November 30, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
In Christ
#5—I am blessed!

Introduction and offering:

Happy Thanksgiving!  Let’s count our blessings: the Seahawks won, the Zags won, the Eagles won, the Pirates won—we have a lot to be thankful for!

Do you regularly stop to count your blessings?  I loved the candy corn idea—thanks Eric!  We usually start with the obvious: our family, good friends, our health, good food to eat, a roof over our heads, a job—all the material and physical blessing of life.  Today, we’re going to count our blessings, but a different variety: our spiritual blessings in Christ.

Invite the ushers here: You can’t outgive God!

This is part 5 of our series, “In Christ”.  Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” or some variation of it over 100 times in his letters.  To be in Christ refers to your position: you are in Christ, like the ball is in the bucket, the check is in the mail, and the Cougars were in the Apple Cup.  And to be in Christ refers to your relationship with Jesus: you are united with Jesus, following Jesus.  As you live each day with Jesus, what is true of you because of your position, becomes true of you in your practice.  You grow into all that is true of you in Christ.

The Big Idea: In Christ, all that is true of Him changes all that is true of us.  In Christ, I am blessed with every spiritual blessing.

At the bottom of the outline, you’ll find two questions that I want you to answer as I give this talk.  What will I do?  This is the “so what” question.  If this is true, what will you do?  If something comes to mind, write it down, and do it this week.  Don’t just be hearers of God’s word, but doers.  Who will I tell? Who do you know that needs to hear what you just heard?  Write their names down and tell them.  By the way, all our messages are available in podcast, video and even written text on our website.  So if you want share something you heard, you have all the tools at your disposal. 

Our text today is Ephesians 1:3-14, and we’ll start with verse 3:

Ephesians 1:3 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.

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  When you are in Christ—when you put your trust in Him and live in Him—you are blessed! In Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and then he starts listing them. 

 

1. In Christ, we are chosen to be holy and blameless.

Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

God chose us in Christ.  This is so significant that Paul repeats it in verse 11.

Ephesians 1:11-12 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

God chose us in Christ. 

ILL: Do you remember choosing teams in the schoolyard?  The two captains would start with the best athletes or their best friends, and work their down to the kids who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.  The whole time you’re thinking, “Pick me!  Pick me!”  How many of you were the studs who got picked early?  How many of you were the big majority picked somewhere in the middle?  How many of you had to endure the torture of getting picked last?  It hurts to stand there and not feel wanted.

When I was a youth pastor, we loved to reverse the order at summer camp. The two captains knew that they were to mix it up.  The first one would look at all the studs, and then say, “I choose Mary Milktoast.”  Everyone was shocked, especially Mary, since she was the smallest, weakest and least athletic person on the field.  The other captain looked past all the studs and said, “I choose Herkimer Schnertz.”  Stunned, Herkimer walked proudly over to his new team, the first one chosen!  And so it went—backwards—until the only ones left were the big beefy jocks, who stood there shocked and a little ashamed at being chosen last. We used it as a teaching moment.  “How did it feel to be chosen first?  How did it feel to be chosen last?  Here’s the good news: in Christ, God has chosen you.  And He chose you first—before the creation of the world.  God wants you on His team!”

This is what it means to be chosen.  It means that God wants you.  God wants you on His team.

ILL: What do you choose?  Usually, you choose what you like; you choose what you want. 

At Thanksgiving dinner, we had potatoes and stuffing; how many of you chose potatoes?  How many of you chose stuffing?  How many of you chose both?  I chose stuffing—I love it!  Josh, this is for you!

For dessert, we had apple pie and pumpkin pie.  How many would choose pumpkin?  Gross.  How many would choose apple?  Wise choice!  Obviously, I chose apple because it’s what I like; it’s what I wanted.

God chose you.  God wants you. So He chose you in Christ before the creation of the world.  You were chosen first!  God wants you! 

Before the creation of the world, God decided to reconcile the world to Himself in Christ.  In other words, Jesus was never Plan B.  He was always Plan A.  God knew that the world would go sideways and His plan to bring us back was always Jesus.  So from the very beginning, before creation, God loved us and chose us in Christ.  From the moment you believe in Jesus and begin to follow Jesus, this becomes true of you: you are chosen by God.

 In Christ, God chose us to be holy and blameless in His sight.  What was God’s plan when He chose you? To make you holy and blameless. To make you the best you that you can be. 

ILL: Imagine a coach recruiting a player for his team.  The coach tells him/her, “If you’ll be on my team, I will help you become the best player you can be.  I will help you reach your full potential.”

God chose you to be holy and blameless, to reach your full potential, to be the best you that you can be, all that God made you to be.

In Christ, God chose us to be holy and blameless.

 

2. In Christ, we are predestined for adoption.

Ephesians 1:5 In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

This word “predestined” has shown up twice: here in verse 5 and in verse 11.  There, it says that we were predestined to be chosen.  Here, it says we were predestined for adoption.  What does it mean to be predestined?  The Greek word is proorizo and it means “to decide beforehand, to predetermine.” 

What did God decide beforehand?  I don’t think it means that God decides beforehand who will be saved and who won’t.  Some Christians—good Christians—think that’s what it means; I don’t.  I think it means that God has goals for his people that He decided beforehand.  For example:

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

God predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  The goal God set for us is to become more like Jesus.  This is our destiny, and God set it long ago—we were predestined for this.

ILL: You all predestine things.

When you go on vacation, most of you have a predestination.  You select your destination ahead of time, and then make it happen.

You did it today!  Before you left your home, you had a destination: Life Center.  You selected your destination ahead of time and then made it happen.  I’d be surprised if you just got in the car and said, “Let’s see where we end up!”  You had a predestination. 

God had a predestination for you in Christ: to be adopted into His family and become more like Jesus.  The moment you believe in Jesus and begin to follow Him, you are adopted into God’s family.

In Christ, we were adopted into God’s family.  In Christ, we were chosen in love to be His children. 

ILL: Bob Kilpatrick, a Christian singer and songwriter who has performed here at Life Center, tells this story about his dad. 

Bob’s dad was named August Christian Kilpatrick; everyone called him Auggie.  When Auggie was only 5, his father died, and his mother, unable to care for her children, placed them in the Charleston Orphan House, in Charleston, S.C.  Every Saturday, prospective parents would come, and the boys would scramble for the best clothes, wanting to look good, hoping they would be chosen.  The parents would look over the freshly scrubbed boys, and would call one out by name, “Rickie, I choose you.”  And every Saturday, Auggie would hope to hear his name called, “Auggie, I choose you”, but it never was.  Week after week, year after year, from the time he was 5 until he was 12, Auggie watched other boys come and go, but he was never chosen.

Finally when he was 12, his mother had scraped up enough money to take all the children out of the orphanage–except for Auggie.  He begged her to please take him home too, but for reasons no one ever knew, she left Auggie there.  He didn’t get out until he was 14, and by then, he was an angry young man, a fighter, and as you can imagine, he didn’t feel very good about himself.  He was the boy nobody wanted. 

Auggie went on to fight in World War 2, and after he got home, went to college on the GI Bill.  And then Jesus got a hold of Auggie.  He felt a call into the ministry, went to seminary, pastored churches, and in 1961 became the first chaplain in Viet Nam.

On Christmas Day, 1969, Auggie had one of those spiritual experiences that are hard to explain or define.  He saw something.  He saw a vision of a little 5 year-old boy named Auggie Kilpatrick, standing in line like he had stood so many times before at the orphan house.  And he saw a father, Father God, reach down and scoop him up, and put him in His lap, and wrap His arms around him, and say, “Auggie, I choose you.  I choose you.”  It changed his life.  For the first time, Auggie Kilpatrick knew that he was chosen, and believed that God loved him, that he really mattered to God.

And God says to you, “I choose you.  You are my child, holy and blameless in my sight.  I have a destiny for you and I have adopted you to be my own.”  That’s what God says! 

In Christ, we are adopted into God’s family.

 

3. In Christ, we are freely given grace.

Ephesians 1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

When we realize that God loves us, has chosen us, and adopted us, we can’t help but “praise his glorious grace, which he has freely given us” in Christ. 

All that God does for us is pure grace.  We don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it; it’s just grace, freely given in Christ.  Grace is God’s undeserved favor.  Grace is “a beneficent disposition toward someone.”  In other words, God’s attitude toward you is, “I want to help you.  I want to benefit you.  I want to do good for you.”  That’s grace.  We don’t deserve it, but God freely gives it to us in Christ. 

How freely is it given? 

Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.

God lavishes the riches of His grace on us.  To lavish is to give extravagantly.  God doesn’t dribble His grace; He lavishes it.  He is never stingy but extravagant with us. 

ILL: When I was a youth pastor in Eugene, I loved nice audio gear.  I enjoyed looking at high-end stuff in the best shops.  My problem was that I had champagne tastes and a beer budget—actually, I couldn’t even afford beer; it was more like an ice water budget.  At the time, I didn’t own a system; I was using a friend’s gear while he was away in the military. 

I gained a reputation among my friends for being knowledgeable, so a couple of them asked me to help them pick out gear, which I happily did.  One of them was my friend Dave McBride. 

A few months later, when I was packing to move here, Dave called me up and invited me to lunch.  After lunch, he slid an envelope across the table and he said, “After you helped me buy my system, the Lord spoke to me and said I was supposed to buy one for you—and that I was supposed to spend as much on you as I did on myself.”  Inside the envelope was a check for $2500—made out to the audio store across the street.  Dave knew what I liked, had priced it and it was waiting for me when we walked in! 

That’s lavish!  And that’s grace.  I didn’t deserve that—my couple hours of help didn’t warrant that kind of a gift.  It was pure grace on Dave’s part.  And it was lavished on me.  It was extravagantly generous.

We rushed home and I set it up in our empty living room, and it was booming when Laina walked in.  She took one look at me and said, “You didn’t!” 

“You’re right,” I said.  “I didn’t!  Dave did!”  And she was as blown away as I was at Dave’s lavish gift.

I tell that story as an easy to understand example of lavish generosity; I’m not suggesting that God’s goal is to give all of us a new stereo system.  That would be aiming way too low.  God is far more lavish than Dave!  God has freely given us His grace in Christ.  He has lavished it upon us—generously, extravagantly.  God is so good to us—gooder than we deserve, gooder than we can imagine!  It’s lavish, extravagant grace!

Many people blame God for the bad things and ask, “Why me?”  I think we need to see all God’s blessings—grace upon grace lavished on us—and ask, “Why me?”  Why is God so good to me?  Why am I so blessed? 

It’s all because of Jesus.  In Christ, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing.  In Christ, God lavishes His grace upon us. The moment you believe in Jesus and begin to follow Him, you are lavished with grace.

In Christ, we are freely given grace.

 

4. In Christ, we are redeemed and forgiven.

Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.

In Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  In Christ, you are redeemed and forgiven. 

What is redemption?  The Greek word apolutrosis originally meant to buy back a slave or captive; to free someone by payment of a ransom.  It was widely used of buying slaves to free them.  In Christ, we are redeemed.  He has bought us out of slavery and set us free.

ILL: I’m reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  She explains that Lincoln began his presidency favoring “compensated emancipation” for slaves.  In other words, he wanted the government to pay slave-owners for freeing their slaves—essentially, buying their freedom.  At one point, the congress considered creating a fund to do this.  Of course, the plan was rejected by the slave-holding states, and Lincoln eventually changed his position and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which unilaterally freed all slaves and changed the course of the Civil War.  Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, in all the long, shameful years of slavery in our nation, the main way slaves gained their freedom was when someone bought them and emancipated them.

Compensated emancipation.  What was the compensation Jesus paid for us?  Paul says that Jesus bought our freedom “through his blood.”  Peter says the same thing.

1 Peter 1:18–19 For you know that 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 ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

We were slaves to sin, slaves to the “empty way of life” we’d always known.  Jesus bought our freedom not with money, but with His blood. 

ILL: When Jesus was on trial, Pilate gave the crowd a choice: Jesus or Barabbas.  Barabbas was a terrorist, guilty of murder and insurrection, who was sitting in jail awaiting his execution.  The crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.  Jesus died instead of Barabbas.  Jesus died so Barabbas could go free.  Jesus redeemed Barabbas by His blood.

Now simply substitute your name for Barabbas.  I was guilty and awaiting my just sentence: death.  But Jesus died instead of me.  Jesus died so I could go free.  Jesus redeemed me by His blood.

And all those sins that I was guilty of and for which I deserved to die—all forgiven in Christ.  They are forgiven “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”  Forgiven fully, freely, lavishly!

Friend, you don’t have to be held captive by your sin any more.  Whatever it is—your temper, lust, porn, greed, an addiction—you can be free in Christ.  When you believe in Jesus and begin to follow Him, you are redeemed—fully and freely forgiven and set free.  No more slavery.

In Christ, we are free: redeemed and forgiven.

5. In Christ, we are shown the mystery of His will.

Ephesians 1:9-10 With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.

In Christ, God has made known to us the mystery of His will.  I get asked this a lot: “How can I know God’s will for my life?”  The short answer: in Christ.  As you believe in Jesus and follow Him, God will make His will known to you.

In this passage, Paul is talking about God’s Will—capital letters.  The Big Picture.  The Grand Plan.  This is what God purposed in Christ: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

When Paul uses the word “mystery”, he doesn’t mean something hidden and unknown, but something that was hidden and unknown that has now been revealed.  And for Paul, the great mystery was that in Christ, God has included the Gentiles.  God’s love was meant not just for the Jews, but the Gentiles too.  Everyone is included.  It is God’s Grand Plan that in Christ, all the warring divided factions of our world would be united. 

As Christians, we believe that history is going somewhere.  History is the working out of God’s will, the realization of God’s Grand Plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.  In the end, everything will be united and transformed in Jesus.  Every wrong made right.  Everything broken healed.  Every enemy reconciled.  All things and all people brought together as one family in Christ. 

Now that we know God’s Great Purpose in Christ, we can begin working toward that end.  We are called to be peacemakers.  We are called to be inclusive.  We have been given the message of reconciliation; we are Christ’s ambassadors, and God makes His appeal through us: “Be reconciled to God.” 

Who do you need to embrace and include?  Who needs to hear this good news that God wants them in His family? 

In Christ, we know God’s Grand Plan: to unite all things in Christ.

 

6. In Christ, we are included and marked with a seal.

Ephesians 1:13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Paul moves directly from knowing God’s Grand Plan to saying, “You also were included in Christ.”  Remember he is writing to Gentiles—non-Jews who had always been excluded—and he tells them, “You are included now in Christ.” 

Last Sunday we talked about the divide between Jew and Gentile and that in Christ, the two are one new humanity.  All the old divisions cease to matter.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Race, economic or social status, and even gender become secondary to Jesus.  This was shocking in a deeply divided world.  Consider gender:

ILL: There was a common prayer among religious leaders in Jesus’ day: “Dear God, I thank You that You have not made me a Gentile, or a slave, or a woman.” Obviously, this was prayed by men—Jewish men.

There was a teaching in Jesus’ day that it was better to burn the sacred scriptures than to allow them to be taught to a woman.

There were rabbis who devoted their lives not to come in contact with women. They were called the “bruised and bleeding rabbis.” They had made a vow never to look on a woman.  So if they saw something that might be a woman, they would close their eyes and not open them again until they were convinced that she was out of their line of sight. They were always bumping into things–walls and buildings–and so they were called the bruised and bleeding rabbis.

Then along comes Jesus who called women right alongside men to follow Him.  They were included in Christ.  So were Gentiles, and slaves.  All the outcasts were now included in Christ.

Friends, if you have you ever felt unwanted, outcast, rejected, excluded, come to Jesus!  In Christ, you are included.

And you are marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.  In ancient times, before a letter or a package was sent, it was sealed with a seal.  The seal indicated to whom it belonged.  God gives us His Holy Spirit to show that we belong to Him.  Our lives are not our own; we belong to God. 

In Christ, you are included and sealed—you belong to God.

In Christ, you are blessed with every spiritual blessing.

What will I do?

Who will I tell?