One of the joys of childhood (and maybe adulthood, too) is to receive presents at Christmas or on your birthday. Sometimes you can guess what is underneath the wrapping paper, but it’s still exciting to open that present for yourself and see the gift that you have been given.
And that’s kind of what’s happening in Ephesians chapter 1, as Paul unwraps some of the presents that God has given us. When we talk about the gifts that we have received from God, there are so many things that could be mentioned because God has everything at his disposal.
Now that’s not true of us, but our children don’t always understand that. If you say to your kids, “I don’t have any money”, your child may respond, “Well, just write out a check. You’ve still got a lot of those left.” Or they may say, “Just stick your card in one of those machines at the bank. It’ll give you more money.”
Children have a hard time understanding that our physical wealth is limited by what we actually have in the bank. But we need to understand that our spiritual wealth is unlimited because we have God’s wealth at our disposal.
In the first chapter of the book of Ephesians, verses 3-14 actually compose one long sentence. In this sentence, Paul begins by saying in verse 3, “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”. You might want to underline that word “every” – we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.
Then Paul starts unwrapping the presents. He says that some of those presents come from God the Father. God has chosen us (verse 4), God has adopted us into his family (verse 5), God has accepted us (verse 6).
And, then, Paul talks about the gifts that we have received from Jesus Christ the Son. Christ has redeemed us (verse 7), he has forgiven us (verse 7), he has revealed God’s will to us (verses 8-10), he has made us an inheritance (verses 11 and 12).
Then, in verse 13, Paul turns to discuss the blessings that we have through the Holy Spirit.
“In him [that is, in Christ] 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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
God gives us this picture of the Holy Spirit to make us feel secure in our relationship with him. Because, unfortunately, many Christians struggle with a lack of assurance of their salvation. Satan knows that if he can stir up doubts about your salvation, you will not glorify God as you should.
Imagine a parent who always threatens his or her child with, “If you do that again, I’m going to disown you! I’ll take you to an orphanage and abandon you!” That poor child would never regard his parent as a loving mother or father. In fact, that kind of threat would undermine any kind of close relationship. Every loving parent wants his child to feel secure in his love. That assurance of steadfast love is the foundation for a strong parent-child relationship.
And so, our loving heavenly Father wants all of his children to feel secure in his steadfast love. He wants us to know that has chosen us and he has adopted us into his family, not because of who we were, but because of his love and his grace. And, to give us further assurance, God has given us his Holy Spirit as a seal and a guarantee of our future inheritance, to assure us that God will do what he said he would do.
I think it goes without saying that we are much more comfortable in the church talking about what God the Father has done for us, or what Jesus Christ has done for us than we are with the Holy Spirit. In fact, people often wonder we seem to neglect the subject of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because there’s so much that we don’t know and we don’t understand.
But there is a lot of teaching about the Holy Spirit in the Bible that is clear. There are many passages that teach us that the Holy Spirit dwells within those of us who are Christians. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you…If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9,11).
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19).
“By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14).
There is no disputing the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Now we may not be able to fully understand or explain the nature of that indwelling — any more than we can understand or explain how our own spirits indwell our bodies, but we accept the fact of that indwelling by faith, simply by taking God at his word.
We know that when a person becomes a Christian, when he is baptized into Christ, he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit begins to dwell within him. We know, from Ephesians 3:16,that the Holy Spirit strengthens us in our spiritual life. We know from Romans 8:26 that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer life.
But here in Ephesians 1, Paul talks about two more things that having the Holy Spirit within us means to us. And both of these things have to do with the idea of confidence, or assurance. When we have any kind of dealings with men, we always want some sort of assurance. When you buy a car or an appliance, you want to know, “What assurance do I have that this thing isn’t going to break down as soon as I get home?” So almost everything we buy comes with a guarantee in the form of a warranty.
Or when a person is arrested, the magistrate will usually let him go home until the date of the trial. But the magistrate will say, “What assurance do I have that this man will come back for his court date?” So he usually requires that the arrested person post a bond, some money that will guarantee that he’ll be back.
In the same way, when we deal with God, God has given us some assurance, some sort of guarantee. God has made a lot of promises to us, but many of those promises are still in the future. Peter speaks of our inheritance and says it is “reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Well, what assurance do we have that God is actually going to give us that inheritance, or that it’s really as wonderful as the Bible says it is? Jesus promised that he would come back for us. But what assurance do we have that he’s actually going to do that?
Paul answers that question for us here in Ephesians 1 as he talks about the Holy Spirit. He describes the Spirit with two terms — first as a seal, then as a guarantee. And so, I want us to take a closer look at these two concepts
- We Were Sealed With the Holy Spirit
“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.” (Ephesians 1:13).
The seal that Paul is talking about here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, a contract or some other important document. Even today, when important legal documents are processed, they are stamped with an official seal. If you’ve ever gone to get a passport, or to register your children for school, you know that they require a birth certificate. And it can’t just be a photocopy; it has to have that seal imprinted on it.
In biblical times, a seal was usually imprinted on hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. That’s how a document was made official.
And that’s the idea behind our being sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. I want to suggest to you this morning that God’s Spirit as a seal has several significant meanings to us.
- The seal was a mark of security
When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, notice what King Darius did: “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.” (Daniel 6:17). That seal was a mark of security. It meant, “Nobody better mess with this.” And any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have been killed.
In a similar way, the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal his body and falsely claim his resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to secure the stone and to guard it with soldiers. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” (Matthew 27:66).
A seal was a king’s way of saying, “Don’t you mess with this. I’ve put my mark on it and don’t you dare touch it.” In a sense, God sealing us with the Holy Spirit makes a similar statement to Satan and the world, “This one belongs to me. Don’t mess with him.”
One of the most beautiful assurances we have in all the Bible is found in I John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Who is “he who is in the world”? Satan. Who is “he who is in you”? The Holy Spirit. And what a comforting thought to know that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” The seal of the Holy Spirit suggests security and protection.
- The seal was a mark of authenticity
Today, if you go into a courtroom and you have a document with someone’s signature on it, it will probably not be regarded as valid. In other to be regarded as valid, it usually has to have the seal of a notary, where a notary says, “I have witnessed this signature and it’s a valid signature.” And if a notary’s seal and signature is on a document, the court will regard that as authentic.
In biblical days, a seal was used for the same purpose. If your seal was on a document, anyone who saw that document considered it to be authentic.
For example, in I Kings 21, King Ahab tried unsuccessfully to get Naboth to sell or trade his vineyard. When he started pouting, Queen Jezebel volunteered to get the vineyard her way. “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city.” (I Kings 21:8). Those letters demanded that these leaders arrange false accusations of blasphemy and treason against Naboth. The nobles did what they were told to do and Naboth was stoned to death and the vineyard was then turned over to King Ahab.
But what I want you to notice is that even though the letter was sent by Jezebel, the nobles never questioned it at all. Those documents were accepted as being authentic documents from the king. Why? Because they were sealed with his seal. That seal was his signature.
In a similar way, having the seal of the Holy Spirit is proof of our authenticity. In fact, Paul said, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9). The presence of the Holy Spirit proves that a Christian is genuine. Later in that same chapter, Paul said, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16).
When Paul came to Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he asked some disciples about their baptism. And it’s interesting the question that he asked them. He didn’t say, “Were you baptized for the remission of your sins?” He didn’t say, “Were you baptized into the death of Jesus Christ?” He said, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). Their response, in essence, was, “We’ve never even heard about the Holy Spirit.” The reason was that they were baptized with John’s baptism which had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. So they had to be baptized properly.
When God gives us the Holy Spirit at the point when we are baptized, it is as if he stamps us with a seal that says, “This person belongs to me and he or she is an authentic member of my divine kingdom and a member of my family.”
- The seal was a mark of ownership
I’m sure that all of you at some time or another have purchased a product that came with a rebate. You buy something for $50, but you can get a rebate of $10 back. But what do you have to do in order to claim the rebate? You have to prove that you actually bought the item, usually with a cash receipt or by cutting out the UPC bar code and sending it that. That’s your proof of ownership. In biblical days, the seal served as proof of ownership.
In the Old Testament, when the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by Nebuchadnezzar and was about to be destroyed, God told Jeremiah to buy some land. The contract was agreed upon, and the money was transferred from Jeremiah to his cousin — 17 shekels of silver. Then Jeremiah said, “I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.” (Jeremiah 32:10). At that point, Jeremiah became the new legal owner of the property. That seal was an important part of establishing ownership.
In 2 Timothy 2:19, Paul says, “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’”
When God gives Christians the seal of the Holy Spirit, it is symbolic of the fact that, from that moment on, we belong to him. A few moments ago, I read part of a verse from I Corinthians 6. I want to go back and read the entire thought. Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
What’s the whole point here of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us? The point is that it’s proof that we belong to God, because we have God’s seal on us.
- We Have Been Given the Holy Spirit as a Guarantee
There’s a second term that Paul used in that passage we started with in Ephesians 1. “[You] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
The English Standard Version uses the word “guarantee” here, but some of the other translations use different words. Some of them use the word “pledge”. The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a pledge. Do you remember the story of Tamar from Genesis 39? When Jacob promised to send her a sheep, Tamar said, “I want a pledge.” She wanted something from him to serve as a guarantee that he would eventually fulfill his promise and send the sheep.
Instead of the word “pledge”, the KJV uses the word “earnest”. The Holy Spirit has been given to us as an earnest. In Paul’s day, this was a word that meant “the down payment to guarantee the final purchase of some commodity or piece of property.”
Many of you have experienced the great American Dream, or as some might call it., the great American Nightmare, of buying a house. It is a common practice when you’re shopping for a house that if you find a house that you are interested in buying, you give the owner some earnest money. The reason it’s called earnest money is because the owners need to know if you are “in earnest” about buying the house. If they’re going to take their house off the market, they need to know you are serious about buying it. And it’s a reasonable request. The more money you give them, the more serious you are.
How do we know that God will give us everything he said he would? Granted, God’s simple word should be sufficient for us (after all, it is “impossible for God to lie”, Hebrews 6:18), but in his graciousness God has made his promises even more certain — if that were possible — by giving us a guarantee, a pledge, an earnest.
Paul says that God has given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. If you want to think of in these terms, the Holy Spirit is a “down payment”, a guarantee that God will eventually give us everything he’s promised to give us.
Now, there’s another beautiful concept tied in with this Greek word for “earnest”. I understand that the word eventually came to be used to refer to an engagement ring. And that’s certainly appropriate. Because, after all, an engagement ring is given as an assurance — a guarantee — that any promises made will be kept. A guy says to a girl, “I promise you that I’ll marry you. You and only you will be the one who will be my wife. And to prove that I’m sincere and to guarantee that I’ll keep my word, here’s a ring that I want to give you.”
Now, when you think of a pledge in those terms, this idea of the Holy Spirit being a pledge is especially beautiful. In numerous passages, Christ is described as a bridegroom and the church is his bride. We know from the scriptures that one day Jesus will come and claim his bride. Revelation 19 talks about the marriage feast on that great day. But how do we know that all of this is actually going to take place? Because Jesus has given us his promise, and because he’s also given us the Holy Spirit as an “engagement ring”. What greater assurance could we ask for?
There are several things that I want us to reflect on as we look back over this passage in Ephesians 1. One is the awareness that true riches come from God. It is a source of great encouragement to me to know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all working on my behalf to make me rich. God not only “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (I Timothy 6:17) referring to material blessings, but he also gives us eternal riches without which all the other wealth is worthless.
But I want those of you who are Christians to realize this — you stand to inherit . . . EVERYTHING! In fact, you are not only infinitely wealthy, you are eternally wealthy. Nothing can destroy it. No stock market dive can devalue it. No recession can deflate it. No one can defraud you of it. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you are God’s possession, and everything God has is yours.
A second observation is that all of these riches come by God’s grace and for God’s glory. Notice after each of the main sections in this sentence, Paul adds the purpose behind these gifts. Why has God the Father chosen us, adopted us and accepted us? Ephesians 1:6, “To the praise of the glory of his grace.” Why has the Son redeemed us, forgiven us, revealed God’s will to us and made us part of God’s inheritance? Verse 12 — “That we….should be to the praise of his glory” Why has the Holy Spirit sealed us and become the guarantee of our future blessing? Verse 14, “To the praise of his glory.”
God’s purpose in doing what he has done for us is that he might be glorified. We are not saved and blessed for our own glory but for God’s glory. God saved us to serve him and to praise him. Our reaction to all these gifts should be to praise God in return and to so live in this world that others are brought closer to him.
A third observation is that these blessings are available only to those who are “in Christ”. This section began with the verse, “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”. (Ephesians 1:3). If we want all these blessings that we’ve talked about this morning, then we need to be “in Christ”.
And the New Testament teaches us that there is only one way to get into Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27). If you have been baptized and that baptism has been preceded by faith and repentance, at that point your sins are forgiven, the blessings of being a part of God’s family are added to you, and you are given the Holy Spirit to dwell within you (Acts 2:38).