Further Up and Further In!

Further Up and Further In!

In C.S. Lewis’ enchanting Chronicles of Narnia children’s stories, in the final book of the series, The Last Battle, he provides a breathtakingly joyous vision of what life will be like once we leave the shadow lands of earth and enter the astonishing, spectacular, awesome, amazing more real-and-solid-than-we-could-ever-imagine heavenly world of Narnia. And the rally cry goading one and all to this glorious final destination is “Further Up and Further In!”

In many ways this phrase expresses well what Paul seeks to communicate to these faithful believers in Christ who were living in Ephesus. He opens his letter with a doxology, a word of praise to our gracious Triune God, in which he thanks him for adopting us as his children

through the eternal choice of our heavenly Father,

the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his Son,

and the seal of his Holy Spirit as a guarantee that our adoption will come to fruition.

Then in verse 15 Paul turns from praising God to addressing his beloved brothers and sisters. He begins by expressing gratitude for them as well having heard about their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love for all God’s people.” In other words, Paul is grateful that these believers were living out the summary of the law and the prophets taught by Jesus to love the Lord their God, with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbors as themselves.[1] By the way in which they were living their lives, they were known as genuine followers of Christ. But Paul doesn’t stop at expressing gratitude for these believers and the faith they so evidently possessed. In addition to letting them know, verse 16, that he has “not stopped giving thanks for” them,” he adds that the means of his giving thanks is by “remembering [them] in [his] prayers.” In other words, Paul regularly talks to God about these brothers and sisters whom he loves. And what Paul goes on to state as the content of his prayers is, essentially, “Further Up and Further In!” He wants them to know the height—and depth—and breadth of the relationship with God in Christ that is available to them and to all who believe in him.[2]

So we see that first, verse 17, Paul asks for these believers “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” The life of faith begins with knowing God. But this knowledge isn’t simply an awareness of him. Nor is it simply an acknowledgment that he exists. No, knowledge of God as he desires for us—and as Paul expresses here—is a “Further Up, and Further In” kind of knowledge. It isn’t simply knowing about God but about knowing him personally. And the one who makes this deeper knowledge possible is his Holy Spirit.

He’s the one who enables us to know Jesus in the Christ in the first place;

he’s the one who enables us to keep knowing Christ once we’ve placed our faith in him;

he’s the one who enables us to understand the Scriptures God has left us, both the Old and New Testaments, that we might grow deeper in our knowledge of him and of what he desires for us;

and he’s the one who enables us not only to know his will but also to obey it.

These are the means he’s provided to draw us into a richer “Further Up, and Further In” relationship with our LORD. Coming to a saving faith and knowledge in Christ is but the beginning of a conversation, of a relationship, we’ll have with him for all eternity.

Again, Paul asks that this God who has made us in his image in order that we might know him; this God who came to earth in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ that we might know both what God intended humanity to be like and to know what God is like in the flesh; might give these believers a spirit “of wisdom and revelation.” Paul, grounded rabbi that he was, knows that as the proverbs teach, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”[3] He knows, again, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools”—that is, those who are morally deficient—“despise wisdom and instruction.”[4] Wisdom from God and knowledge of him are intricately tied with desiring to live as he intended. And so Paul prays that God might disclose himself to these believers that they might draw closer to him, that they might know him better, that they might be drawn “Further Up and Further In” in their walk with God in Christ.

But in addition to praying that these believers might know God better, Paul also prays, starting in verse 18, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Being in relationship with God, or any person for that matter, isn’t simply a matter of the head, of knowing intellectually, but also of the heart. Our heart, our inner being, similarly needs to be enlightened in order that we might know the hope to which God has called us. This isn’t a fragile hope that hangs by a thread but rather is hope that is sturdy and sure. The content of this hope is two-fold. It’s comprised first of “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Think about this: Hard to believe though it may be, God considers us, his children, his church, a “glorious inheritance” for we are his holy people. We’re holy not by virtue of our fallen natures but by virtue of the nature God has given us in his holy Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit he so richly bestows upon all who believe in him. Isn’t this how many proud parents view their children? As “a glorious inheritance”? Yet however much earthly parents may value their children, our heavenly Father values us, his adopted children, even more. Again, part of the hope to which God in Christ has called us is referred to as the riches of his glorious inheritance in us, his holy people. The people he has called to be his children. The people he has set aside for his purpose. The people he has destined to be holy as he is holy. This is a rock-solid hope. This is a “Further Up and Further In” kind of hope! And a way that we can know this hope is by knowing and loving our heavenly Father and knowing and loving each other.

The second part of the hope Paul is praying for is God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.” As Paul will go on to note, this power is resurrection power. This power, again, is a “Further Up and Further In” kind of power that has been given by our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by means of his creating us, redeeming us, sustaining us, and uniting us to himself by the Spirit he’s given us. For by God’s Holy Spirit we are now in Christ. Notice the number of times Paul describes our lives as believers this way just in this opening chapter:

Verse 1: Paul is writing to the faithful in Christ Jesus: To those who are united together by being united with Christ;

Verse 3: We’re told that our God and Father has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ: By virtue of our union in Christ we have been given every spiritual blessing in him as well;

Verse 4: God chose us in him—that is, in Christ—before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight: Our union in Christ and holiness through him were a foregone conclusion in God’s eyes, having been determined by him long before we were ever born;

Verses 7 and 8: in him—again, in Christ—we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches God’s grace that he lavished on us: Again, it is through our union in Christ that we’re able to receive forgiveness through his sacrifice and now we belong to him;

Verse 9: God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ: God’s solution to humanity’s problem was ever that of uniting us to himself;

Verse 11: in him—in Christ—we were chosen, having been predestined according to his plan and the purpose of his will: Again, our union in Christ isn’t haphazard or coincidental but has occurred in accordance to his plan and purpose for all who believe in him;

Verse 12: God desires that those who were the first to put their hope in Christ would be for the praise of his glory: You and I are heirs to the union in Christ these believers first experienced;

Verses 13 and 14: all who hear the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, are included in Christ. In him we were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession: The wonderful, mysterious means by which we are united as one in Christ is the Holy Spirit he has so freely bestowed on us.

Therefore to be in Christ means that by virtue of our union with Christ, we have been provided with the means of going “Further Up and Further In!” For all who are in Christ are united to him and our heavenly Father by his Holy Spirit who indwells us not only now but for all eternity. And all who are sealed by his Spirit are thereby united to one another as well for all eternity.

Next Paul reflects upon just how solid and sure the foundations of our hope are. For the power Paul is asking God for “is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,….” Paul now looks back upon the most amazing display of power God could have ever provided, that of making it possible for an eternal sinless Son to take on human flesh and die in humanity’s stead. Think about this. Jesus Christ’s death is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, as one who was fully human, Jesus, the last Adam, was in the same position as the first Adam. The first Adam was created good and therefore sinless. As one who was created sinless, he needn’t have experienced death. As the LORD commanded when he created him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[5] Therefore when Eve and Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, death entered the world. But rather than destroy the world and start again, God chose to send his Son, the last Adam, to take the penalty of humanity’s disobedience upon himself. In other words, God sent his Son to take the penalty of death upon himself. Now as one who was tempted as we are, yet without sin,[6] Jesus needn’t have died for he never succumbed to any temptation. But because his image-bearers had yielded to sin’s temptation—and the wages, the result, of sin is death[7]—God in Christ chose to die on behalf of all who, knowing their need, their hopelessness and despair, turn to him that they might be delivered from sin and its consequent death.

But not only is Jesus’ death remarkable given his sinlessness, but his death is remarkable because he wasn’t only Jesus; he wasn’t just a human being; but he was also God’s Christ, God’s Messiah, eternal God who, being God, is incapable of death. God is incapable of death, he is incapable of dying, for he is Life itself; he is the Lord and Giver of all life.[8] Yet despite being God, in the person of Jesus Christ God died. He died for us. He took the penalty of death upon himself in order that we might receive the gift of eternal life through him and him alone. For Jesus Christ not only died but he destroyed death by rising from death on the third day. This is the “Further Up and Further In!” power Paul is talking about.

Paul prays here that this “incomparably great power” that raised Jesus Christ, God’s Son who was God himself, from death after having taken upon himself the penalty of sin might be known “for us who believe.” He prays that all who have placed their trust and faith in Christ might know the power, the mighty strength, Jesus himself experienced when his heavenly Father raised him from the dead and gave him the seat over all power in the heavenly realms. And though one day all believers in Christ will know this power—for, again, we have been sealed and are indwelled by his Holy Spirit who gives his eternal life to us and therefore death no longer has a hold on us—Paul is saying even more here. He is thinking not only of our future destiny but prays that believers in Christ might know this power now during the earthly part of our eternal sojourn. Again, this is a “Further Up and Further In!” type of power. And it’s available now for all who have placed their trust in him.

And on this Ascension Sunday in which we remember that after appearing to his disciples for forty days following his resurrection, Jesus Christ, before their very eyes,[9] ascended to heaven, we can take heart in knowing that in his seat of power at God’s right hand, God in Christ is ruling this world he brought into being.[10] And he is ruling as one who is, verse 12, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Brothers and sisters, there is no greater name than that of Jesus Christ. And there is no greater power—neither earthly nor heavenly; neither natural nor supernatural; neither angelic nor demonic—than that which he has been granted for after he ascended to heaven, verse 22, “God placed all things under his feet[11] and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,…” We can take heart in knowing that no matter how chaotic our lives may appear, God still reigns. God will accomplish his purpose for the world. God will yet complete his task of destroying all evil, suffering, and death itself. For our God reigns and will continue to reign for all eternity. And when he returns to judge this world he will continue to bring us “Further Up and Further In!” with him.

And notice what Paul states as the reason for Christ’s ruling; the purpose of his headship over all things. The reason “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything” is for the church. It’s for us.

The Triune God who, being perfect in himself, had no need to make us;

the Triune God who nonetheless made us, individually and corporately, in his image;

the Triune God who didn’t give up on us when we turned away from him;

the Triune God who “chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (v. 4);

who predestined us for adoption to sonship through his Son, Jesus Christ;

who through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven, and sending of his Holy Spirit made it possible for us to be united to him and each other for all eternity;

This very God, this very Jesus Christ now rules for the sake of the church. He is the one who is now calling us “Further Up and Further In!”

And notice how Christ’s church is described in verse 23 as “his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” That we are the body of Christ brings to mind two passages:

First, we remember that in Paul’s teaching for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, he speaks about their being united and becoming one flesh. Yet his point in stating this was to address an even more profound mystery, that of Christ and his church being united and becoming one. For Jesus is the head of his church; he has loved the church and given himself up for her to make her holy; he feeds and cares for the church for she is his body. As his church, we are members of his body.[12] We are his fullness. We are the means by which he has chosen to complete his work on earth until he returns.

But, second, recall that when God brought Eve to Adam, upon seeing Eve for the first time, he exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh[!]”[13] And that’s the sense of awe and wonder we should have in knowing we are the body of Christ. By virtue of our union in Christ; by virtue of our being joined with him by his Holy Spirit, we are now bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. We are now mysteriously and wonderfully eternally joined with him and each other. And this communion Sunday we are mindful that our precious Lord Jesus has sacrificed his flesh and his blood that we might remember, know, and embrace the beauty and wonder of his sacrifice for us and for our salvation.

Dear sisters and brothers, we are Christ’s body. We belong to him. We belong to each other. We are his heart—and his hands—and his feet. We are his ambassadors on earth. We as citizens of heaven are his official representatives on earth. And as we faithfully live our lives, others will be able to see the fulness of who God is; the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. So let us this morning and always seek to go “Further Up and Further In!” with our Lord, Jesus Christ, as our guide, to the glory of our Father in heaven.

For my closing prayer this morning, I want to pray for us what Paul has prayed for the believers in Ephesus from our passage. Let us pray:

Our gracious, heavenly Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, please give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might know you better;

We pray that the eyes of our heart might be enlightened that we might know

the hope to which you have called us,

the riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people,

and your incomparably great power for us to believe.

Help us to know in our lives now the power, the mighty strength you exerted when you raised our precious Christ from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Thank you for placing all things under Christ’s feet;

Thank you for appointing him to be head over everything for the church;

Thank you that as your church, we are now your body, the fulness of you who fills everything in every way.

Help us to know that fulness. We pray you draw us “Further Up and Further In!” as we seek to know you more.

[1] Mark 12:28–31: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[2] This very prayer is reiterated in Ephesians 3:14–19: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

[3] Proverbs 9:10.

[4] Proverbs 1:7.

[5] Genesis 2:16–17.

[6] Hebrews 4:15: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

[7] Romans 6:23: the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[8] 1 Timothy 6:11–16: 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

[9] Acts 1:9: After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

[10] John 1:1–3, 10: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

[11] The author of Hebrews applies this verse from Psalm 8 to Jesus Christ. See Hebrews 2:5-9: It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet. In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Psalm 8:4–6: what is mankind that you are mindful of him, a human being that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:

[12] Ephesians 5:21–33: 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

[13] This insight comes from the Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Ephesians 1:23.