We have been studying this great doxology of Paul that opens the book of Ephesians. We’ve seen that his waxes eloquent in his praise to God for all that He has done for believers. We’ve looked at his praise for the Father’s choosing – describing how our salvation is all of God, all to His praise, all for His glory. Then we’ve looked at his praise for the redemption provided by the Son of God. We saw last week how his death on the cross was the key that opens up a whole new life of forgiveness from sin, release from guilt and hope for the future. No wonder Paul is excited. Now, today, we come to the part of that great doxology that deals with the work of the Holy Spirit. His work is to seal us – to guarantee all that has been done by the Father and the Son, and there are some important lessons for us here as we see how He seals the deal.
An undercover cop pulled up to valet park at the hospital one evening to get treatment on a sore leg. Staring at the official looking car, the valet finally asked if it was a government car. “Why, yes,” replied the policeman, “it is a government car. Actually, it’s an unmarked police car.” “Wow,” said the young man sliding behind the wheel. “This is cool. First time I’ve been in the front seat of one.”
As we saw last week, as believers we’ve moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. I guess that another way to look at that is that we’ve moved from the restrictive, imprisoning backseat to the freedom and luxury of the front seat. Only the sad fact is, many of us are just not fully aware of what is involved in that move. We’re out there trying our best, but we are shaky at best. Every time a new anti-God theory arises, we question again His reality. Every time Satan whispers in our ear that we may not be saved, we tremble. We certainly have no sense of our inheritance in Christ and we’re vulnerable. We’re perfectly free to be in the front seat, the handcuffs are off, but we’re still crawling around in back like we’re trapped. Beloved, let’s get in front!
See, this deal of salvation has been sealed by the Holy Spirit. But if we don’t know that, we can’t live in the good of it. We’ve all seen those old programs where someone finishes writing a letter or an order is issued by a king or some other important communiqué is finished. Then it is folded, hot wax is dripped on the connection and a signet ring or other seal is applied so that when the wax dries the imprint is visible to all. Anyone who sees that seal now knows who sent it, that it carries the weight of his authority, that it is genuine (unless someone has managed to make off with the seal), that the message hasn’t been tampered with if the seal is intact. That one little seal says a lot. In our genealogical studies over the past few months, we constantly ran into the phrase “signed, sealed and delivered” on title deeds – not because they literally had a seal, but because a signature had come to mean the same thing.
So the question is, what is it that the Holy Spirit brings to us in sealing the deal in our relationship with God? What does it mean that we have been sealed by the Spirit of God? Four items command our attention.
The first result of being sealed is that we are marked as being authentic. We truly are Christians. Look with me at verse 11. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12) so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13) In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
Now, Paul has been using “we” throughout this great section – clearly referring to himself as well as the believers in Ephesus. However, in verse 13 he suddenly switches to “you”. That “you” contrasts with the “we” of verses 11-12, so it appears that the “we” of those two verses isn’t as inclusive as the “we” previously mentioned. Most commentators believe, and I agree, that when Paul refers in verse 12 to we, who were the first to hope in Christ the “we” is Jewish Christians – those who were indeed first to hear of and believe in Christ in Jerusalem at and following Pentecost. Then the “you” in verse 13 is referring to the primarily Gentile Christians who were living in Ephesus. The distinction anticipates the main theme of chapter 2.
Now, let’s look at his primary point in verse 13: 13) In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Paul here introduces the great sealing work of the Holy Spirit and he makes the point that one result of that work is that the Holy Spirit’s presence is like a seal imprinted on the believer saying, in effect, this one is genuine. He or she is authentic. They are the real deal because they have not only heard, but have believed.
Now the first thing to notice about this is that there is no mention of any kind of works. There is no mention of baptism, church membership, being good, giving a lot of money. Nothing. And of course, the simple reason for that is that salvation is, was and always will be by faith alone. Paul says it very clearly in Titus 3:5 5) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Most of our world thinks it is all about having more good works than bad or some having particular works. We simply cannot leave it alone and believe that salvation is by God’s grace alone. It is imbedded in us to want to add something, to want to contribute, to believe we must be good enough. But, do you not see that if we are with that crowd, we are still handcuffed in the backseat and certainly not saved. And if we are somehow as a Christian thinking we must do something to remain saved, we are at best in the front seat, but looking around to the back thinking we’ve left something there.
Dear folks, there is nothing in the backseat of value. Never was, never will be. It is all grace. As the Reformers said, it is sola fide – faith alone. But the moment the Holy Spirit sees genuine faith, He is there to seal that heart and set it aside for Jesus Christ. In Romans 4:3 we read 3) For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” It doesn’t say Abraham cleaned up his act or Abraham started going to church or Abraham got circumcised and it was counted to him for righteousness. In fact, Abraham did try at one point to get God’s promise by his own effort. Remember? When no child was forthcoming, he got one by his wife’s handmaiden, but God rejected it. Abraham believed God and that is why he was counted righteous, and it is the only way we will be counted righteous. Then the Spirit will seal us.
Now I also note secondly, that it was not enough just to hear the Word. Notice verse 13 again. These were people who heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, You will never be saved by just coming to church and listening. Listen to Jesus in Matt. 7: 24) “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25) And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26) And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27) And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” That is so clear it hardly needs amplification. It is not enough to hear. One must act on that truth and accept the gift offered. One must hear and believe.
What Paul says in Romans 10:17 is true: 17) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But hearing does not automatically produce saving faith. In the year 1829, a Philadelphia man named George Wilson robbed the U. S. mails, killing someone in the process. Wilson was arrested, brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged. Some friends intervened in his behalf and were finally able to obtain a pardon for him from President Andrew Jackson. But, when he was informed of this, George Wilson refused to accept the pardon! The sheriff was unwilling to enact the sentence—for how could he hang a pardoned man? An appeal was sent to President Jackson. The perplexed President turned to the United States Supreme Court to decide the case. Chief Justice Marshall ruled that a pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends on its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that a person under the sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, it is then not a pardon. George Wilson must be hanged. So George Wilson was executed, although his pardon lay on the sheriff’s desk. So, too, do some of us reject the gift of salvation by refusing the pardon thereby offered.
The Holy Spirit of God seals those who have not only heard, but who have believed with a faith that not only knows about but accepts (there is our key word – accepts or receives) the gift that God offers. John said 12) But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Have you received Him as your Lord and Savior? If so, the Holy Spirit has been given to seal the deal – to authenticate you as one truly belonging to God.
Look with me at verse 13: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. This, folks, is a wonderful statement. It basically tells us that the moment we truly believed, truly and honestly and without reservation prayed and gave our heart to Jesus Christ – at that instant we were marked with a seal – that seal being the Holy Spirit Himself. Think of it this way – at the moment you received Christ, the third person of the Trinity took up residence within you. And as you sit here this morning, He is either in you or you are not a Christian. There is simply no in between ground.
Paul says in I Corinthians 12:13 13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free— and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Do you see any exceptions there? Neither do I. Do you see any delayed reaction or second work of grace required there? Neither do I. It is a simple fact, if you have accepted Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit now resides within. This doesn’t mean you have your act together necessarily. You can quench the Spirit according to I Thessalonians 5:19. You can ignore Him. You can restrict Him to one little corner of your life. But you cannot get Him out – not if you are a true believer. Paul says in Romans 8:9 Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Paul indicates that you can go so far as to grieve the Holy Spirit in Eph. 4: 30) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Yes, we can grieve Him, but what we cannot do is unseal ourselves. Don’t you like that? When you asked Christ to save you, he stamped you with a seal that said, PROPERTY OF GOD. That stamp came in the form of the Holy Spirit of God himself, and you cannot, you simply cannot undo that seal. You are secure.
One of the great deceptions that Satan has fostered through the ages is the idea that one can lose his or her salvation. You cannot. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and you can no more undo that seal than you can jump out of your own skin. Let me give you an example. Look with me at Daniel 6 where we have the account of Daniel being thrown to the lions for maintaining his prayer life against royal orders. Look at verse 17) And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. It could be broken only by the one who put it there, and God, who has sealed us, will not break that seal. Jesus says in John 6:37 37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. Jesus further says in John 10:28-29 28) I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29) My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Lose your salvation? Never! We’ve just read that Jesus will never cast you out, and that no one else can snatch you out. What is left? Well – I’ve actually heard some say that they can jump out themselves! Rubbish! That would mean that you could break the seal that God has placed upon you and that is impossible. In Christ, you are secure. The deal is sealed by none other than God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It’s not up to us to finish our own salvation; it’s up to God! We’re secure.
There was a fascinating story on the internet on September 26, 2008 that dramatically illustrates this point. Pictures accompanied the story on the internet to authenticate it. It happened in San Antonio, TX. Michael R. is an accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works downtown in a second story office building. Several weeks before, he watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning outside his window as the unlikely place to build a nest above the sidewalk.
The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10 feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon (September 22) all of her ten ducklings hatched. Michael worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching. Tuesday morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off! The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above. In his disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy newborn toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below – alive but in a stupor.
Michael couldn't stand to watch this risky effort. He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk and as the second one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the concrete. Safe and sound, he set it by the momma. He went on to catch all remaining eight ducklings with the downtown sidewalk at a standstill. The ducklings were saved, but the dangerous journey was not yet over. They had 2 full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs, and pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the San Antonio River. The onlooking office secretaries and several San Antonio police officers joined in. They brought an empty copy paper box to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother's approval, and loaded them in the container. Michael held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the San Antonio River. The mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight. As they reached the river, the mother took over and passed him, jumping into the river and quacking loudly. At the water's edge, he tipped the box and helped shepherd the babies toward the water and to their mother after their adventurous ride. All ten darling ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and proudly quacking.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what God does for us? Once we are his, no matter what stupid thing we try; no matter how much we stray, no matter how difficult the path, He will see us through this life to our home in glory. You are secure. And you cannot lose your salvation.
However, there is a word of warning here. It’s possible to look very like a Christian but never have truly been sealed. John says in I John 2 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed (synonymous with sealed) by the Holy One. Do you see that no one actually anointed or sealed could ever leave or lose their salvation? What is John describing? He’s describing some people who looked very like Christians for a long time. They were friends of those in the church. They participated and they gave and they helped – then they left. But they did not leave because they lost their salvation. They left because they had never been saved in the first place. God’s sealing means we are secure.
A third thing that the sealing of the Holy Spirit guarantees is an inheritance. Read with me starting in the middle of verse 13: Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession. Here we see that the HS is only a deposit guaranteeing our full inheritance. The old King James word is earnest. We talk about earnest money. What do we mean? Well, when we recently bought a home here in Eaton, we had to put down a deposit with our offer. We would have forfeited that money had we refused to go through with the deal. It was enough to guarantee that we would not walk away on a whim, that we were in earnest about buying that home.
Here is another truth that is almost too wonderful to comprehend or explain, but think of it folks. The Holy Spirit within us is not the end; He is the beginning, the guarantee that there is so much more to come. As one writer put it: “We have a little bit of heaven in us, namely the Holy Spirit’s presence, and a guarantee of a lot more to come in the future”.
Human promises sometimes fail, don’t they? I heard of one boy who had been away for a week at summer camp. When his mother went to pick him up, he told her camp was okay but that they play tricks on you. Asked to explain, he said, “Well, like when they make you get up every morning for ravioli – and then they never give you any.” Human promises sometimes fail, but God’s promises never do and just to prove it He has given us the HS so that we can begin enjoying even now what we will have in such abundance later on.
You say, what is coming? What is this inheritance? Of course, we have not time to detail it all this morning, but let’s start with eternal life. In some sense we experience eternal life right now because we can talk to the Father; we have his resources available to us. But imagine when we experience resurrection from death. Imagine when we have a new body that will never grow old or tired or sick or frail. Imagine when we live where there is no threat from disease or nature or evil. Imagine being free not just from the power but from the presence of sin. Imagine being absolutely fulfilled in the work that we have. Imagine seeing Jesus every day. Imagine having no want but experiencing absolute joy – positively nothing to complain about. Some of us may not be able to take it!! Oh, Beloved, we have an inheritance. Our life has only just begun. And the sealing of the Holy Spirit guarantees it all.
The final thing that we want to see this morning is that the sealing of the Holy Spirit guarantees that we have come under new ownership. We are now God’s very own, special people. Look at verse 11: 11) In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. The words “In Him we have obtained an inheritance” can also legitimately be translated In Him we have been made an inheritance. Either translation is equally valid, and both are true, but I favor the latter – “we have been made an inheritance” -- because He comes back to this idea at the end of verse 14 where he says that the HS is a guarantee of our inheritance “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” We do get an inheritance, but the emphasis in verses 11 and 14 is that we are an inheritance – a special inheritance of God!
The background for this idea comes from the Old Testament where on numerous occasions, God singles out Israel as the people of His possession. They are special because they belong to Him. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 4:20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. He says in Deut. 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Isn’t it good to be part of God’s chosen possession? David said in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
Now this is a vital part of Paul’s message here. Remember that at the beginning verse 11 we said that Paul was speaking as a Jew and pointing out that they were the inheritance of God and were the first to believe, but by the end of verse 14, he has included the Gentile believers in Ephesus in this message and they are now included in the “those” who are God’s possession. What was almost uniquely Israel’s privilege in the OT has become the privilege of all. All who have been sealed by the Spirit are God’s possession.
I think that the reason we sometimes don’t share Paul’s excitement about this is because we find it so hard to really believe. One of God’s possessions! Preposterous! And so we are so busy trying to earn that which is already ours that we never fully enjoy it. Brennan Manning pictures God’s grace as speaking and saying this: “You are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken, or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted.” I love that, don’t you? Amazing, amazing truth that we belong to God.
Now it’s true that because we belong to God we are to be different. Paul says in Titus 2:14 that Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. But you see those good works are a result of our being God’s possession, not the means of making us God’s possession.
The police officer asked the bank teller who had been robbed for the third time by the same man if he had noticed anything special about the robber. “Yes,” replied the teller. “He was better dressed each time.” See, that’s us. We should be better dressed, more godly, each time someone sees us – not because we are earning our way to God, but because we already belong to Him and are learning more and more to live like that.
Let me close with this. I did a lot of business with law enforcement agencies worldwide. One time I visited Macau and the Chief of Police himself escorted our delegation on a tour of the town. In particular we went to the casinos, and at one place, it was all noise as we entered, but when everyone realized who had come in it got deathly quiet. Then I watched as this small, unimpressive looking little guy led everyone across the floor at one point pointing out someone who was wanted for his entourage to pick up.
That’s like the Holy Spirit doing for us. With Him we are absolutely secure, nothing can harm us. He guarantees that we are genuinely saved, that we cannot get unsaved, that our salvation is just the beginning and that we belong to God. Let’s live like it.