I have been relishing every moment of studying the first chapter of Ephesians. I’ve been drinking from the cup of God’s glorious grace and learning what it means to be blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” That is a monumental undertaking isn’t it? We are not talking about simply being given a gift. We are talking about “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” To try and discover what it means to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ is not something you learn from a quick glance or from listening to someone recite a verse or two. To truly discover the magnitude to which we have been blessed by God takes time, it takes extended periods of quiet, prayer, and reflection.
Just last week we learned that we “have redemption through His blood.” We have been freed from the shackles of captivity to sin and leading a life opposed to God’s purpose for us. God’s act of redeeming us, freeing us, buying us off the slave block of servitude to our self-centered and sinful ways is the key that leads to even greater blessings. I have been thinking this past week about the “redemption” that takes place in the life of a believer when he or she cries out to Jesus in repentance and surrender. God holds the key that unlocks the possibility for the great future He desires for us. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can happen until He places the key in the lock and the chains fall away. Let me give you an example.
God had told Abraham about His plan for Abraham’s life. He told Abraham to leave all that was familiar to him and to go to the land that the Lord would show him. Let me read to you from Genesis 12
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV)
Abraham’s descendants ended up as slaves in Egypt. The prospects for the glorious future that God promised weren’t looking too promising. I’m sure that the longer the descendants of Abraham stayed in Egypt as slaves the less hope they had of ever seeing the land of promise. But then the day came when God placed the key in the lock and the chains of slavery, the shackles of servitude, fell from their wrists and ankles and the slaves were on their way to realizing the promise God had made to Abraham.
For you and me, when Jesus comes to us, turns the key of redemption and sets us free from our slavery to self and sin, He opens for us an avenue of life that we never dreamed possible. This morning we are going to continue the study that we began last week by taking a further look at Ephesians 1:7-8. Let’s read it together.
7 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 with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV)
Paul tells us that we have redemption, we have been freed, because of what God has done through Jesus sacrifice for us, the shedding of His blood. There are two main by-products of God’s having redeemed us that are listed here in these verses: the forgiveness of our sins and our receiving wisdom and understanding from God.
I know that most of the popular contemporary thinkers of our day have tried their very best to dismiss all of our waywardness by finding others to blame. It seems to me that the Creed modern-day people live by is, “It’s not my fault!” We have found all kinds of escape routes to explain away our sins. Or, if “sins” is too harsh of a word for you, how about our misdeeds, our moral failures, our lapses of integrity, or our miscalculations? Regardless of which word you choose—we are guilty.
We are urged by psychologists and social behaviorists to examine our relationship to our parents to find out the root of our problems. We don’t have a “sin” problem, we have a genetic problem. Our parents were a mess and that is why we are a mess. Maybe we grew up in a tough neighborhood and that is why we’ve made the decisions we have made which have landed us in trouble? We don’t have a “sin” problem, we have an environmental problem. Or we’ve developed anti-social behavior because we were picked on at school and bullied by the other kids? We don’t have a “sin” problem, we have a psychosocial problem. Or… I could go on with an endless list of the escape routes that we’ve developed through the years to try and explain away our guilt. We can read all of the authorities’ latest discoveries and spend tens of thousands of dollars on the best therapists in town and still never find the answers to the restlessness of our souls and our lack of peace. I’m not opposed to counseling, as a matter of fact, I’m a firm believer in the necessity of wise counselors to help us through tough times of life. More than our need to navigate the tough times of life is our need for forgiveness. We carry around an incredible amount of guilt over what we have done and what we have failed to do. We carry around a truckload of shame full of the memories of the people we have hurt, those who have hurt us that we despise, and the experiences that we would give anything to forget but which keep popping up in our memory to reinforce our shame.
We don’t need to explain these things away by placing blame elsewhere. We don’t need to try and simply stuff the shame and guilt or busy ourselves with tasks so that we won’t have time to remember, we need forgiveness. There is nothing that is so freeing as the forgiveness that God makes available to you and me. Let me give you an example.
David is known as the greatest king in the history of Israel. David was such a great king that the Jews believe that when Messiah comes he will be like David. Yet, with all of the glory and fame that David possessed as king there was a huge hole in David’s heart and soul. He was a man who needed forgiveness. I want to read to you from David’s diary. Many believe that David wrote the 32nd Psalm after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then once he found out that she was pregnant he had her husband, Uriah, killed on the battle field. Listen to David’s words.
2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:2-5 NIV)
Did you notice what happened? When David covered up his sin, when he kept silent, he found himself dying on the inside. When David “acknowledged” his sin, when he stopped covering up his iniquity and confessed his transgressions, the Lord forgave David’s guilt.
It is a painful thing to admit our guilt isn’t it? It is painful, humiliating, and embarrassing to come clean, to own up to our sin and claim our guilt, but the rivers of the riches of God’s grace of forgiveness will not flow until we do so. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
By nature we all dislike the idea of the forgiveness of sins because we do not like to think that we need forgiveness. We do not like to be told that we are sinners, and we do not like such terms as ‘justification.’ We say ‘That is legalism.’ We are not interested in righteousness; we want happiness, we want power in our lives, we want anything that will give us joy. But before we can ever experience such blessings we have to be humbled to the dust. We do not like repentance, because it is painful, and because it means that we have to face ourselves and examine ourselves and see ourselves as we really are…I do not hesitate to assert that unless you have realized that your sins must be forgiven, you are not a Christian. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. God’s Ultimate Purpose. Vol 1. pg. 163)
It is a painful experience to acknowledge that my sin is “my sin” and no fault of anyone other than me. I have learned that the pain and shame that accompanies my admission of my guilt pales in comparison to the price God has paid for the forgiveness of my sins. Remember, my forgiveness and your forgiveness is sure, it is certain, because of the Innocent paying the price for the guilty. Jesus gave His life; He suffered the penalty of my sins and your sins so that we might know the sweet forgiveness of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
No wonder Paul wrote that we have received forgiveness “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Our forgiveness has its limits does it not? We might forgive the paperboy for throwing our morning paper in a puddle. We might forgive our child for lying to us. We might even forgive someone for stealing our money or our car. But, would you be able to forgive your spouse for being unfaithful to you? Would you be able to forgive someone for robbing and killing your son? Would you be able to forgive someone for brutalizing your daughter? That is forgiveness of another kind is it not? For each of us our forgiveness has its limits. Because of this we convince ourselves that God’s forgiveness, His grace, has its limits also. And so we wonder, “Would God really forgive me for what I’ve done?” Or, we insist, “You don’t know what I’ve done. God could never forgive me!” I want you to know that God’s forgiveness is limitless, His grace is boundless, and He wants to forgive you this very morning for everything you have ever done.
Paul loves to talk about the glorious “riches” of God. Paul uses the word five times in his letter to the people of the church of Ephesus alone. Let me show you just a couple of instances. In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul writes,
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV)
Look at the descriptive words Paul uses to describe God’s activity. God doesn’t just love us; He has a “great” love for us. God is “rich in mercy.” God has made us alive with Christ—the Innocent who has brought the dead to life! In Ephesians 3:8, Paul uses the word “rich” again. Read along with me.
8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ… (Ephesians 3:8 NIV)
Having experienced the riches of God’s glorious grace, Paul spent the rest of his life sharing that boundless grace and forgiveness with all people. I’m convinced that once you truly understand the riches of God’s great forgiveness and grace it will radically alter your life and your relationships. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,
The riches of God’s grace are inexhaustible and although the saints of the centuries have been drinking out of this fountain, it is as full as it was at the beginning. Millions yet will drink out of it, but it will be still bubbling up to the surface. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. God’s Ultimate Purpose. Vol 1. pg. 178)
I mentioned to you at the beginning of our study that our greatest need is forgiveness. There are many, many folks who have been incapacitated because of their past—they simply cannot forgive themselves for what they have done and they don’t believe God can either. I believe there is an equal measure of folks who have been hindered and hamstrung because they will not forgive those who have hurt them. The limits vary from person to person, but each of us has our limits…if we are relying solely on our capacity to forgive. I believe with all of my heart that the key to my forgiving others, regardless of the severity of the sin against me, is to focus on the boundless, limitless forgiveness that God has lavished upon me.
In 1947 Corrie Ten Boom had traveled from Holland to Germany with a message from God—“God forgives.” That’s an amazing message coming from someone like Corrie Ten Boom who had been brutalized and lost family members to the Germany Nazis.
Corrie, her sister, Betsie, and her father, Casper, were all arrested for hiding Jews from the Nazis. Casper died after only 10 days in Scheveningen Prison. When they asked him, “Do you know that you can be killed for helping Jews?” Corrie’s father said, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people.” Corrie and Betsie spent 10 months in three different prisons, the last one, the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp located near Berlin. Betsie died while in the concentration camp, but Corrie survived.
After Corrie was released she carried this message of God’s forgiveness to the world. Corrie was 53 years old when she was released. She spent the next 33 years traveling to more than 60 countries around the world. Her toughest challenge happened in Germany in 1947. She was at a church in Munich when she saw him while she was speaking. Corrie told the crowd, “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.” Corrie said that her mind flashed back to the concentration camp. She could see her sister’s frail form and the guard who was now present in the crowd.
After Corrie finished speaking the crowd moved forward to greet her. The one-time guard was now moving forward in line, edging closer and closer to Corrie. When he stood face-to-face with Corrie he said, “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” Corrie’s hands were in her pocketbook even as the guard’s hand was reaching out to take hers. Corrie writes, “And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.” The man said, “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there. But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein, will you forgive me?” Corrie shares what was running through her mind. “And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and I could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.” (excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom.).
You want to know the power of God’s forgiveness? It is able to free us from the prison of guilt and shame that we build for ourselves, it is able to bridge the gulf that separates us from God—a gulf created by our own sin, and it is able to empower us to forgive those who have sinned against us—even those that we could never find it in our hearts to forgive apart from His grace.
Before we run out of time I want us to take a look at the second by-product of our having been redeemed. Paul wrote that we have “the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished upon us with all wisdom and understanding.” God’s redemption does not stop with choosing us, adopting us, and forgiving us—God’s redemption also equips us with wisdom and understanding. John MacArthur writes,
God not only forgives us—taking away the sin that corrupts and distorts our lives—but also gives us all the necessary equipment to understand Him and to walk through the world day by day in a way that reflects His will and is pleasing to Him. He generously gives us the wherewithal both to understand His Word and to know how to obey it. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 25.)
One of the most fundamental lessons that we need to learn as a follower of Jesus is that the wisdom that the world seeks and praises is not the same as the wisdom that is spoken of in the Bible. Steve Jobs was an absolute genius. Warren Buffett has forgotten more wisdom when it comes to the topic of business and investment than most people will ever know. Jane Goodall knows more about chimpanzees than any person who has ever lived. Stephen Hawking has been given one of the most brilliant minds of our lifetime…in the area of theoretical physics. Yet, the vast knowledge that all of these people possess is about a very thin slice of life. The writer of Proverbs 4 urges us to get wisdom and understanding regardless of what it costs us. (Proverbs 4:7) The wisdom and understanding that the Bible points us to is different from the wisdom and knowledge that you gain from attending an academic institution. The knowledge that is possessed by the great thinkers of our day is something different than the “wisdom and understanding” that Paul is writing about in Ephesians 1. In Colossians 1:9, Paul prays a prayer for the people in Colosse and he lets them know that he is praying specifically for them. Listen to this.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Colossians 1:9 NIV)
What is the wisdom and understanding that Paul asks God to give them? It is wisdom and understanding to know the will and ways of God. In 1 Chronicles 22, David was preparing his son, Solomon, for the day that he would take the throne and become the king of Israel. Listen to what he has to say to his son.
11 “Now, my son, the LORD be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the LORD your God, as he said you would. 12 May the LORD give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the LORD your God. 13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the LORD gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. (1 Chronicles 22:11-13 NIV)
David wants God to give Solomon “discretion and understanding” so that he will keep the law of the LORD, so that he will walk in obedience to God’s will. Isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t ask God to give Solomon leadership or management skills? David knows that if his son will seek the Lord in all of his ways that God will equip him for the other parts of his life. And so it is with you and me.
We need to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer so that we can grow in wisdom and understanding. For those of us who lack wisdom, that would include all of us, James urges us, in James 1.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NIV)
What we lack God provides. Are you beginning to better understand what the phrase “every spiritual blessing in Christ” means? God has held nothing back for those who will receive His Son as Lord and Savior of their life. It is His desire to bless you with “every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Won’t you recognize your need for Jesus this morning and invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 23, 2011