Our Inheritance in Christ | Ephesians 1:11-14

 

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.

Ephesians 1:11-14 ESV

After his customary greeting at the start of this epistle, Paul launched into one massive run-on sentence (vv. 3-14) that serves as a grand theological prelude to the letter as a whole. As we’ve already noted, the overall theme of this passage is to praise God for the blessings He has gifted us in Christ. These blessings, thus far, have been our being chosen, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven by God and that He has now made known to us the mystery of His will. These final four verses fittingly conclude this marvelous benediction, while also tuning our hearts and minds to the melodies to be  further explored by the apostle.

Martin Lloyd-Jones opened up the first of his four sermons over these four verses by saying, “Clearly one cannot deal with the entire statement in these verses on one occasion.” Perhaps then against the judgment of such an esteemed doctor, we shall try our best today, and I trust that the Spirit will be nonetheless faithful to illuminate our eyes and ears to see and hear wonderful and mighty things in His Word.

THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST // VERSES 11-12

Our four verses clearly fall into two parts, first verses 11-12 and second verses 13-14. Within verse 11-12, Paul speaks about we who were the first to hope in Christ, while verses 13-14 describe people whom the apostle calls you also. The difference between these two pronouns show that we have two groups being discussed.

Let us, therefore, address the matter of verse 12 first so that we know who first 11 is describing. Who are those who were the first to hope in Christ? While the answer could be as narrow as the Apostles alone, I agree with F. F. Bruce (and many others) who argue that they “are Jewish believers, foundational members to the new community, the first fruits of the people of God in the age which Christ has inaugurated by his death and resurrection” (264).

A reading of the opening chapters of Acts reminds us of the Jewish birth of the church. As God’s chosen people, the Hebrews were given the law and promises of God by the covenants that the LORD made with their ancestors, Abraham, Moses, and David. Jesus, as the Messiah, was Himself a Jew, being the son of David and Abraham, and His earthly ministry was predominately for the people of Israel. Before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples their task to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), which placed Jerusalem as the epicenter for the good news that would shake every corner of the planet. Even Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), upon entering a city would first preach in the synagogues to the Jews and proselytes before proclaiming the good news specifically to the Gentiles (which we observed that he did in Ephesus as well). Therefore, it was certainly right for Paul to declare to the Romans that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Knowing that these Jewish believers in Christ are those who were the first to hope in Christ from verse 12, let us backtrack to verse 11. This verse appears to be an amalgamation of the previous eight verses.

In him, that is Christ, is again the great clause and context of the passage. No spiritual blessing comes to us from the Father apart from the mediation of Christ, His Son.

Obtained an inheritance could also be translated as the NET has done: “claimed as God’s own possession.” Obviously being God’s own possession is thoroughly biblical concept, specifically consider 1 Peter 2:9 and Titus 2:14. However, given that Paul is describing our blessings in Christ from God, it seems more likely that the ESV’s translation[1] is the correct one. Furthermore, an inheritance is given to an heir; thus, Paul is returning us to the blessing of adoption that we have in Christ.

Having been predestined draws us back to verses 4-5, where Paul emphasized great blessing of God’s electing us before the foundation of the world. Just as verse 5 grounded our adoption as sons and daughters of God in His sovereign act of predestination, the apostle is again emphasizing that our inheritance as fellow heirs with Christ is rooted in God’s ordaining us for Himself before creation ever began.

The counsel of his will ought to return us to verse 9, reminding us of our marvelous blessing of knowing the mystery of God’s will, His purpose and plan to unite all things to Himself in Christ. Indeed, just as all things will be worked according to the counsel of his will, so too will all things be united in Christ by the redemption through His blood.

Thus, for all these reasons, verse 11 seems to be summarizing verses 3-10, yet it applies them specifically to we who were the first to hope in Christ in verse 12. And Paul emphasizes that all of these blessings given to the Jewish Christians who first believed is to the praise of his glory. Thus, none of these blessings serve in anyway to magnify any person individually nor the Jewish believers as a whole; rather, God’s saving work and the blessings that flow from Him in Christ is for His glory and His praise.

WHEN YOU HEARD THE WORD // VERSES 13-14

While we certainly rejoice that God did not forget nor abandon Israel but sent to them His promised Messiah, most Christians today (and indeed throughout history) are not Jews but Gentiles. What about us? Do we too have an inheritance among God’s people?

Notice how the apostle begins verse 13: in him you also. The Ephesian church was comprised mostly of Gentiles, and Paul is now speaking directly to them. Yet he is not merely speaking to them, the word also means that he is purposely including them in the blessings that he has been describing since verse 3, which is glorious news! Yet before we continue on with studying verse 13, let us consider why Paul has made the distinction between Jew and Gentile at all.

Of Jews & Gentiles

For many of us today, the Jew/Gentile division is rarely ever considered, but for the believers of Paul’s day, the inclusion of the Gentiles into church was weighty affair. Acts 10-11 display the significance of the first Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Peter, and one of the first heresies of the early church was what Paul often called “the circumcision party”, who were Judaizers that taught that Gentiles first needed circumcision before being incorporated into the church. The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 met to debate and answer that very false teaching. Indeed, especially in the first generation of the church, Christianity was very much a Jewish religion.[2] Therefore, even the Gentile Christians of Ephesus in Asia Minor would have likely wondered about their place among God’s people. Were they simply an afterthought of God? Were they the backup plan for when the Jews rejected Christ?

By no means! One beautiful reality of Paul’s specific distinction that believing Gentiles are included in the blessings in Christ is that we too were chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ. It may seem odd that God grafted in the Gentiles to His people only two thousand years ago, yet this was God’s “plan for the fullness of time.” The salvation of the Gentiles was predestined before Genesis 1:1 ever happened. History has unfolded exactly as God has planned, according to the purpose of His will, and God’s plan has always been to rescue Gentiles as well as Jews from their sins.

Furthermore, as Paul will describe in chapter two, Christ has destroyed the division between Jew and Gentile, creating “in himself one new man in the place of two” (2:15). This means that there are not two peoples of God, Israel and the church; instead, God has only one people, those who believe in Christ. The church, the body of Christ, is the singular people of God. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles are now united together as one “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). The church was not a backup plan for whenever God got tired of Israel; the church has always been God’s plan, His true Israel.

There is far more to say about this subject, but we will move on for now and return again to this matter in chapter two.

Heard, Believed, Sealed

Paul then in verses 13-14 to describe how the Gentiles came to share in the blessings of God in Christ: 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. Three actions mark these verses: hearing the word of truth, believing in Christ, and being sealed with the Holy Spirit. Of course, just as the word also tied the Gentiles being discussed to the blessings of verses 3-11, so does it also tie the Jews to the means of receiving these blessings in Christ. Jews are not saved by their ethnicity; rather, Jew and Gentile alike must hear the Word, believe in Christ, and be sealed with the Holy Spirit. Let us, therefore, study these means by which we have union with Christ.

First, Paul states you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. The great and glorious good news of salvation is that by grace through faith God has rescued us from our sins. Our sin is not a mere sickness to be overcome; it is a living death, since it is separation from the God of life. We were dead in sin, but by the abundance of His love and mercy toward us, He made us alive in Christ. Taking our sins upon Himself, Jesus died in our place, paying the debt that we owed. The gospel, the good news, of our salvation, therefore, is that there is forgiveness of sin in Christ. We contribute nothing to our redemption. It is an act of pure grace, accomplished by the work of Jesus. We must only receive Christ’s atonement through faith. But how do we receive faith?

“So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith comes through hearing the word of Christ, the word of truth. The Scriptures, being breathed out by God, are the word upon which our faith is born. We are saved through faith alone, but our faith can only be built upon God’s unshakable Word. The blessings of being in Christ, therefore, fittingly begin with hearing the word of truth.

What then are you listening to? Our ears are always open, and because of screens and speakers, we very rarely hear silence. From songs, podcasts, and television, we swim through oceans of words on a daily basis. Yet how often do we actively listen to the God’s Word? Donald Whitney states plainly, “There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of milk and meat of Scripture” (Spiritual Disciplines, 22). Joe Barnard likewise warns:

I am repeatedly struck by the relaxed attitude of men regarding the fundamentals of discipleship. Reading the Bible or attending Sunday worship is treated like a spin class, an optional thing to do if a man has spare energy and time. Indeed reading the Bible and church are optional, not in the sense of a spin class, but in the sense of eating food and drinking water. No one has to eat or drink. A person could opt out of food and water at any time. However, the consequences would be life-threatening. The same is true of the core practices of Christian discipleship. They satisfy deep spiritual needs. To ignore them is to ask for trouble.

The Way Forward, 164.

Let me also briefly speak to our present situation. Although we are currently going through a drought from our corporate gatherings, our Lord has been faithful to flood the internet with proclamations of His Word. This is a tremendous blessing that should not be lightly overlooked, since many are hearing the gospel that otherwise would not have stepped a foot through the church’s doors. Yet as followers of Christ, we must also be wary of the means by which we are receiving the Word. Screens and speakers are so ever-present that we tend to subconsciously devote less attention to them than when we are hearing or seeing the same thing in the flesh. Yet while deprived of our physical services, we must dive deeper into the other spiritual disciplines in order to remain nourished throughout this season. Use this season, therefore, to mediate more deeply than ever upon the Word. Do not merely hear the Word and move on with life as usual. Hear the Word and then warm your heart with it through the fires of meditation.

Yet the Scriptures are not an end unto themselves; instead, they point us to Christ. We obtain faith through hearing the Word, but object of our faith is Christ, which is why Paul next says and believed in him. The Scriptures are the Word of God that deliver us the truth of Christ, and by faith, we must believe in Him. Let us be careful to note that belief in Christ here does not mean simply acknowledging His existence. A great number of people claim to believe in God and even in Jesus as God’s Son but have not been cast their faith entirely upon the grace of God in Christ. It is not enough to know that Jesus is real. As James 2:19 reminds us, “even the demons believe [in God]—and shudder!” Likewise, the demons know all too well that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

No, the belief in Christ that Paul is referencing here is a belief in the exclusive power of Jesus to save and in His Lordship over all of creation. As Paul also wrote earlier to the Romans, “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13). To call upon Christ means understanding our utter helplessness. The chasm of our sin is so vast that we can do nothing to cross its great span; instead, we can only trust in the ability of God Himself to rescue us through His Son. But our cry to be saved is also a cry of submission to Jesus as Lord. We call out to Jesus as our Lord to save us.

Third, Paul states that we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. Here the apostle describes the role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation, whom the apostle’s says acts as a seal upon us. Calvin describes the purpose of seals (which have largely been replaced today with signatures) as that “which among men have the effect of removing doubt. Seals give validity both to charters and to testaments; anciently, they were the principal means by which the writer of a letter could be known; and, in short, a seal distinguishes what is true and certain, from what is false and spurious.” By sealing us, the Holy Spirit validates our salvation, giving us confidence that it is “true and certain.”

While discussing the blessing of adoption in verse 5, we glanced upon Romans 8:14-17, which we should certainly observe again here:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God is another way of describing the Spirit’s sealing work upon believers. The Father ordains our salvation, Jesus the Son accomplishes our salvation, and the Holy Spirit applies and testifies to our salvation. The Spirit’s indwelling presence in every Christian is the great seal of God upon us that we are adopted as His children, and since we have been adopted by the Father, we also have an inheritance in Him. But what is this inheritance that we have in Christ? It is the completion of our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Being justified through the blood of Christ, we most certainly are children of God; however, our redemption is not yet complete. Our justification in Christ means that we are legally made righteous before God, yet sin still lingers within our bodies. Each day we wrestle against our own flesh, growing inch by inch more into the likeness of Christ, but one day, our Lord will return to give us resurrected and glorified bodies which are not marred by sin. The eternity we will spend with our Savior in new bodies upon a new earth is our final inheritance, the completion of our salvation. Even our brothers and sisters in Christ who have already gone to be with the Lord are still eagerly waiting for that renewal of their bodies, the resurrection of the dead.

Indeed, the great glory of our eternal state will be God’s presence among us. No radiance of any jewel and no joy of any blessing will compare to that wonder of God’s dwelling place being with man (Revelation 21:3). Even the brilliance of light itself will fade away as God Himself will be our light. He is the pearl of great value, the one who makes Paradise the heavenly utopia that it will be. Yet even now the Father has given us a foretaste of that joy to come. Of this blessed hope, the Holy Spirit not only our seal but our guarantee as well. By dwelling within us, the Holy Spirit serves as a down payment of the glories and joys that await us. Through the Spirit, we see by faith in this life that in His “presence there is fullness of joy” and at His “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:18). And one day we shall see those truths by sight. The Spirit, therefore, serves as a preview within each believer in Christ of our eternal life in Him.

Although volumes more can (and have) been written on these three means of obtaining our blessings in Christ, we must draw ourselves for the present toward a conclusion and let us do so with two final thoughts. First, we must not separate the hearing of the Word, believing in Christ, and sealing by the Spirit from one another since they are bound together for our redemption in Christ and adoption as children of God. The hearing of the Word must draw us to place our faith in Christ, and our belief in Christ then results in our being sealed by the Spirit. Furthermore, we can feed these events into one another by reminding ourselves that it is the Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to understand and receive the Word.

Second, verses 13-14 are the capstone of this splendid doxology for good reason as they communicate how we came to possess every spiritual blessing in Christ. The blessings of being chosen before the foundation of the world, of being predestined for adoption as sons, of having redemption through Christ’s blood and the forgiveness of sins, and of knowing the mystery of God’s will and plan to unite all things in Christ are only for those who have heard the word of truth, believed in Christ, and are sealed by the Spirit. Jew or Gentile makes no difference, only the Spirit seal upon our souls.

Therefore, if you have never truly listened to the gospel of salvation, if you have never cast your faith upon Christ alone for your forgiveness of sin, and if your redemption has not been sealed with the Holy Spirit, hear now, believe now, and be sealed by God. Come to Christ as both Lord and Savior.

And for we who heard the word of truth, believed in Christ, and have been sealed by the Spirit, meditate long over these manifold blessings that are ours in our Savior. Drink deeply from this bottomless well and marvel at our election, adoption, redemption, and inheritance in Christ.


[1] Also the KJV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and CSB.

[2] Many historians actually consider the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD as the actual severing of Christianity and Judaism. Until that point, Christianity was largely considered a particular sect of Judaism, but the Jewish Christians’ flight before the siege helped to drive that distinction between the two fully apart.

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