Isn’t this a beautiful picture! In fact it is so beautiful that one might wonder whether it is real. In fact it is not. With Photoshop it is amazing what can be done with a picture and “Is it real?” is a relevant question with any photo.
A total of 22 fake Apple stores have been uncovered in one Chinese city. They imitated the labels, the attire and everything about a real Apple store, but they were not authorized by Apple. The BBC report indicated “It is not clear whether the shops being reprimanded were selling products sourced from Apple distributors in the country or grey market imports.” Once again the question would be, “Is it real?”
With what you can do with computers and copiers it is a question today whether any document is real. The presence of a seal on my diploma indicates that this is the real thing.
Over the last few weeks we have examined the amazing sentence which we find in Ephesians 1:3-14. It is a wonderful list of blessings which we have in Christ. The promise is that all of these blessings are ours. But how do we know that these things are really ours? They are mostly promises which we have to accept by faith. There are many people who do not believe these promises. Sometimes we also begin to doubt whether they are real. Perhaps someone questions the truth of them and we begin to question as well. The last two blessings listed in verses 13, 14 function as a guarantee of all the promises that are made to us. The text tells us that the Holy Spirit is the seal guaranteeing that all of these promises are true and that what is yet to come, our inheritance, is also ours. The Holy Spirit is the one who lives within us and demonstrates the presence of God who is personally with us to assure us that all of these blessings are really ours.
Legal seals are still used today even though we may not see them very often. When the Bible was written, seals were quite common. They were used by merchants, by government officials and by those involved in legal situations. They were usually images or symbols carved into a ring, which was called a signet ring or some other item. When a document or a container was to be sealed, a drop of wax or a piece of soft clay was attached to it and the signet ring was used to make an impression on the wax or the clay. When it cooled or dried it formed a mark which only the person who had the seal had the right to open. Such seals protected wills, containers with precious items in them and other legal documents. Such seals indicated ownership, authenticity and offered a level of security.
Verse 13 indicates that there is a seal on each of us who belongs to God. Irwin Penner writes that “The seal indicates at least three things…” ownership - we are owned by God; authenticity – we are a genuine masterpiece from the creative hand of God; and security – we are protected for final salvation by the authority and power of God.”
The way the verb is expressed tells us that at a point in time, God did this to us. We did not seal ourselves, but God sealed us and did so by giving us the Holy Spirit.
How did this sealing come about?
The first words in the text indicate the important theme which has been repeated over and over again in this text. The sealing has happened in Christ Jesus. We often speak of salvation as happening when we invite Jesus to come into our lives and that is certainly an important theme. The repeated mention of “in Christ” in this passage invites us, however, to think about this from another angle. Not only do we invite Christ to come and live within us, when we become Christians, we also live in Christ. Snodgrass says, “…we are caught up into Christ and made one with him.”
The sealing happens because we enter into a relationship with Jesus. In that relationship, we come to have Christ living in us, but we also begin to live in Him. The presence of Jesus, the influence of Jesus, the promises of Jesus, the blessings of Jesus, the work of Jesus is the sphere in which we live when we become followers of Jesus.
When Jesus was about to leave the earth, He told the disciples in John 16:7, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."
So it is in Jesus that we come into a relationship with God and in Jesus that the Holy Spirit comes to us.
But how does that happen? We know that we become Christians by accepting Jesus. Some people, pointing to what happened in Acts 2, suggest that we also need another experience at which time we receive the Holy Spirit. However, that is not what we read in this passage.
What is the process by which we are sealed with the Holy Spirit? Please look at the text. The beginning is hearing. Paul speaks about “hearing the word of truth the gospel of your salvation.” Before anyone can come to know Christ, they need to hear about Him. We need to hear the truth. What does that truth include? It includes the knowledge of our sinfulness, the knowledge that death is the punishment for sin. It includes the truth about Jesus who came into this world through the miracle of the virgin birth, lived on earth as a human being, died as the Son of God and rose through the power of God. It includes understanding that it is in Jesus alone that we can have our sins forgiven and through whom alone we can have eternal life.
When we hear this truth and when we understand that it is the good news which God has given to the world, we have a choice to make. We need to decide whether we believe it or not. This is the second step. It is by believing in Jesus, believing the truth of the good news of our salvation that we become people who belong to God. It is by believing in Him that we become Christians, followers of Christ.
The text is very clear that this is the simplicity of the gospel message. If we hear the good news about Jesus and if we believe in Jesus then the text tells us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Scripture also teaches this in other places. In Romans 8:9 we read, "But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." This promises us that if we are Christians we have the Spirit. Thus the process of being sealed with the Holy Spirit is very simple. It involves hearing the word of the gospel and believing in Jesus. When that happens we are marked with a seal, the Holy Spirit. What this means is that God Himself comes to live within us. The actual presence of God with us is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t always emphasize this promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, yet it is a theme which is clearly communicated in Scripture. That is why the text says that we have been sealed with the “promised Holy Spirit.”
Several Old Testament promises first communicated this hope. Ezekiel promised in Ezekiel 36:26, "A new heart I will give you, and a new Spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." The prophet Joel also promised in Joel 2:28, "Then afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh..."
Jesus repeated this promise when he said in John 15:26, "“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf." When Jesus was leaving to ascend into heaven, he spoke to the disciples in Acts 1:4, "While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;" Acts 2 describes how that promise was fulfilled and how the Spirit came the first time upon all those who had followed Jesus. Since that day the promise has been fulfilled according to what Paul is saying in this passage. When anyone hears the truth of the gospel and believes in Jesus, the Spirit, the presence of God, comes to live in them.
I know I own a Bible because, well, here it is. I know my wife loves me because, I can feel her physically hugging me. How do we know that the Spirit of God, who is God present with us, is really within us? We have talked about whether the promises of God are real.” The answer is that God’s presence with us by His Spirit assures us that they are. But sometimes we also ask, “Is He real?” Romans 8:16, tells us how we can know that the Spirit is within us when it says, "…it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…" So the answer is that God affirms in our hearts that He is present in us. If you ever doubt that God is present with you, I would encourage you to take that doubt to the Father and let Him know about it. I believe that it will not be very long before God will make Himself known to you.
Scripture tells us some of the ways in which the Spirit makes Himself known to us. The very ability to understand the gospel is a work of the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11 says, "For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God." The ability to serve God is a work of the Spirit of God because it is the Spirit who gives us gifts for service. The will and desire to praise God is also a work of the Spirit of God. As we continue in our study of Ephesians, we will see many more ways in which the Spirit affirms the presence of God with us.
What a blessing! How wonderful to have God present with us! What an amazing confirmation that we belong to God! What assurance that we have the promises of God, for if we have God within us and with us, surely we have His other promises as well!
So the Spirit of God is the seal who guarantees that the promises are real. The Spirit is also the guarantee of the promise of what is yet to come.
I suspect that most of us have made a down payment at one time or another in our life. When we bought the house we are living in, I went to see the real estate agent and he showed me all the places where I had to sign. When I had signed all the right places, I had to sign one more piece of paper and that was a cheque which would be a down payment. It was a guarantee that we would also pay the rest once the deal went through. A few days later we talked to the agent again and he asked us if we had buyers regret. Sometimes when people make a purchase, they change their mind afterwards. If that should happen, the down payment which they have made is a good way of assuring that they won’t act on their change of mind. They already have a significant amount invested in the purchase and if they would change their mind, it would cost them too much, so it is a guarantee that the deal will go through.
This week we are hoping to get an area carpet for our living room. We have had to wait quite a long time for it to come, but we are sure that it will come, because we put down half the price of the carpet as a guarantee that it will come.
Almost 39 years ago, I purchased a ring with a diamond on it. On July 28, 1973 I gave it to Carla. It was a pledge not only that I would be buying another ring a year later when we got married, but that I would spend the rest of my life with her. That diamond was a pledge, a promise of things to come.
The text tells us that the Holy Spirit is not only the seal that we belong to God; He also functions as a down payment, or pledge that we have an inheritance from God. Snodgrass writes, “Through the Spirit, Christians already now enjoy the privileges of life with God. And the Spirit also guarantees what is still future, when life with God is brought to fulfillment in future salvation.”
Just as an interesting note here. A few weeks ago we noticed that Paul used we/you language. He talked in verse 12 about “we who were the first to set our hope on Christ.” Then in verse 13 he said, “In him you also were marked…” Now in verse 14 the language of we/you fully disappears. He speaks of “our” in heritance. It is important to realize that the promised inheritance is now available, not only to Jews, but to every person on earth who comes to Christ.
The guarantee which the Spirit of God provides is that there is yet more to come. We have an inheritance. We will share in all the promises that God has made to His children.
What is it that we will inherit?
The text says that we will inherit redemption, but don’t we already have redemption? We do and we don’t. God has already paid the price to have us freed from our sin. We already have forgiveness for our sins. But we all know that sin is still a possibility for us. We all know that we stumble in many ways. We know that death will come to all of us. Although we have been forgiven and although we have been made into new creatures in Christ, the complete inheritance is not ours yet. There is still a completion of this redemption to come. Although it is a present possession, it is also a promised future. There is an already about redemption and a not yet. How wonderful to know that we are set free, that we don’t have to be overcome by sins and that we already belong to God. Yet we long for the complete redemption. How awesome that that completion is guaranteed because of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. Matthew Henry says, “All the blessings that we have in hand are but small if compared with the inheritance.”
Another phrase included in this passage is that this redemption will be given to us completely as “God’s own people.” This is one way of translating Ephesians 1:14, but I prefer the way in which it is translated in KJV where it says, "…until the redemption of the purchased possession..." This is more accurate according to the Greek and reminds us that what we inherit is that we are God’s own people whom He has purchased. Why it is important is because it helps us understand that this isn’t just for us. These words indicate somewhat of a change of direction. They remind us that this redemption is not only for us, but also for God. Marcus Barth writes, “…man will be enriched…God is gaining something for himself too: a people that praises his glory.” Snodgrass also says, “…the possession is seen as God’s possession of his people, not their possession of salvation.” This simply reinforces the wonder of all that we will inherit and lets us know that God is also looking forward to the day when all is accomplished and he can bring His people home. The Spirit is God present with us today, but He is also a pledge that some day we will be fully present with God and He will rejoice that we are in His presence because He has indeed brought us home. Then we will see Him face to face and what a great day that will be! Then we will come into full possession of that which is now partial. How we look forward to that day!
The verse ends with the idea that all of this is to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:3, the first words of this extended sentence, called us to praise when it said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places," As we have now reviewed these wonderful blessings all of which we have in Christ it is fitting that the final phrase of this sentence also calls us to praise God. It says that all of this is “to the praise of His glory.” Penner says, “Every benefit we receive comes from God and rightly returns to him in praise.”
Wow! What wonderful blessings are ours!
We have the blessing that the presence of the Spirit of God allows us to rest in Him. He removes all doubt and all fears.
We have the blessing that the presence of the Spirit invites us to respond to Him in obedience and to call upon Him in hope.
We have the blessing that the presence of the Spirit of God invites us to praise Him. We can praise Him with words of praise, with songs of praise and with lives of praise.
As we have examined Ephesians 1:3-14, we have been reminded of all the blessings which are ours in Christ. Jesus has chosen us and adopted us to be God’s children. He has redeemed us and forgiven our sins. He has made known to us exactly what He is up to. He has given us His Spirit and has promised us an eternal inheritance. All of these blessings are ours in Jesus. How can we adequately thank and praise Him for them all?
This past week was Valentines Day, a day to express love to those whom we love. Surely as we reflect on all the blessings we have in Christ, it seems natural and right to love Jesus more than anyone else and to acknowledge and declare that love. The greatest way we can praise God for all He has done is to love Jesus. Do you love Jesus?