The Riches of God's Grace

Reading: Ephesians 1
Sometimes we hear the older generation complaining that today's youth "doesn't know what's good for them." Usually the reference is to a belief that life should just "fall into their lap" without too much hard work.

But then, haven't we sometimes thought it would be nice to have a joint account with a millionaire? "Wouldn't it be nice to win a million dollars?" the gambling interests entice us. Or, if quizzes are your forte, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" As I understand it, nobody in this congregation has "taken the bait"!

You don't get anything for nothing. There's always some catch, some cost.

The introduction of GST (goods and services tax) has promised a fairer tax system into the future - but nobody is suggesting a reduction of government revenue. Even the Opposition knows that, to "roll back" the GST as they propose, revenue will have to rise somewhere else. And, as far as gambling is concerned, there can only be big winners if there are a whole lot of losers.

God's Riches

Yet there are situations where someone else has paid the cost but we experience the benefit.

Perhaps we have received an inheritance, the fruit of an earlier generation's labour. Farming is always hard work, but many farmers are building on the work of parents and grandparents as well. The community passes on benefits too (sometimes debts as well for future generations!). Nevertheless, much of the infrastructure of our society is given for us to continue to use and develop. We share a rich cultural heritage of music, art and literature. There are those today who continue to add to our cultural treasure chest.

So the concept of receiving free what others have provided at great personal cost isn't as foreign to us as we thought.

Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he wrote to the Ephesians. The theme that keeps coming through his letter is "grace" - twelve times in all! We used to learn the definition - "grace is the unmerited favour of God." Someone has defined "grace" in a simple mnemonic, "God's Riches at Christ's Expense." Grace is free to us, but provided by God at great expense - "through his blood" (v. 7), through the death of Christ the Son of God.

What are "the riches of God's grace" to which Paul is drawing our attention here? "In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…" (v. 7). The word for "redemption" was used for the price paid to set free a prisoner of war, a slave or a criminal condemned to death. Sin is the failure to meet God's requirements, to live as God expects - whether by wilful rebellion or moral weakness. Paul concludes elsewhere that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3.23). He describes us as being in bondage to sin and hence in bondage to the consequences of sin. But in Christ - specifically in his death - we are set free, forgiven, no longer impelled by sinful inclinations.

But not only so - Paul describes us as having been adopted into the family of God. God has made us his children - again it is "through Jesus Christ". Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense - God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus had such a close relationship with the Father that in prayer he used the intimate family word, "Abba." This was an Aramaic word rather like "Daddy". In Rom. 8.15 Paul says that we have received a Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, "Abba, Father." He goes on, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (vv. 16-17).

And God has revealed his purposes to us. God's "mystery" is now an "open secret". His purpose is not just for the here and now, but includes the hereafter. His readers are described as those "who were the first to hope in Christ" (v. 12). That's not wishful thinking but a confident trust in Christ forever.

Paul gives praise to the Father for his eternal purpose (v. 3), praise for the redemption made available through the Son (v. 6) and praise for the work of the promised Holy Spirit, described here as "the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" (v. 14). Part of "the riches of his grace" is that the Spirit of God indwells every believer. The issue isn't tongues or healings or miracles. If you believe in Christ, the Spirit indwells you, seeking to bring to completion in you the redemptive work of Christ for you. Increasingly our lives should give evidence of the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5.22,23) - "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

Knowing…

A number of years ago, some Japanese soldiers were found living in a dugout on a remote Pacific Island. They were quite unaware that the War was long since over, that peace treaties had been signed, that global reconstruction was well-advanced.

In their case, of course, their country had capitulated because of the mass destruction caused by two atomic bombs. In our case, the victory was won by the one who laid down his life. At his expense God's riches have been made available to us. But do we know it? Do we live it? Have we entered into our glorious inheritance?

In the latter part of Ephesians 1, Paul gives thanks for them - for their faith and their practical love. But he also prays earnestly for them.

He prays that they will know God better (v. 17). One recent translation puts it, "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him" (NET). Eternal life, Jesus told us, has to do with knowing God (Jn 17.3). How we need to know him better!

But he goes on to pray that "you may know the hope to which he has called you…" - a hope expressed in "the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe" (vv. 18,19). "The saints" and "us who believe" refers to the same group of people. It has been suggested it could be paraphrased as, "Since you are enlightened by God's Spirit, I pray that you may comprehend the hope to which he has called you, the spiritual riches that await the saints in glory, and the spiritual power that is available to the saints now" (NET notes).

And what is this power that is "for us" - available to us now? "That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…" (vv. 19b,20).

There is a quest today for inner spiritual resources of power. This is part of what the "new age" movement is all about. Some Christian groups seem to be caught up in the same quest. It ends up as a kind of spiritualised humanism. It doesn't centre on God or glorify God. Instead, it centres on us and glorifies us.

But God's power is available to us. Jesus didn't live a "superman" life. He emptied himself, divesting himself of heavenly glory and powers. He lived here with the same resources, with the same access to the presence and power of God that is available to us. It is a relationship. We don't hold a little cache of divine power which we can carry around with us. We live in relationship with God and his power is available in our lives.

Christ, of course, was unique. His status is "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way"(vv. 21-23).

The church is the body of Christ, the means by which he works in the world. One older writer has put it this way, "Here the conception is that this plenitude of the divine powers and qualities which is in Christ is imparted by him to his church, so that the latter is pervaded by his presence, animated by his life, filled with his gifts and energies and graces" (S.D.F. Salmond, EGT).

Do you live under God's grace - with the awareness of God's riches at Christ's expense? Do you know the riches of his grace to you in Christ - in a deepening knowledge of God and availability to be and act as his agents in this world? To what extent is the Christian church in the Burdekin "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way"?

We've got a long way to go! And yet, that is our calling! Let us step forward together confidently with him!


© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 16 July 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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