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The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace (3)

Aug - 18 - 2011
Richard Barcellos

Part 1 can be read here.

Part 2 can be read here.

Q: How do the benefits of His death become present? That leads us into our next consideration.

Two texts which speak about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to our exalted Redeemer in bringing mediatorial, redemptive benefits to the souls of believers (Eph. 1:3 and 3:16-17).

 

Eph. 1:3: God the Father is to be praised for three reasons-

 

  • Because He blessed us “in every spiritual blessing”
  • Because He blessed us “in the heavens”
  • Because He blessed us “in Christ”

What does Paul mean by the Father has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens”?

1)      “in every spiritual blessing”

Q: What is a spiritual blessing?

A: It is plausible to take this to refer to the non-corporeal or immaterial or even to soulish blessings verses bodily blessings. However, I think it best to take this as a reference to the bearer of God’s blessings, the One appointed to bring the fruits of Christ’s redemptive labors to the souls of men – i.e., the Holy Spirit.

a)      This adjective “spiritual” is used 26x in the NT (all but two uses [1 Pt. 2:5] are found in Paul.

b)      In 1 Cor. 2:14-16 and 3:1-4, Paul contrasts the spiritual person with the natural/soulish person and the spiritual person with the fleshly person. In both cases “the spiritual person is the one who knows and wants that which is of the Spirit of God.”[1]

c)      In 1 Cor. 15:44-46 there is a contrast between the spiritual body –animated by the Spirit of God and fit for the resurrected and eternal state (i.e., the age to come) – and the natural/soulish body which is fit for this age alone.

d)     Eadie says, “But in all other passages where, as in this clause, the word is used to qualify Christian men, or Christian blessings, its ruling reference is plainly to the Holy Spirit.” [2] Eadie then cites 11 Pauline texts and concludes, “Therefore the prevailing usage of the New Testament warrants us in saying, that these blessings are termed spiritual from their connection with the Holy Spirit.”[3]

e)      Frank Thielman agrees, when he says, ““Spiritual blessings,” therefore, are the benefits that come as gracious gifts from the Spirit of God…”[4]

f)       Commenting upon “every spiritual blessing,” Eadie continues, “The circle is complete. No needed blessing is wanted–nothing that God has promised, or Christ has secured… And those blessings are all in the hand of the Spirit [emphases mine]. Christianity is the dispensation of the Spirit, and as its graces are inwrought by Him, they are all named “spiritual” after Him.”[5]

So God blesses us with what the Spirit of God brings to our souls.

2)      But what about the phrase “in the heavenly places”?

a)      This phrase refers to the sphere of the plenteous blessings – “the heavens” or maybe better to the dimension of existence in which believers experience spiritual blessings (Thielman, 47).

b)      Heaven is that place where God’s presence is manifested intensely. With reference to the intermediate state of man, heaven is that, plus a state of existence qualitatively different than that which we experience presently on the earth. However, I don’t think Paul is reserving the blessings of the heavenly state exclusively for the intermediate and/or eternal states. Charles Hodge agrees, when he says, “…these blessings pertain to that heavenly state into which the believer is introduced” [emphasis mine].[6]

c)      This is probably best understood in an already/not-yet eschatological sense – the heavenly realm as a state of existence.

d)     And the heavenly realm as a state of existence is the age to come which has eclipsed this age in relation to the sufferings and glory of Christ and in relation to the experience of believers by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is a down-payment, a pledge of more to come.

e)      Lincoln says, “…the heavenly realms in Ephesians are to be seen in the perspective of the age to come, which has been inaugurated by God raising Christ from the dead and exalting him to his right hand… …the blessings of salvation [believers] have received from God link [them] to the heavenly realm. The blessings can be said to be in the heavenly realms, yet they are not viewed as treasure stored up for future appropriation, but as benefits belonging to believers now” (Lincoln, 21; emphases mine).

f)       O’Brien says: “In the heavenly realms is bound up with the divine saving events and is to be understood within a Pauline eschatological perspective. In line with the Jewish two-age structure heaven is seen from the perspective of the age to come, which has now been inaugurated by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[7]

g)      These blessings are not merely stored up for us in heaven for the future and these blessings do not stay in heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Instead, it is as if heaven, in its semi-eschatological or already/not-yet state of existence, is brought to the souls of believers by the Holy Spirit upon the exaltation of Christ! The age-to-come has eclipsed this age and believers taste of that world by the ministry of the Holy Spirit – the bearer of age-to-come blessings in this age and in the age to come.

h)      Eadie adds, “Now the gospel, or the Mediatorial reign, is “the kingdom of heaven.” That kingdom or reign of God is “in us,” or among us. Heaven is brought near to man through Jesus Christ. Those spiritual blessings conferred on us create heaven within us…; for wherever the light and love of God’s presence are to be enjoyed, there is heaven. If such blessings are the one Spirit’s inworking, – that Spirit who in God’s name “takes of the things that are Christ’s and shows them unto us,” – then His influence diffuses the atmosphere of heaven around us” (Eadie, 16-17).

So the Spirit of God brings to the souls of believers the age-to-come blessings procured by Christ for His people. And he does this, in-part, in this age! But how does He do that? He does it, ordinarily, through the use of the ordinary means of grace.



[1] Hoehner, Ephesians, 167.

[2] Eadie, Ephesians, 14.

[3] Eadie, Ephesians, 14.

[4] Thielman, Ephesians, 47.

[5] Eadie, Ephesians, 14.

[6] Hodge, Ephesians, 29.

[7] O’Brien, Ephesians, 97.

3 Responses so far.

  1. CT says:

    I agree with DB. I like the concept of “the dimension of existence” for the “heavenlies”. The heavenlies are *here* now but *not yet* in fulness. Have you considered the implication of Heb 12:22 for this concept? Also, I like that Eadie did this “word study” of “Spiritual” and cites Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 where “*spiritual* means produced by or belonging to the Holy Spirit.” (Eadie, Ephesians, 14). I submit that most(if not all) songs and choruses in contemporary worship are immediately disqualified.

  2. Richard Barcellos says:

    So “spiritual” in Eph. 5 and Col. 3 = would be singing songs with text that is authored by the Spirit of God, i.e. Scripture?

    • CT says:

      DB,
      At the very least it means that. I think however that it includes two or three implications: (a) the lyrics are to be Scriptural, i.e., reflecting the Scripture truth, not necessarily a simplistic repetition of Scripture’s words (like most of the current songs); (b) the music will be appropriate for Scripture truth, i.e., it will be sacred (in opposition to worldly, which is 99% of the “church” music these days); and (c) the author will be a sanctified person (in opposition of the worldy, mercenary and marketing authors of most songs these days). IMHO.

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