WELCOME TO THE INHERITANCE
I wonder, who do you think you are? Deep down. Really. It’s a question we maybe don’t stop and think about as much as we should. Because our self perception drives us in all kinds of ways whether we’re aware of it or not. And often we aren’t.
We operate out of an identity framework that drives, maybe, a deep seated insecurity.
You think you’re a nobody; and there are all kinds of underlying reasons for that, that’ll go back right to your childhood. Things that were said to you. That kind of burned their way deep into your sense of self. And maybe now it drives you to pull backfrom being who you could be and should be. Or else it drives you to constantly succeed. To make yourself something. Because your mum or your dad or your teacher in Grade 5 said you’d never be anything. And the last 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, you’ve spent proving them wrong.
It may be on the other hand you’re part of the generation raised to believe everything you’ve ever done has been magnificent.
Your mum and dad have been there on the sideline to congratulate you for every mis–timed kick on the soccer field; when the teacher has corrected you or given you a bad report Mum and Dad have been there to defend you and complain to theschool.
And so your sense of identity is built around your sure knowledge that you’re the most important person in the universe.
Now I’m not here to criticise that, except to say that I imagine someone who sees the world that way could be quite difficult to be married to as a grownup.
I’m just saying that either way your sense of identity shapes you in all kinds of ways whether you’re aware of it or not. Who you think you are… matters. More than you think.
So… Who do you think you are? It’s the question we’ll be teasing out as we come to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and it’s a question Paul’s going to answer on a cosmic scale. Bigger than you’ve ever imagined. It’s a question Paul’s going to answer on a scale that stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It’s a question Paul’s going to answer with God’s incredible church as a centrepiece. And at the centre of that, the more incredible Jesus Christ.
And his answer is, people like you and me – though in the past we were outsiders, in the past he says people like us who Paul calls Gentiles; we were excluded from citizenship in the people of God; now we‘re included. Though in the past we wereleft out of God’s inheritance… now in Christ we‘re included. Though we were spiritually speaking without a hope. Now that’s reversed. And we’ve got everything to look forward to as believers in Jesus Christ.
And that. Is the core of our identity. Or should be. That’s the one thing that’s foundational to who we are. And how we live. And how we love. Or at least it should be foundational. Which is one of the reason Paul writes the letter. And the thing that he’s praying for. If you look at his words in verse 18 here in chapter 1.
THE HOPE OF INHERITANCE
A prayer that we’ll… know the hope. That God’s called us to.
Know the hope. That lies in the incredible inheritance that comes from being included in God’s holy people from the past, who Paul calls the saints.
Did you see through the week the story of the honest taxi driver? He picked up a guy in New Hampshire; twenty minutes later he dropped him off. And the guy walks away and leaves behind $200,000 in a backpack.
The taxi driver hands it in. And they track track the guy down.
Turns out he’s homeless; he’s inherited the money. And it seems he didn’t really comprehend what he could do with it. So forgot about it and left it behind.
The Apostle Paul wants people like us to fully understand. To fully know. We’ve gone from homeless and hopeless to co-inheritors in an incredible estate.
That we shouldn’t just take for granted. And leave in the cab.
Which is why he prays that we’ll know the hope. That comes from sharing the inheritance. With God’s saints. Because we had no hope before.
“I pray”, says Paul – look at his words in verse 18 – “I pray that you’ll know the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Because you were homeless and hopeless before.
I was listening to a podcast the other day; about second generation migrant kids who’ve grown up in America. And their parents will just never let them complain. About anything. Because they say, “If only you knew what we came from. If only you knew what we left behind. Here in America there’s no–one trying to kill you in the civil war back at home. Now we’re in America. You’ve even got Wi–Fi! If you remembered what we were – you’d be thankful.”
Which is exactly Paul’s point.
Jump down to Chapter 2; verse 11 and 12. And see what he says.
And understand that for every person in the room here today, when Paul’s using the word Gentile, he’s talking about people like us who weren’t born with the immense spiritual privilege of being Jewish. In a world where every other effort to get toknow the real God has been off-target. And still is.
We need to get this. So we don’t take it for granted. Especially if you’ve grown up being told you’re in every way fantastic. Even if you do have Wi–Fi.
Ephesians 2 from verse 11:
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … That’s us; the ones the Jews call uncircumcised… He says, “12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Make a list. Formerly. Before. People like us who are born Gentile. Here’s how it was.
- You and I; separate from Christ. He was Israel’s Messiah. Not ours!
- You and I were excluded from citizenship in Israel. Maybe you never actually wanted to have Israel on your passport, but his point is, they‘re the ones who knew the true God.
- You and I were foreigners to God’s covenants of promise. They were Israel’s promises.
- More than that, You and I were hopeless.
And here’s the scandal to modern ears. You and I; we Gentiles. We were Godless. Might have invented all kinds of gods to bow down to. Worshipped anything that came along. But none of it’s real. And so the Gentile world; ultimately Godless.
That’s the Ephesians. Before they met Jesus.
That’s you and me. Before we met Jesus.
That’s the world around us. If they haven’t met Jesus.
And it’s only in Christ Jesus and his blood that we’ve got any hope at all. Any share in the inheritance of God’s people the saints of Israel.
And again, I just want to make the small observation, you’ve hopefully thought about it in your growth groups, I just want to make the observation that the little phrase you who are Gentiles by birth there in verse 11 is a key to reading the little pronounyou right through Ephesians. Because we sometimes kind of overlook it.
It’s you who weren’t included before. And now are. Because of Jesus.
In Paul’s words, it’s you who didn’t have the privileges we Israelites had. But now you share them. Because of Jesus.
It’s you who didn’t have a hope before. When we Israelites did. And now you do. Because of Jesus.
And so the other little clue for reading Ephesians is that almost always when Paul uses the other little word we; by and large in chapter 1 he’s talking about people like himself. “we who did have those privileges because we started out Jewish.” It’swe Israelites; and our privileges. That you Gentiles by birth can now share.
Through history people have resented the Jews. Because they think they‘re God’s chosen people.
Paul says, guess what. They actually were. Right from the start. You’ve only got to read the old testament and it’s obvious. Israel out of every other nation were God’s elect and chosen people. Israel unlike every other nation, God chose them to be like his adopted son.
Hosea 11 verse 1. God says,
When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son, and I summoned my son out of Egypt.
Paul says it himself in Romans 9. He says I wish more of my own people would turn to Jesus. He says, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship.” So many privileges. I wish more of them would listen!
Because of all the nations in the world. They were the ones chosen and adopted to live like a royal son of the one true God.
While at the same time Paul says, you who are Gentiles by birth, you were outsiders. No Hope. No God.
So pick up while he lists the great advantages of being Jewish. Not a mention of business skills anywhere, but in absolute prime position when it came to trusting their Messiah. Absolutely in the front row in God’s plans from the very beginning.
Verse 3, Paul says, look at all our blessings.
* He chose us. In Christ. Verse 4. Before the creation of the world. To be his holy and blameless people.
He lovingly predestined us for adoption to sonship, verse 5, just because it pleased him. Now again, I’m suggesting when he says we and us, he’s talking Israel here. It’s a recap of the Old Testament. And this is their huge privilege;
* Verse 7 and 8; there’s more. He’s talking about real Israelites; the ones like himself who have believed in their Messiah. He says:
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.
And not only that, verse 9, he told us in advance. Through the prophets. Through the apostles. Israel, of all the nations in the world. Knew what was coming. Knew the plan. Before anybody else. Our ancestors didn’t have a clue. Israel’s did.
Read it in verses 9 and 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…
So we’d be ready for the time, verse 10, that everyone. That all things. Would be brought under Christ.
So here’s the recap. Verse 11.
11 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.
That was the plan. Israel’s hope from the start. Hoping, longing for their Messiah. Longing for the day when God’s glory would be praised not just by Israel but by everyone.
And for all that time Gentiles like you and me. Had nothing. Zero. Zip. No God. And no hope.
They were there first. And we weren’t.
PREDESTINATION – A CLOSER LOOK
Now at this point I want to side track for a few minutes to face off with the elephant in the room. Because at this point there’s a trunk and there are four big legs like trees and certainly something that smells very much like an elephant.
And that’s the elephant of that word predestination. Which many Christians seem to find kind of offensive, or at the very least troubling.
The idea that God somehow decides things. And then does them. There are people who’ll say that’s just not fair. If God decides in advance this stuff. And surely, they’ll say, it’s not up to God to decide who are his people, it’s up to us. To our freewill.
Look, there have been philosophical debates on this stuff ever since time began. Predestination. God deciding before the beginning of time. Are we just playing out the movie that’s been scripted already?
Funny, there’s exactly the same debate going on in science where the rationalist-materialists say everything is just atoms bouncing off each other and nothing more… They actually say there’s no such thing as free will as well. Because if it’s all justatoms impacting atoms, and if you can describe all those actions and reactions in terms of maths and physics, they say if you could write an equation complex enough then you could describe everything in advance. And it’s all just tiny billiard ballscascading through a predictable and unchangeable pre-programmed sequence. Everything. And so to scientists like that, free will is just an illusion.
Either a predetermined God. Or a predetermined physics equation. No free will.
From the theological side, you can take a verse like Ephesians 1 verse 5 that says God chose us before the creation of the world and he predestined us in accordance with the pleasure of his will; and similar words in verse 11; and you can read it to be saying that everything. Everything that ever happens and ever will happen, every choice we make; it’s all been pre–decided by God. And now it’s just rolling. All predestined. In much the same way as the mathematical argument.
Now there are Christians who’ll take that view very strongly. Because for one thing, it takes very seriously God’s sovereignty. God is God. And we’re not.
Though there are other Christians who’ll say well if that’s true, why pray? If that’s true, why do anything? If God’s chosen who’s in and who’s out right from the beginning, then why bother sharing my faith; why even bother praying that my dad or my mum or my brother or my daughter will come to faith, if it’s all pre–determined from the start.
And if it is like that… how is that even fair?
Just a few light questions for your Sunday morning! And this is nothing new; I’m sure you’ve lay awake after midnight trying to figure it all out. And look, I know there are people who have who have walked away from their faith because they just can’t resolve the tension.
Look, I’m not going to pretend to resolve that this morning. But if you’ve been with me to this point this morning you’ll have noticed already that’s not exactly the way Paul’s putting it.
Because if I’m reading it right, Paul’s saying God’s sovereign plan from before the beginning of time… was to choose Israel.
And he says now much later on in Christ – he’s added Gentiles like you and me. Follow the thought. He chose us Israelites before the beginning of time. And now, verse 13,
you also were included – in Christ – when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
God chose Israel in the beginning. And now at last much later; he’s opened the way for non-Israelites like us.
Which at the very least maybe brings a view that leaves it open to keep praying and asking God to keep choosing and calling and including more and more even now… people like your dad or your mum or your workmate or your friend two doors up.
And I’d encourage you to actually do that.
Because Paul’s point is that there are all these privileges that we non Israelites just didn’t have. And now we share. By God’s sheer grace to us. His undeserved kindness.
Which is why he wants Gentiles like us to get a grip on that. To understand who we were so we can understand the huge privilege of who we now are.
That we’ve moved from non-citizens with no hope, to people who share the hope… as we now share the riches of the inheritance of God’s people Israel.
Which again was the point of his prayer in verse 18. That late-comer Gentiles like us would understand the privilege. That we’ve been included. Through the astonishing universal re–start that’s come through the resurrection of Jesus as the Lord ofnot just Israel but everyone who believes.
FACING THE THE SIN PROBLEM
Because the fact is, everything is not okay. And fundamentally, though it’s hard to hear this – fundamentally we weren’t all in the trophy line and we weren’t all due to get a certificate – not even for trying hard or most improved behaviour. None of us.
In fact, even the Jews themselves with all their privileges had fundamentally messed up.
Which is exactly the point he’s making in the first half of chapter 2.
You know, it’s not popular to talk about sin. You might have read that religious instruction classes have been banned at Windsor State School; because an RI teacher taught a lesson that said we‘ve all got a sin problem. The Bible’s been saying that for thousands of years. But now apparently – and this is serious – now it’s allegedly child abuse to tell kids that. Because we’re meant to be relentlessly positive about the condition of the human heart. Against all evidence to the contrary.
Paul says ‘there’s a spirit at work in the world;’ it’s a spirit that pushes us to do just whatever we want whenever we want; a spirit that says whatever your body wants, take it. do it. Follow every impulse. Affirm it. And it’s ultimately the destructive and deadly way of sin. And we were stuck in it.
Paul says, you Gentiles, that’s you. Verse 1.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.
But you know, he says, in our own strength we were no better. With all our privileges, with all our advantage, verse 3, all of us also… were exactly the same.
Take a careful look at his words. Chapter 2 Verse 3.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
All alike. Deserving judgment. But that doesn’t mean we get what we deserve.
See, here’s where grace comes in. And that’s what we’re about. Because instead of judgment, you come to Jesus and get forgiveness in its place.
And he gets the judgment. For Jew and Gentile alike.
And we don’t just get forgiveness, we get resurrection with Jesus, and we get to sit with him in heaven. Together. Gentiles and Israelites and Israel’s risen Messiah.
It’s a glorious image. Follow from verse 4 to 7. And there’s a tiny little prefix in the original that our English translation for some reason drops out, but it’s kind of essential… that says that all of us together. Share in God’s solution.
So read it on the screen; with the togethers put back in.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us together-alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised-us-together-up with Christ and seated ustogether with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Now you might need to think this through a bit more. Because if you’re just totally dismissive of any kind of idea of sin in the world, you won’t see the point. And if you’re not a Christian yet and you’re just not persuaded there’s any sort of alienationbetween you and God; if you’ve got the Donald Trump sort of attitude that you’ve got nothing that ever needed forgiving… then this just won’t make any sense at all.
But if you’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there is something wrong; not just with you but with the bent way the world works… I want to suggest to you this is a snapshot of exactly what that problem is. And exactly the fix for it. And when you get past the fact it doesn’t start with just saying how good we all are but diagnosing the heart of the problem and then prescribing the fix for it, this is the best news in the world.
That the resurrected Jesus Christ changes everything. Brings together all kinds of spiritually dead people. And makes us alive again. Whoever we were.
DEFINED BY GRACE
And it’s all by God’s grace. His absolute generosity. In treating us better than we deserved. Especially us Gentiles. Who had nothing. From the start. God has done all that. With the death and resurrection of Jesus. And there’s no other fix.
So who do you think you are? Maybe start there. And rethink it. I was dead in my sins. And now I’m alive in Christ. United. Together. With everyone else who’s been through the same.
Paul Kelly wrote in the Australian the other day that we’re moving to an era of unprecedented individualism. Where your defining influence is your gender or your sexuality or your politics. And it’s the core of social fragmentation.
Friends, if the apostle Paul’s got it right, you’re not defined by your gender. You’re not defined by your sexuality. That’s not who you are. You’re not defined by how left you are or how right you are or how green you are in your politics. And you’renot defined by what your teacher said about you in grade 5.
We’re a people defined by grace. Which as we work through the rest of Paul’s letter we’ll see is both incredibly thrilling and incredibly humbling at the same time.