely up to the Lord.

But man is not born totally depraved; and he does have the ability to obey God, if desires to do so, which is another possibility.  So the choice is up to man (cf. Eccl. 7:29; Luke 8:15; Luke 18:16,17; 1 Cor. 14:20; Josh. 24:15).  

What the Bible shows is that before time began, God knew that mankind would come to have need of a Savior; so the Lord had a plan of salvation already in mind before the world was even created.  Anyone who will believe and obey that plan will then meet the conditions of those whom God has chosen in Christ.  And some of that includes being "holy and blameless."  As the Bible shows in Hebrews 12:14, without "holiness" or "sanctification," "no one will see the Lord."  It is amazing that even though God knew that man would eventually sin, and it would require Jesus to atone for those sins by an agonizing death, the Lord went ahead and made man anyway!  Does this not indicate that man must be very special to God?  The Lord truly does love us and wants none to perish (2 Pet. 3:9), but we have to be willing to accept His way. 

To help us better see that being of God's elect also involves are choice and submission to His will, think about the apostles.  They were chosen by God.  Paul shows that he was chosen by God even before birth (Gal. 1:15,16); yet Paul also realized he could still be lost if he didn't live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) -- just as Judas was.  Also, God's choice of Mary to conceive Jesus did not eternally secure her a home in heaven.  Rather, her making it there would be based on her faithfulness to the Lord and God's grace and mercy.   And think, too, of the nation of Israel.  They had been a people out of all the nations of the world that the Lord had chosen to be His special people during the Old Testament times (cf. Deut. 7:6-8); but even though they had been His "chosen," that did not mean they could never be lost -- for many of them were (cf. 1 Cor. 10:5-12).  The fact that these -- as well as any Christian -- can be lost, indicates that our salvation is not totally up to God.  Rather, if we want to be part of His chosen people who will be saved in the judgment day, we then have a need to maintain a right relationship with God (which the Bible indicates and explicitly teaches in many passages). 

To see more of man's responsibility in becoming one of the chosen, consider also 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.  And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Being sanctified by the Spirit and having faith in the truth involves our hearing God's word and submitting to it.  So there are some things that we must do, and which the Lord does not do for us.  As Paul goes on to show, our calling is "through our gospel."  So our being "chosen" is also based on the choice we make by our own freewill to submit to God's plan.  In addition, we can also say that because the Lord knows the hearts of all men, He already knows who is of the disposition to accept the gospel and who is not.  For that reason, notice what He says in these following verses:

"And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16).  

"And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, 'Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9,10).  

God can know not only who will accept Him, but also who will reject Him, as in the case of Judas in Matthew 26:21, where Jesus states, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me."  And the Lord knew specifically that it would be Judas (v. 25).  

In Ephesians 1:5, Paul states that "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ...."  And we are His children not in name only, but it is also to be that way in how we live.  As verse 4 declares, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him."  In Romans 8:12-17, Paul shows that we are not to live "according to the flesh," which results in death; but, rather, we are to be led by the Spirit and put to death the sinful deeds of the flesh that we might live.  For then we are truly "children of God."  Consider, too, what Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

This "adoption" that Paul speaks of (Eph. 1:5) cost the price of redemption, which was paid by Jesus' death on the cross: "But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God" (Gal. 4:4-7).  Paul shows in Ephesians 1:5 that this adoption is "according to the kind intention" of God's will.  God is not a cold, indifferent, or unconcerned being who doesn't care about what happens to us.  Rather, as John 3:16 shows, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."  In Romans 2:4, Paul declares, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"  When Paul mentions to Titus of this wonderful unmerited salvation that could never be earned, though we do have to meet certain conditions for it, he says, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy..." (Titus 3:4-8).  So in view of the Lord's kindness toward us, we need to reciprocate by submitting to His commands.  

We also realize, however, that though there is this kindness of God that leads to repentance, there is also a wrath-side of the Lord for those who reject His kindness: "Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22).  Again we are made aware of the need to abide in the Lord's kindness by our adherence to His word.  

In Ephesians 1:6, Paul shows that God's grace has been "freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."  Here, "freely," of course, doesn't mean "unconditionally."  For the obtaining of God's grace is a conditional thing.  The Bible speaks of being saved by grace, so with that we are in full agreement.  For example, Ephesians 2:5 states, "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."  But as we read on, we learn that salvation is not by mere grace alone; for notice what Paul goes on to say: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).  Now we are made aware of the fact that grace is only part of the equation for salvation.  For faith is also another necessary factor.  And when we turn to James 2:24,26, we see what is to characterize saving faith: "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."  So from this, it doesn't come as a surprise that the Bible shows that grace in one's life can be made void or ineffectual, according to Galatians 2:21: "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."  This also shows that the false belief of "once in grace always in grace" or "once saved always saved" is not true to the Scriptures.  For one who was once saved by grace can depart from it, as we see in Galatians 5:4: "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."

In addition, in thinking of the conditional nature of salvation, consider just a couple of these "if" passages from the Scriptures.  The very word "if" indicates that a condition needs to be met: "but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7).  "...`If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" 

Ephesians 1:6 also makes clear that God's grace can be received ONLY through Jesus Christ. Therefore, people today in religions that reject Jesus or that do not see Him as being the Son of God, the Messiah, remain excluded from the grace of God.  As Jesus states in John 8:24, "...unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins."  Salvation is a spiritual blessing, and as we noted in Ephesians 1:3, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ; so one must be in Christ for this to be so.  When the apostles were questioned as to what power or in what name they made the lame man walk, Peter let them know it was "...by the name of Jesus Christ...";  and that "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:8-12).

Furthermore, those who do not accept and obey Jesus as their SAVIOR -- and the only way to heaven -- will one day, ironically  and sadly,  have to stand before Him as their JUDGE in that great Judgment Day (John 5:22,23).  So if you need Jesus in your life, why not submit to His gospel plan of salvation this very day!  As the Bible makes amply clear, the Lord wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance and be saved (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4).  So why not make that your choice, too?

The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation

1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17;  John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Park Forest

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evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (225) 667-4520
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