There are some interesting patterns of speech in this passage, some key words and phrases that Paul repeats here. Nearly all of the action in the passage is given to God. He gets all of the verbs. And all of that action takes place in Christ Jesus, or through Christ Jesus. Any time Paul talks about himself, his readers, or us today, he uses passive language. Mankind is pictured in the passage as receiving God's action, with only one exception, responding to what God has done in and for us.
Let's look at God's actions in this passage:
Paul tells us that God: blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; chose us to be holy and blameless; destined us for adoption; bestowed on us grace; lavished on us grace; made known to us his will; set forth his good pleasure; will gather up all things; accomplishes all things. All of this he does in Christ, and through Christ. All of it he does according to the good pleasure of his will, the riches of his grace, his good pleasure, his purpose, his counsel and will. And all of it to the praise of his glory.
Paul says that God blessed us "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." Let’s think about what that statement means, to have been blessed with every spiritual blessing that exists in the heavenly places. Wow. And how did God give us this blessing? Did he dole out his spiritual blessings out of heaven one by one? No, he wrapped them all up and gave them to us in one big, all-encompassing blessing--Christ.
Growing up in the church, I always thought that blessings were something God gave out over time, if you got to a certain spiritual level, then you received a new blessing. But Paul here is saying that all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms have already been given to us when He gave us his son. Those spiritual blessings are already ours, and they are given to us, we don't have to earn them. Verse four goes on to explain how it is that God gave us every spiritual blessing. "God chose us in Him, before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless." Before he created the world, God planned to make us holy, and not only that--verse five says he planned to adopt us through Jesus Christ to be his children.
This verse has been used through time to say that God sat down in eternity past and check heaven or hell by each name on his list. No doubt God knew and still does know the hearts of men and women, and which of those will accept and reject his truth. But Jesus himself said in Matthew 18:14 that the Lord does not desire that any should be lost, and in Luke 19:10 that the son of man came to seek and to save the lost, not the elect. God planned in eternity past to adopt everyone who would hear his truth and accept it, and to make those new children of God holy and blameless in His sight. And he did this for His own pleasure.
It made Him happy to plan for our adoption because of His grace. God planned before the foundation of the world to make us holy, to adopt us as his children because of who He is; because of His glorious grace; because He is the gracious God. And God has given us His grace freely in the one He loves, in His son. Because of that Grace, we have redemption through the blood of Jesus. Our sins have been forgiven, again because of God's grace. Paul says God lavished His grace on us. Lavished is such a great word! It carries a picture of like overflowing abundance, poured out, given fully, welling up. God did not give us His grace in little trickling streams. He poured it out on us, He gave us grace overflowing in His son.
In verse nine, Paul says something noteworthy, he tells us after God has given us every spiritual blessing, adopted us, lavished us with his grace by redeeming us, God made known to us the mystery of His will. He not only saved us, He let us in on His plan, that from beginning to end He is bringing everything together to make sense, to have unity, in Christ. We can now look back and see how God created the world with His plan in motion to reveal Himself, to draw us to Himself. And we can look ahead to Christ's second coming when at the end of all things He will bring everything together under Christ.
In verse eleven Paul reminds us that we are part of that plan, God's plan that He has been working out and continues to work out. We are part of that plan to bring Him glory. And here is the only time that Paul uses an active verb in reference to us as humans in this passage. He tells us how we become a part of this plan. We simply hear the word of truth and believe. Hear and believe. Not complicated, so simple a child could do it. From there we put our hope on Christ and live for his glory, just like those who were first to believe.
How many times do we struggle with feeling like we have to do a big long list of things to be "in" on God's plan? I know I have struggled with that feeling. But what we have to come to understand is that God is the active force and motivator. Our job is to follow and receive. Paul pounds that message out in this passage of fourteen verses he uses reference after reference to God actively involved in working out his plan, and reference upon reference to us receiving that action. The only active verbs Paul uses in this passage for our responsibility is hearing, and believing, setting our hope on Christ and living; the rest is up to God.
God even took care to give us a guarantee that we are a part of his plan, part of the family. God gave us a seal, a deposit, a down payment to prove that we are part of His family and heirs to the inheritance. God gave us the Holy Spirit, to be with us, guide us into all truth, to produce fruit in our lives. God wanted us to know that we weren't just some red-headed-step-children that He would grudgingly put up with. God loves us, and He wants us to know that we are full heirs to the promise of life eternally with Him.
So what do we need to remember? What is important to take with us? First, we need to remember that God has a plan to bless us by redeeming us, adopting us as His own and making us holy. Second, that plan is carried out in Jesus, his life, ministry, death, and resurrection on our behalf, and is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit at work within us. Finally, we need to understand that our job is simply to hear his word of Truth and believe it, to set our hope on Christ and live for his glory.