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Description: The United Family of God
The United Family of God
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Will you take a Bible please and look at Ephesians 1. Let’s just look today at Ephesians 1:10, “As
a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Now it’s important in order to get the continuity of Paul’s revelation here to ask what is “as a
plan for the fullness of time? What is it that is a plan for the fullness of time? And you get it
if you read the previous verse, “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery
of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of
time.” So you can see it’s his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of
So that’s what the plan for the fullness of time is. It’s the purpose that he set forth in Christ.
Fullness of time is probably when time will change into eternity. The Greek word fullness means “a
completion” or the wrapping up of time as we know it. It is the opening out of what is final reality
and what is real around us —eternity, the eternal present moment. So it’s a plan for that time,
when we will begin the real world, the real eternal world that is a glorious joyous present. And
the purpose that he set forth in Christ is a plan for that.
Now what is the purpose that he set forth in Christ? Well, you’ll see it in Romans 8:29. It’s that
famous few verses, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” and then in verse 29,
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Now that
is obviously what Paul is referring to in the previous verse. The previous verse runs, “We know
that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his
purpose.” So that’s what we’re studying, the purpose that he has set forth in Christ and this is
the purpose in verse 29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the
image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”
Often we say the purpose of God is that those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed
to the image of his Son. And of course we can get into a work kind of salvation. We can say, “Our
purpose is to be conformed to the image of Jesus, so that’s what I must work at through this life
here on earth. I must work at being conformed to the image of Jesus.”
It’s very easy for us when we put the emphasis on that to end up emphasizing what we do and how
we’re to improve our prayer lives and how we’re to become more loving to our neighbors and how we’re
to become more pure in our thoughts. And so we can end up in a preoccupation very easily with
ourselves and with our own spiritual progress.
But it’s quite interesting to see that that in itself is a secondary purpose. The primary purpose
that God set forth in Christ you can see in the purpose clause – “in order that”. In Latin it’s the
word “ut” and we describe it as “so that” or “in order that” in English. So we’re predestined to be
conformed to the image of his Son. Why and for or what purpose? Because there’s a purpose beyond
that. It’s in order that he might be the first born among many brethren. In other words, you and I
exist so that Jesus would be the first-born among many brethren. The purpose that God has set forth
in Christ for you and me is that we would be Christ’s brothers and sisters. In fact, it’s that he
would have brothers and sisters, because that’s the way that reads, “In order that he might be the
first-born among many brethren.”
Now I don’t know if you can see how that changes the whole emphasis of the purpose of our lives, but
the reason you and I are in existence at all is so Jesus would have brothers and sisters. And I
don’t know if you see how safe, and solid, and assured that makes our position? God is not going to
disappoint his Son and to him his Son’s brothers and sisters are part of him. He wanted to have an
only begotten Son but he wanted to have many brothers and sisters for that Son — people that he
could love and take care of and treat the same as he did his own Son. And so far from making us
seem just an ancillary to Jesus, it ties us up with Jesus’ own life and with his own eternal
And that’s completely different from the idea that we often have that Christ’s value to us is that
he is our Savior. He saves us from this dreadful raging sea of sin and self. And so often we see
Jesus as only the one who saves us. He has many other things to do but among those many other
things he also saves us on the side. But this presents it in a completely different way. This
shows us that for us Jesus is our elder brother. He is one who is related to us and we to him. We
are not just little creatures that have gotten into trouble through our sin and our selfishness. We
are his brothers and sisters. We are actually part of his eternal existence. And through the past
months, I’ve tried to say that in a way that would be vivid and clear. It’s obvious that we are not
an afterthought of God.
I thought it was glorious to be an afterthought. I thought, “Well, that is a great privilege. God
first of all had his only begotten Son in eternity before the world was and then he thought, ‘Oh, I
will make other people and other worlds through my Son.’” And I thought, “Well, that is glorious
that he even thought of something further than his only begotten Son.” But suddenly it becomes
clear to you here and in other verses that the reason God made us in his Son Jesus was because he
thought of us from the moment he conceived his only begotten Son. That is so staggering that it is
almost impossible to conceive. Little Marty Poehler, little Ernest O’Neill, little Joanne, little
Trish — when God almighty, the Father of the whole universe thought of his only begotten Son he
thought right down through eternity to Trish. He thought right down through eternity to Marty.
It’s almost so ridiculous that you think, “Well it’s a dream.” Except that as you begin to look at
God’s word carefully you see that it’s written into it. That we might be conformed to the image of
his Son, so that he might be the first born among many brethren, so that there would be many people
who would have Christ’s spirit and Christ’s heart within them. I think we’ve often talked about the
fact that God obviously did not make us as an afterthought. He obviously did not make us as little
playthings. He did not make us as little experiments. He did not make us in a kind of trial and
error kind of attempt. He did not make us as something that he would try out and see if it worked.
He made us as part of the Son that he had begotten in his own heart. In that way he opened his own
heart to us and he opened himself to us. He opened himself to all that we would do, all that we
You probably have to be careful that you catch this rightly, but in a deep way God made us for
keeps. He didn’t make us with the idea of losing us. He didn’t make us with the idea that we were
something that didn’t matter too much to him or that he could do without. I’m sure you have to be
wise about your reaction to all of that, but he didn’t make a deformed Son. He didn’t make a Son
who could afford to lose his legs, or his toes. He made a Son whom he loves as the apple of his
eye, and a Son whom he will do everything to preserve. And so when we were all placed in Jesus, God
committed himself to whatever that would cost him.
And I think you can see in a way that he couldn’t choose not to be affected by us. A Father can’t
chose not to be affected by what his children do. A mother of course can’t because that child is
part of her body. But you can see that our Father has made us part of his only begotten Son. It is
not just a matter of losing a glove off Jesus’ hand if Joe is lost. It’s not. It’s part of his
only begotten Son. He made us part of his Son so that he would feel everything that we felt and so
that he would have to deal with everything that we dealt with. And he would have to put up with all
that our free will exercised and brought about. And that’s of course, another reason why he gave us
free will. We had to be like Jesus, because we were spirit of his spirit, flesh of his flesh, heart
of his heart, and will of his will. We had the same freedom as he had to love his Father or not to
love. And the possibility of that meant God was opening himself to all that we would do as a result
In a deep way we’ve said, “Yes, Jesus did bear our sins on Calvary. But Calvary was just the
particular place where we cut the tree in 29 AD and you see the rings there. But if you cut the
tree back in 400 BC, there are rings also in the tree. It doesn’t matter, I suppose how far down
the tree you would go — right to its root. But at the very root of Christ’s birth inside his
Father, there were rings around that tree. The pain of bearing our sin was right there in the heart
of the beginning of creation and so God actually has borne the pain of our sin, our selfishness, and
our rebellion right down through the centuries. And you could say, in a sense, he continues to bear
I think we’ve talked often enough how that had to be. He had to be real. He could not make us and
then throw us away. If he had then we would have meant nothing to him. But because we’re part of
his own Son we mean everything to him and so he cannot separate himself from us. And that’s what he
has done. He has borne and borne with us as a father bears his dear child. He has borne everything
that we have done and of course, his blessed Son has borne it intensely.
But that’s the purpose then that God set forth for us in Christ, that we might be part of his Son
and that we might be brothers and sisters of his Son. And then inside his Son he provided
everything that was needed. It’s important to grasp, that God did not put us inside his Son and
think, “Well, these children of mine will perhaps not want to obey me. They will not want to trust
me as my Son does.” (I suppose he called him Jesus).
He said, “Jesus my son, they may not want the same thing as you. Will you bear that in yourself?
Not only that, but if there’s to be any hope of them becoming like you, we have to bear the pain
that they produce. We have to bear the pain of destroying all that and remaking them in you. Now
that will mean the death of your own physical body. And the only way that you yourself will live is
because of your spiritual heart and life. What I’m asking you to do is to live and triumph over the
death of your own physical body and over the death of all their lives, raise them up willingly with
yourself and create them anew so that they will be able to look back and see what they would have
been without you. They will have a real choice between that and what they actually are in you now.”
And of course Jesus said, “Yes, I will.”
And that is what has happened. I know it’s changing the whole atmosphere of our discussion but in a
way, but it’s like the Japanese having a virtual pet with their computers. You can buy software
that is a virtual pet. It requires you to feed it, give it water and whatever is needed. In a way
what we see here in our own present life is the virtual self, the self that would have existed apart
from God, and lived outside Jesus. That’s the self that we see and it’s an unreal self. It is a
self that has already been crucified in Christ. The real self is the one that now exists in Jesus;
that has been raised up and made alive in him. That’s the real self.
The virtual self or the old self is the self that was crucified in him. But that’s the self of
course that we see first of all here on earth until we begin to become aware of what God has done
for us in Jesus. But in that way, God planted everything in his Son and he planted also the antidote
for all that would go wrong. So in Christ it’s not only our old self that was crucified but the
world itself was crucified in him. The world itself was destroyed in him and remade in him. And so
in Jesus everything was turned around. Everything has been turned around which is why we say the
difficulty that you will have with your car tomorrow has been foreseen by God in Jesus and has
already been rectified by him.
And whether that is someone coming along who will help you to repair it at the right moment, or
whether that is you getting it towed into a service station, or whether that is you happening
apparently by chance to see what is wrong under the hood, God is the one who has already provided
the answer for that. There is nothing that comes in our lives that God has not crucified in his Son
and remade in him.
My own example is plain and obvious. Oh the day when God saw Ernest O’Neill was going to die, and
his heart was going to stop (it was the 10th of March 1995) God had lined up from eternity for me to
have a position in the queue so that there was a surgeon ready to do a heart bypass. God had lined
up a place for me so that I could be tested out thoroughly. Everything was arranged and in
That’s what it is with every little thing in our lives. We of course, in our naivety say, “Oh, I
was really lucky or it’s remarkable what has happened, or God has been good. Well, God is good in
every little thing that happens.
Have you ever thought of the million things that have to go right for you to get out of the driveway
here every morning? It’s just unbelievable all the muscles that have to work right, all the breaths
that have to go just right, all the blood that has to circulate, all the equipment that has to
start, and all the coordination of your eyes with the gatepost there that have to take place. It is
just unbelievable. And then you begin to realize, “Of course, there is some loving hand that is not
only making the obvious things right but that has provided for the unexpected things.”
And that’s part of what this verse In Ephesians 1:10 is talking about, if you go back to it. “As a
plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him.” When Stephen Hawking (British
scientist) talks about the one great principle that will draw everything together, he just says it
on the basic of his understanding of the physical makeup of the universe.
When scientists or cosmologists say, “Oh yes, they’re seeking for what they believe exists, one
great principle that will unite everything together,” they say it because they’re experiencing the
shadow of that. They’re experiencing the vague outline of that that they see built into reality.
God unites all things in Jesus, “Things in heaven and things on earth.” In Christ God unites
everything. He brings everything beautifully together. There’s no place for us as we go into next
week, to think in terms of the virtual self, or the old self that is part of this fallen world and
that lives as if there is no God. There is no place for us thinking the way it does, “Oh, how am I
going to face this person in the store? How am I going to solve this problem? What am I going to
do if this happens?” That is unreality.
Reality is that God has already united all things in Christ. He already has all our life planned.
He has already the solutions made so that in actual fact we can live as free liberated children
enjoined. We do not need to live as the poet Auden describes us human beings, “in headaches life
leaks away”. “In worry and in headaches life leaks away.” There’s no place for that. That is the
life that was crucified in Christ. But for us, there lies out before us a flowery path, a way of
joy, a way of delight, a way where everything has already been united in Christ.
Now maybe one of the best expositions of this is just the few verses that we so often treasure in
Colossians 1:5, because it summarizes all this. “He is the image of the invisible God, the
first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created
through him and for him.” It’s important to see that, “Whether thrones or dominions or
principalities or authorities.” Satan was not God’s will. But his existence was God’s will and when
Satan rebelled against God, God held him within his own sphere. He holds even Satan within the
sphere of Jesus. He controls and limits even Satan’s power and ability.
So all things were originally made in Christ and Christ has borne the pain of reconciling all those
things to his Father. “All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning,
the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.” That he might be the
first-born among many brethren, “That in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the
fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on
earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” And God in Christ has made peace by
the blood of Jesus’ cross.
In Jesus all the things that have gone wrong in this world have been borne and destroyed and remade
new again. He has united everything himself and has made peace in every situation through himself.
Which is why we say that Jesus’ promise is so real where he said, “Peace I leave with you. I don’t
leave you a world that you have to put together. I don’t leave you a life where you’re going to
have all kinds of disruption that you have to somehow resolve. I don’t leave you a life with all
kinds of difficulties that you have to overcome. Peace I leave with you. I leave you a life that
has been reconciled inside me to my Father’s will. It’s a life that has been fixed, a life that has
been put right. All I ask you to do is walk in the good works that my Father has prepared
beforehand for you to walk in.”
And so it lifts from us the sense that we have to somehow do this ourselves. We have to bring about
what Christian Corps is meant to be. No we haven’t. God has already brought that about in his Son
and he will unfold that to us as day follows day. But our privileged position is simply to walk in
that. Why? Because, he has set forth the purpose that he has for us in Christ to be part of his
brothers and sisters as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in heaven and things on
earth. Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you that you have not given us an impossible task. We thank you that you have
given us only a privileged position and existence to be the brothers and sisters to your beloved
Son, our Savior Jesus. All you want us to be is part of our dear Savior, as his brothers and his
sisters. You want us to allow him to live in us, to have his own life using this body, these brains,
and these hands that you have lent to us for this short time on earth.
Lord, we thank you that all you’ve called us to do is to let Jesus be himself in us. Thank you Lord
that you’ve shown us that what the world knows us to be and has seen of us is just a virtual and
unreal self that no longer exists. We thank you for allowing the shadow of it to appear before us
in this life so that we would see what the real choice is. We are able to turn away from that old
self and to accept that it no longer exists, because you have destroyed it. The old self is
something that you could not tolerate or accept. We are able to turn to this new being that you have
made us in Jesus, a shining marvelous person who is full of your love and is quietly trustful of
your power and protection.
Lord, we thank you for that. Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with each one of us now and ever more. Amen.
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