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Heavenly places Last update: September 2012

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Having read through the Old Testament where God “blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24:1) one might be forgiven to think that when God blessed New Testament believers with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, such “blessings” amounted to the same type of blessing which Abraham received. After all, Abraham was blessed in all things and became a very wealthy man. It is reasonable to see Abraham’s blessing convert into something tangible for New Testament believers as well.

But, key to understanding God’s blessing is the word “heavenly” (Greek: epouranios), which is translated, “celestial, heavenly, high, in heaven”. Apart from the fact that Ephesians 1:3-6 underscore the fact that born again believers in Christ (those who have entered the Kingdom of God) function within the heavenly sphere (or the spiritual realm), it teaches that, however not exclusively but primarily nevertheless, our blessing is also received in the spiritual realm. The believers addressed in Paul’s Epistle above could not possibly have received their spiritual blessing if they had not already operated in the spiritual realm, being the “heavenly places”.

This “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” should not be confused with eternal life, which the Bible calls “eternal life” (John 10:28), and not ‘eternal blessing’ or ‘spiritual life’. As such, Paul’s words “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” may be rendered “favour granted in the realm of the spirit”.

This offers a whole different take on a born again believer receiving a blessing from God. For one, the blessing is not of a material nature but of a spiritual nature instead. “Spiritual”, meaning ‘of the realm of the spirit’ and not ‘emotional’ or ‘inter-personal’ or ‘within a community’. Indeed, a “spiritual blessing” cannot be touched with human hands and thus also excludes presents, money, possessions and even things that affect our financial well-being such as promotions and/or business contracts. No, on the contrary, a spiritual blessing in the heavenly places carries with it the idea of non-material favour received by a born-again believer.

So what blessing can be so great that is not material? The Apostle Paul actually makes the answer quite clear in Galatians 3 – the “blessing of Abraham” spoken about by God way back in the book of Genesis is in fact the receiving and infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, [so] that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14, my emphasis).

But the notion that a person who has lived or is living outside of the story of the New Testament – people like you and me today – can be filled with the Holy Spirit is quite unacceptable to a (very) large part of the Institutional Church. The shameful behaviour of some of the Pentacostal movement's preachers/members together with hardline Catholic and Reformist teachings, probably, has been enough to blind many well-meaning people. Yet, they remain deeply misguided as to what "born of the Spirit" really means. From experience some prominent preachers in this area have it hopelessly wrong, and many simply consider any other meaning than their's no more.

I use the term “Institutional Church” because the Church of Christ comprises reborn believers in service to God through faith in Christ, not hierarchies, nor buildings, nor brand names, nor bank accounts, nor annual financial statements, nor Annual General Meetings, nor conferences nor disputes over places or positions or programmes. The Church of Christ does not organise itself in the way mankind’s commercial enterprises do. Because, the Church of Christ is holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27), whereas the Institutional Church is concerned over policies and procedures, budgets and buildings, leaders and lay people. That does not mean that the Institutional Church does not have a role to play, only that it does not represent the Body of Christ, nor the Kingdom of God.

Moreover, the Institutional Church cannot receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit while the Body of Christ can, and does. That is what Galatians 3:13-14 above says. And we see the effect of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer in Romans 8:14:, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” and in 1 John 2:27, “the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him”, and “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).

No, the Holy Spirit is not a priest or a pastor or a church. The Holy Spirit is the Person of God and He speaks to us directly if we are able to hear Him. Those who are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6) are not only “filled by the Spirit” (Acts 4:31) but are also “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14) and “taught by the Spirit” (1 John 2:27).

For these life in the Spirit has become real. And for these the blessings in the spirit – those spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ – has become an everyday reality.

But, where is the evidence of this amongst everyday Christians? You have to look very carefully. Very carefully indeed. I guess we all like to believe we are such a person – born of, filled by, led by and taught by the Spirit, every day. But no, I don’t really think so. Because, in general, most Christians miss out on one or all of the above descriptions - me included.

Nevertheless, I can relate to a person whom I met a year or so ago who fits the bill – born of the Spirit, filled by the Spirit, led by the Spirit and taught by the Spirit every day: an unassuming lady intent on seeing her daughter through life-threatening illness. In the end she has had to come to terms with the fact that some things will never be fully understood, the death of a child included. Yet, she may take comfort in the fact that whilst the vast majority of believers (not minority, as taught in unbelieving churches) did get healed in New Testament times (read my story) – some even raised from the dead - there are two examples (only) in the NT of believers seemingly not getting healed (2 Timothy 4:20, 1 Timothy 5:23).

The rest got healed, even when ordinary elders of the church prayed for them. When you don't see this happen in or after services today, or at people's homes instead, it makes you wonder what some of the elders amongst us think their job in the church really is?

But what has been my friend's experience? What, despite the death of her daughter, has she taken away from it? “Blessing” is what she will say. And she defines in in three ways:

I cannot think of any amount of money that can buy such blessing. Yes, she has lost her beloved daughter, whom she dearly misses, but what she has received instead is that spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, which Paul so fondly speaks about. It is a blessing that brings peace beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7).

In her travails she has heard God more clearly than what I have ever seen in another person. On occasion she would come to me and ask for the meaning of a word, which she had heard from the Lord. And then, on explaining the meaning of the word, she would sit back, smile and say, “Ohh, I see. Now it makes sense”. There is no way she was just hearing her own thoughts – she genuinely heard of the Lord and it gave her and her daughter all the comfort they needed in their time of need. Blessing indeed - spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

When things go wrong and we see the world around us ‘fall apart’ it is so easy to think that God has forgotten us – that we no longer matter to Him. But that has not been her experience. She has just felt God’s amazing love for her in greater measures. Not the sweet ‘oh, you are so precious’ type of love – not that there is anything wrong with that – but the ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ kind of love – undisputed, unwavering, unconceiveable. Yes, mind-blowing indeed, because it is the love of the Holy Spirit at work within her. Blessing indeed - spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

And, she has done things previously unthinkable to her. Over the course of months I have seen a frail, hurt, timid, middle-aged woman – not great in stature either – convert to one who has known who God is in her. Not the type that would "conquer" in the interest of achievement, position or possession, but one like David saying to the Goliath, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).

In her weakness, His strength has been made perfect. Blessing indeed - spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

What is it like to know her? Every time I speak to her I come to realise that she is perfectly human. She has tears. She has laughs. She gets upset. She gets excited. She’s gentle. She gets serious. She gets tired. She’s learnt to forgive. But, there is no highfalutin language - quite the contrary. There is no pretence – what you see is what you get. There is no false humility – only a greater realisation of what true humility really is. There is no unbelieving heart thinking its ‘only human’ to doubt God. There is no misguided sense of entitlement, only thanksgiving. There’s no dream of her greatness, only obedience. There’s no competition, only joy. And, there is no doubt of the peace within her.

From how she talks – what she says and who she talks about – and how she conducts herself there is no doubt who the God is she serves. To her, truly, “nothing else matters”.

Can I say that – “nothing else matters to me”? I don’t think so. Though I wrote this article and though I “minister to others” I am too tied up in my circumstances. I hold on too much to what makes me comfortable. I am too selfish. Too preoccupied with my career and my reputation. I am too carnal. And the blessing I seek, also, is (too) carnal.

But what I take away from speaking to this unassuming woman is a greater realisation of what Paul calls a “spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”:

Can you see that? Can you truthfully say that the love of God which you experienced this month is greater than the love you experienced last month? Can you truthfully say that God is more real to you than the chair you are sitting on? Can you truthfully say that His strength is made perfect in your weakness?

As for me, I have come to realise that I want more of that spiritual blessing!

What then shall I despise – my time of testing?

What then shall I pursue – my material blessing?

God forbid, that it might be said of me also that I “seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. [That I] Set my mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For I died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3).

That I might receive the spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!

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Remember: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jesus)

Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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