January 10, 2016

In Christ We Have

Passage: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Ephesians 1:11-14, Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
Service Type:

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

Last fall, on a beautiful October day, I was blessed to be golfing with a good friend. The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining, and the green of the course fairways was highlighted against the blazing colours of trees in their fall splendour. Most of our shots we laughed about; and would cheer each other over the occasional good one. Of course there was more laughter than cheering. If it wasn’t for the beauty of the walk and the banter with a good friend I think I would have given up golf a long time ago.

So there we were on this one tee box completely consumed with the sheer joy of this recreation when my friend wondered out loud, “Jim, how is it that we deserve to be enjoying all of this?” And almost without thinking the words were out of my mouth, “You know what, I don’t want anything to do with what I deserve.” My friend found it hard to quit laughing long enough to hit his next tee shot—which did not go where he intended. (That helped my game because as long as he didn’t do well my score looks better—not that we compete or anything.) What we both knew was this; we both understood that his question and my response expressed a similar sentiment. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere near to what we deserved. Do you?

It must be one of the words that advertisers found resonated well in focus groups; the word “deserve.” There seems to be a propensity for its use in selling a variety of products. You deserve the luxury of this new car or the pampering of some cosmetic. Perhaps because of my aversion to being anywhere close to receiving my “just deserts” the words stands out to me when I hear it in a commercial. (Desert with one “s” refers to what you merit; dessert with two “s” refers something you eat.) Do you want what you deserve?

This question of merit is both the bad news and the good news of the gospel. The difficult news for us is that every one of us has been found wanting. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The good news is that someone else has merited all that is necessary. The wonder of the gospel is that when God’s love meets our lack in measuring up it doesn’t issue in judgement; it issues for the believer in this—“in Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” I invite you to reflect with me about this inheritance promised the believer in Christ.

1. This word “inheritance” is a favourite word of Paul’s when speaking of this great destiny for God’s people in the coming new heaven and new earth. For instance, in the prayer that follows the portion of Ephesians chapter one we are considering in this sermon Paul prays that God would give you his revelation “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” (Ephesians 1:18.)

When we think about an inheritance we usually think about the bequeathing of money or property to some family member or members on the occasion of the owner’s death. Generally speaking, an inheritance is not something deserved nor earned but the inheritance results freely because of a relationship. I think Paul has this in mind when he speaks of the inheritance of the believer that is in Christ. In Christ we have.

We humans have this idea of earning and merit so deeply ingrained in us such that we equate earning with deserving. I worked hard so I deserve this or that reward. When it comes to God it is very hard for us to give up this idea that people who do good things will be welcomed into that future home of God’s on the basis of the good they have done. The prophet Isaiah declares that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) We don’t like to hear that; the picture that our heart corruption is such that even our good is tainted is not one we want to look at. Yet the gospel confronts us with that picture.

Jesus said “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23) John Calvin said that if we could see into our own hearts we would be terrified by what we would see.

And so this future God has in mind for any who would believe could only ever be an inheritance. Humanly speaking, it cannot be earned or deserved. It is only gift. Now, let me also be clear, this is not to say that everything we do in following our Saviour in order to promote life or relieve suffering or bless others is trash. The scripture teaches us that God wastes nothing and so the meager things we offer are blessed as he weaves that tapestry of the good he has in mind for his people. And finally in the fullness of time he perfects all of this that we offer into that great kingdom of light of which there shall be no end.

Psalm 62 is great song of David’s expressing trust in God alone. At the end of that Psalm David writes this: “and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.” (Psalm 62:12) We hear that last phrase—you repay all according to their work—and run it through the template of our “earning or deserving” thought pattern and think of some kind of scale. Good stuff will earn good things from God and bad things not so pleasant a result.

We need to keep in mind that in Psalm 62 David is speaking from the heart of a believer. He is talking about the love of God and noting that the only reason that there could be a reward for what we offer God is because of his love for us. The translation of the Psalms in the Anglican Prayer book by Thomas Cramner is a closer rendering to what I believe David wants to say. “And that thou, Lord, art merciful : for thou rewardest every man according to his work.”

Notice that it is the love of God that is the ground for any reward. Mercy is what happens when God’s love meets our sin. Here is the gospel announced in the Psalms. Anything that is “if -then” is not the gospel—if you do good then God will love you, is not gospel. The good news of our Lord Jesus Christ is always “because of - therefore,” because God loves his people therefore their work is not lost but rather rewarded. “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,” as the Apostle Paul states it. The Psalmist David’s assertion regarding reward and the Apostle’s declaration of inheritance in Christ are parallel ideas. In this same gospel pattern Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Because our Lord was made to be sin for us therefore the provision is made that we might become the righteousness of God.

Every so often the story of a family in court arguing over the will of a rich family member makes the news. When it comes to money and inheritance truth is often stranger than fiction in how inheritors behave. Sometimes too people will express their disfavour towards family members through their will in how the inheritance is to be divided.

In his letter to the Romans Paul spoke of the believer’s inheritance from another angel of vision. As children of God we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) Typically we receive an inheritance after someone dies. It is true that it is the death of Christ that secures the inheritance for us. As we just noted—he became sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God. It was there at the cross that our Lord’s complete identification with us sinners takes place.

At the same time it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that gives us a glimpse into what the future of that inheritance holds for us. What is stunning is that our Lord is willing to share that inheritance—we are joint heirs in Christ. What is his as the Son with whom the Father is ever pleased he shares with us willingly and fully. No games of favouritism are played by God downgrading what some will receive over others. Joint heirs with Christ. Our Lord is so closely identified with us that what is his is ours.

Furthermore, your name is on the will and because our Lord’s grip on us as his people is always stronger that our best grip on him; always stronger than even when our faith is at a peak we can be certain of our status as an heir. Do you not find that when you know that an inheritance is coming to you that it can have a positive impact on your outlook for life? We can face our financial future with a little lighter step. If these temporary inheritances can cause us to live with a little more joy what should this inheritance that is in Jesus Christ do for our living? Shouldn’t believers be the most hopeful people in the world?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has defeated death such that for the believer she knows that death has been rendered mute; diminished as now only be a mechanism for going from life to life in him.

2. There is another word that I hear used regularly in various advertising campaigns and it is the word “guarantee.” This also makes me think that this too is a word that must get positive reviews with focus groups. It always makes me curious that the purchase of certain piece of exercise equipment comes with a guarantee that I will lose weight. I am reminded of the story of a sales person promising a woman looking at a vacuum cleaner, “This vacuum cleaner will cut your work in half.” To which she said, “Great, I’ll take two.” Are you too a little suspicious of “guarantees?”

The Apostle Paul said that in Christ we have a guarantee. “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” Another translation of this text renders instead of “the pledge of our inheritance” with “the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”

The metaphor that Paul uses here is of a deposit a person pays guaranteeing final payment. You give a deposit when buying a house, for example, that is a pledge you will on the appointed day make the full payment. He also mixes in another metaphor—that of a seal on a document. The seal guaranteed who the letter was from, and, unbroken, guaranteed the contents as authentic.

The guarantee Paul speaks about in not a promise, but a presence. “Having believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance….” As believers, we are indwelt by the Spirit that Jesus promised. Then, alluding to the commercial and legal worlds, Paul uses an interesting Greek word that means a seal that guarantees the genuineness of the content of the document. It means that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives guarantees that we are the genuine article, marks us as the possession of God, and protects us from tampering or harm.

Just a final comment on the experience of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Remember first that the guarantee is in Christ—the external evidence of the guarantee is in what God does for us in Christ and his self-giving at the cross. There is also this other part—sealed by the Holy Spirit—that God does in us. We often want guarantees to be written or on something concrete. Remember that it was written in our Lord’s blood at Calvary.

Secondly, keep in mind that our experience of the Holy Spirit—what God does in us—is a kind of knowing that is akin to knowing that you are loved by someone. There are various kinds of knowing and the knowing of faith is just as valid as other kinds that we tend to put more stock in.
God wants you to know he loves you—that “yes” resonating in your heart to this pronouncement is the wooing or whisper of the Holy Spirit.

(Note: in our baptism we name them for Christ who died for them (outer assurance) and lay on hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit (inner assurance)).

In Christ we have … (Amen)