Gospel Truth

Ephesians 1:11-14

8 October 2004

Cornhill Training Course

Sermon practice class


The text we have just read is actually the climax of a single long sentence in the Greek which begins at verse 3 and runs all the way to the end of verse 14. So our verses don't stand in isolation but in the context of all that precedes them.

As we heard last week, Paul has been describing all the blessings we have in Christ. Past blessings: before the beginning of time he chose us to be his sons. Present blessings: he forgives us and redeems us and lavishes his goodness on us. And future blessings: he has revealed to us his ultimate plan to unite all things in him. In short we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

So these are the joys available to those who are in Christ. But this raises questions. Who exactly is in Christ? And how did they get there?

The answer is (verse 12), it is those who have hoped in Christ who have the joy of being in him. It is those, verse 13, who have heard the gospel and believed in Jesus who are in him. So Paul introduces us here to the gospel of salvation. The gospel is the word of truth, that is, the true account of Jesus' life, death on the cross and resurrection as Lord in order to restore us sinful people to a right relationship with God. It is by believing this gospel that we become in Christ and enjoy the benefits.

Paul doesn't enter into a detailed explanation of the gospel here—that comes in chapter 2—but he does teach us three awesome truths about the nature of the gospel: The gospel is global, the gospel is guaranteed and the gospel is glorious.

The gospel is global

There's a lovely parallel between verses 11 and 12 and verses 13 and 14.

Paul starts verse 11 with the words In him we... we who were the first to hope in Christref.

And he starts verse 13 with the words In him you also...ref

So, he is making a distinction between himself and his people on the one hand, and the Galatian Christians on the other. Later in the letter he unpacks this distinction: when he says "you" he means "you Gentiles" —glance over to chapter 2 verse 11 where he calls them, you Gentiles in the fleshref, and again in chapter 3 verse 1 Paul is a prisoner on behalf of you Gentilesref—and here when he says "we who were the first to hope in Christ" he can only mean "we Jews" .

So Paul carefully draws a distinction between himself and his people, the Jewish Christians, and the Gentile Christians to whom he is writing. But he makes this distinction only to emphasise all the more that there is in fact no distinction between them. The gospel is global in its application: the Jews and the Gentiles are in Christ on precisely the same basis.

He emphasises this in three ways.

First the benefits of the gospel are the same for both the Jew and Gentile. Each has the same inheritance in Christ, the Jewish believer has an inheritance (verse 11) and the Gentile believer has an inheritance (verse 14). And to underline that it is the same inheritance that each obtains Paul calls it "our inheritance" in the second case.

Second, the means of the gospel are the same for both the Jew and the Gentile. The Jewish believer hopes in Christ (verse 12) and the Gentile believer believes in Christ (verse 13). These are synonyms. The means of becoming "in Christ" is the same for each: faith in him.

Sure, the Jews had been the first to hope in Christ. The faithful Jewish believers had been hoping in the coming Messiah for centuries before. The Gentiles didn't have this heritage; they needed to be told the gospel in the word of truth. Nonetheless, the end result is the same: each exercises faith in Christ. The means of the gospel are the same for both.

Third the goal of the gospel is the same for both the Jew and the Gentile. In each case it is for the praise of God's glory (verses 12 and 14).

If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and swims like a duck then it's a duck. Paul is emphatic that there is no distinction between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.

We know that deep racial barriers separated the Jews and the Gentiles outside the church, but it seems that in Ephesus the division was to be found within the church as well. Paul later refers to it as the "dividing wall of hostility" .

I don't know if such a church exists, but try to imagine the issues that would arise if a church in Israel were made of converted Jews and converted Palestinians. The problems in the Ephesian church may well have been similar.

Unity has already appeared as a theme in verse 10, where we learn that God's ultimate intention is to unite all things in him, and unity in the church is a big theme of the remainder of the letter. So Paul is keen to dig his theological foundations at an early stage: the gospel in global in its scope. There is not one gospel for the Jews, and one gospel for the Gentiles, but the same gospel with the same benefits, means and goal for all believers wherever they come from. There is no excuse for division in the church.

You are not a better Christian because you are a Jew for Jesus. You are not a better Christian because you grew up in a Christian home. You are not a better Christian because you had a dramatic conversion experience.

You are not a worse Christian because you had a drug problem before you were converted. You are not a worse Christian because you don't have a university degree. You are not a worse Christian because you aren't white, middle class, and english.

All who are in Christ are in him on precisely the same grounds: belief in Jesus as presented in the word of truth, the gospel of salvation. And that gospel is global in its scope. No one particular people, place or church can have a monopoly on the gospel: it applies equally to all, no matter who you are. Paul will develop this theme much further in chapters to come; it's enough for now to say that there is no excuse for disunity in the church on the basis of people's backgrounds, because the gospel knows no such distinctions.

The gospel is guaranteed

The second truth about the gospel that Paul wants to establish is that it is guaranteed. The gospel guarantees us our inheritance.

It's a peculiar sort of inheritance that Paul talks of in these verses because we gain it not when someone else dies (which would be the normal course of things) but after we ourselves have died.

The inheritance is that which Paul talks about in chapter 2, verse 7. It is the immeasurable riches of God's grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesusref. Immeasurable riches are promised to those who are in Christ! Life in all its fullness; life filled with joy in the presence of God; life as it was always meant to be.

But, the nature of the inheritance is that it is always future in this life. So how can we have any certainty about it? After all, the Christian life is not an easy option. As Paul says elsewhere, If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all menref. It's important that we can have certainty about this glorious future inheritance, isn't it? It's what keeps us going to the end. So in these verses Paul gives us the grounds for the certainty we have. The gospel is guaranteed because of two things God has done: he has predestined us and he has sealed us.

First, in verse 11, the Christian is predestined by God. This is an echo of verse 4 and 5 where we learn that God chose us before the foundation of the worldref; he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ. The gospel is guaranteed because it is God's initiative. If it were our initiative we would be right to be concerned, but Paul is emphatic that it is God's. We can have confidence in God's plans because he has the authority and ability to carry them out. In the words of verse 11 he works all things according to the counsel of his will. He is able to complete what he started.

Let's say I fancied playing in the England football match tomorrow. If I were to turn up in the dressing room, put on my replica kit and try to join the team as they headed down the tunnel I would rightly have doubts that they would let me play. On the other hand, if this evening I get that call from Sven to say "Hey, Ben! Quick, get down here, we need you at left back" then I need have no doubts. The position is in his gift. He has the authority do it.

In the same way when God has called me and promised me an inheritance, based not on what I've done but on his sole initiative. So what doubt can there be?

The second guarantee, in verse 13, is that the Christian is sealed by God with the promised Holy Spirit.

Apparently, in modern greek the word for seal here means engagement ring, and that is partly the sense of what Paul intends. Like an engagement ring the seal of the Spirit is a pledge of something greater to come. But it doesn't quite capture the full sense of Paul's use of the word because in ancient greek the pledge is of the same nature as the full payment for an item. So it is more like a downpayment or a deposit – an initial sum of money guaranteeing the final sum of money to come, such as the 10% deposit one might pay in a house purchase.

The point is that the Spirit in us is a foretaste of what is to come for us. Our inheritance is spiritual, and we have already received the downpayment that guarantees that the final inheritance is ours.

It is good for us to have this confidence, isn't it? A few years ago I was accosted by a cultish fellow on the Charing Cross Road who was trying to interest me in his "Bible studies" on the book of Revelation. His argument was that just as the Jews had taken their salvation for granted but many in fact had perished, therefore Christians need to have a handle on what will happen in the end times else they too might perish.

Thankfully, that morning I had been pondering 2 Corinthians chapter 1 where Paul says something very similar to what he says here, God has set his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guaranteeref. So I politely declined this fellow's invitation and assured him that I had no doubts about my salvation since God had guaranteed it by his Spirit in my heart, and wouldn't he like that certainty too?

The gospel is guaranteed. If we know the Spirit's work in our hearts, showing us our sin, calling us to pray to God, giving us delight in his word and a desire to please him, then our inheritance is guaranteed. God has called us to be his, and he is able to do what he plans to do. And God has put his seal upon us, writing his name on our hearts in indelible spiritual ink. We belong to him.

The gospel is guaranteed. We can stop worrying about our future—it's safe—and get on with living the Christian life today.

But it may be that you are not a Christian. Perhaps you'd love to know the assurance of the Spirit's work in your heart. Perhaps you long to have this confidence that your future is safe with God. Well, verse 13 tells you what to do: believe in Jesus, the Jesus of the gospel, the word of truth. Put your hope in him, because our inheritance is found in him alone. Do come and talk to me afterwards if you'd like to discuss it some more.

The gospel is glorious

The third thing Paul tells us about the gospel is that it is glorious. It is glorious because it shows us God's glory.

What is the ultimate purpose of all God's work in the gospel? It is "the praise of his glory" . We see it three times, at the end of verse 12, at the end of verse 14, and back in verse 6 where he chose us to the praise of his glorious graceref.

Too often, because we are worldly and sinful, we think of the gospel as being only about us and our salvation. But its ultimate aim is to be to the praise of the glory of God. That we have a God who delights in choosing sinful people and making them holy and blameless before him is glorious. That we have a God who was prepared to make the sacrifice of the blood of the cross to do this is glorious. That we have a God who plans to unite and restore all things in him demonstrates his glory.

Do you ever find your praise for God getting a little jaded? Sometimes we become shortsighted to his glory displayed in creation. We grow weary of the songs in church. The sermons become dull and distant. Our Bible reading fails to inspire us. Our prayers are routine and joyless. Sometimes, frankly, we need help in praising God – and praise is the powerhouse of the joyful Christian life. What can we do to reignite the spark of praise within us?

Well, at these times, let us meditate on the gospel, the story in which God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christref. The goal of the gospel is the praise of the glory of God, so it is as we drink deeply of the gospel truths that our praise will be refreshed.


So, it is by virtue of the gospel that we can be in Christ, when we believe and trust in the Jesus presented in the word of truth. This is the climax of Paul's monumental opening statement, and this is the spring-board for the issues he will be discussing later in the letter.

Paul is keen to whet our appetites to learn more of the gospel, the word of truth, so at this early point in his letter he lays the theological groundwork for our unity in Christ through the gospel, global in scope; for our confidence in Christ through the gospel, guaranteeing our inheritance; and for our praise of God through the gospel which shouts of his glory.

Let's praise God for his glorious grace! Amen.