Sealed by the Spirit
Sealed by the Spirit
June 3, 2007
This is our fifth message in Ephesians. What have we learned from chapter one so far? In our first week, we focused on our adoption into God’s family. In the second week, we focused on God’s call to make us holy and blameless for His glory. In the next week the emphasis was on our becoming a part of His body, the church. In last week’s message we talked about our blessed assurance. You would think that would pretty much cover chapter one, wouldn’t you? Well, it doesn’t because this week’s message is also from chapter one, verses 12 to 14. Let’s look at those verse right now. Please turn to Ephesians chapter one and verse 12 and we’ll read through to verse 14. If you forgot your Bible, you’ll find the Scripture on the insert in your bulletin. “we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
God's great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power. Everything else in life may be unstable—our health, our family, our job, our education, our society, our world. At any of these, you may feel as if you are out on a ledge forty stories up in an unpredictable wind. Doesn’t that sound like a dangerous place to be? Well, when you swore allegiance to Jesus Christ, you signed up for a more dangerous mission. You may be secure in God’s love. But security does not mean ease, does it? How did Paul describe it? Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword—we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (Romans 8:35–36). Listen to this condensed autobiography of the apostle from 2 Corinthians 11:25-28:
“Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.
How could a man, like Paul, so frequently subject to danger, so opposed from every side, so weak with hunger and sleeplessness—how could he be so stable and powerful as to carry the weight of many floundering mission churches and write letters that changed world history and dream as an old man of yet reaching Spain with the gospel! The stability and power of the apostle Paul came from his great discovery: that God's desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power, even if everything else in the world is uncertain. That's what I want you to feel today as a child of God: secure! It is what sustained Paul, and it will sustain you!
One of the great obstacles to the enjoyment of this security is the apparent contradiction found in so many New Testament Scriptures. Just when we start to feel that we are eternally secure in his love, along comes a passage of Scripture that seems to rob us of security. I don't think there will be any deep, abiding sense of security in God until we face up to these passages of Scripture and see how they relate to the assurance of God's love and power. We can’t ignore them! And to make sure you don’t ignore them, we’re going to look at some of those “security stealers” right now: six of them to be precise. There are many more, but this is a sampling: They are all printed in your bulletin insert for today. Let’s start with Romans 11:20–21, "Unbelieving Israelites were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you."
1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." Also 15:2,
2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourself to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail to meet the test!"
Galatians 6:9, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart."
Colossians 1:21–23, "You who were estranged . . . Christ has reconciled . .. . provided that you continue in the faith,
1 Peter 1:17, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile."
All of these passages teach that the test of genuineness for the Christian is perseverance and holiness of life. They warn us that the attempt to find security apart from God Almighty is perilous.
But it would be a terrible misunderstanding if we thought that these Scriptures were written to threaten our security in God. Exactly the opposite is the case. They are written to threaten our security in everything but God. If you find your security in health, the Bible is a threat to you. If you find your security in your family or job or money or education, the Bible is a threat to you. And in threatening all these utterly inadequate foundations of security, the Bible drives us relentlessly and lovingly back to the one and only eternal and unshakable foundation for security—God. All the threats and warnings of the Bible declare with one voice: sin is an effort to feel secure in anything other than God’s everlasting arms. Let’s go back to our key passage for this morning for a minute. We are talking about security, but have you noticed the word “secure: is nowhere in that passage? Another word is used instead. Can you see which one I mean? It’s in the 13th verse. It’s the word “sealed”. My message this morning is on this sealing.
The term sealed carried with it the idea of protection and security. In Scripture, to seal something was to close it off from outside influences and interferences. We’ll lokk at several examples later.
What does seal mean today? We seal windows and doors to keep the wind out. We seal letters to keep everyone out except the addressee. We seal our basements to keep water out – although it failed to keep the water out of my basement during last Monday’s rainstorm. We even put a seal on our furniture to keep the dust from getting into the pores of the wood.
Today we are going to focus on how we are sealed.
As a believer, you have been sealed. We know this to be true because in his second letter to the Corinthians. Chapter 1, verse 21-22 Paul says: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”
As one writer put it,
Sealing belongs to believers only and to all believers. In that passage I just read, Paul makes no exceptions: “He who establishes us in Christ also sealed us.”
You have been sealed. Do you remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. God gives us His divine seal of approval. The moment you trusted Christ as your Savior, God sealed you. In light of the varied uses of the word “sealed”, several questions must be addressed. First of all, what is the nature of this seal? Are we stamped with a seal? Are we sealed like a letter or a tomb? Second, what is the purpose of our sealing? And third, for how long are we sealed?
A Fitting Illustration
In our culture we do not usually think of putting a seal on people. Therefore, it is a bit difficult to imagine the significance of being sealed by God. Fortunately, we have an illustration in Scripture that clarifies this matter for us.
During the Tribulation, God will place a seal on 144,000 Jews (see Rev. 7:4–8). The seal is apparently some sort of visible mark on the forehead. As the Tribulation progresses, it becomes evident that the members of this group bearing God’s seal have been granted supernatural protection from the chaos surrounding them. At the end of the Tribulation period, the entire group reappears intact to welcome the King (see Rev. 14:1–5).
This powerful illustration helps us understand the ramifications of God’s placing His seal on an individual. The primary benefit of the seal is clearly that of identification and protection. The seal protects this group during the most dangerous period in the history of mankind. Nothing is able to overcome the power of this seal, not even the Antichrist himself!
Unlike the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation, our seal is not visible. Our seal is spiritual. Instead of receiving a mark on our foreheads, we were given the indwelling Holy Spirit as a pledge of God’s intent to preserve us:
As we read a minute ago in 2 Corinthians 1:21–22, God, sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”
The Holy Spirit is a pledge or promise of God’s intentions. The presence of the Spirit in our hearts demonstrates God’s commitment to complete what He has started. If salvation is not permanent, God is simply playing games by sending the Spirit into our hearts. It would be like a man’s giving a woman an engagement ring when he knows he has no intention of marrying her.
Think about this: What is the significance of a seal that can be continually removed and reapplied? What does it really seal?
So, what is God’s Divine Purpose for sealing us? The device used to indicate God’s seal in our lives is certainly different from the one He chose for the 144,000. His purpose for sealing us, however, is the same. Just as their physical seal protected them from losing physical life, so our spiritual seal ensures the longevity of spiritual life. Just as the physical forces of evil could not take away the physical life of those Jews who bore the seal, so, too, the spiritual forces of darkness cannot put an end to the spiritual life of God’s people. Isn’t that reassuring?
As long as the 144,000 bear the seal, they will be safe. As long as we are sealed in Him, we are safe as well.
That brings us to our third question: How long does the seal last? Once again God has been gracious to give us an answer through the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
We are sealed right up through the “day of redemption.” The day of redemption refers to that day when our salvation will be complete—body and spirit. Romans, chapter 8 and verse 23 alludes to this future event this way: “We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” We have been redeemed, bought back from the enemy of our souls. If you take an article to a pawn shop, then buy it back, you have redeemed your property. Our bodies were bought and paid for with Jesus blood. His death and resurrection paid the price for our souls: once for all. That was the beginning of our redemption.
Our salvation will not be complete until we receive our new bodies as we’re told in 1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” The question was “How long are we sealed?” We are sealed for good!
There are no exceptions. Everyone who has been sealed in Christ will remain sealed right up through the end. Peter echoes this thought in his first epistle. He points out that each believer has an inheritance reserved in heaven. Believers, he says in 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 5, “are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Again, we find that our salvation will not be complete until the end of time. But until then, we are protected by “the power of God.” WE are safe and secure in His everlasting arms. Greta feeling, isn’t it? We are sealed into God’s family until the end of time.
Only God can break the seal as Revelation 5:1–3 says: “ I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"
And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.” The Scriptures clearly teach that He has already determined to leave the seal intact until our salvation is complete. How, then, could we possibly lose our salvation? To be unsaved would mean to remove the seal. Who could possibly do that? God!
When God demands on the one hand, "Turn from sinning or you will die," and on the other hand, "Feel eternally secure in my love and you will live," he is not demanding two different things. As I said earlier, sin is what you do when you replace security in God with other things. So when God threatens our feelings of security in the world, it's because he wants us to feel secure in his love and power. The threats and promises of Scripture have one message: seek your security in God alone.
Now let's look at this morning's key text again and see one of the clearest statements that God's great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and power. Ephesians 1:12–14: "We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
The first thing to see is that these verses begin and end with God's ultimate purpose to glorify himself. Verse 12: "We were destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory." Verse 14: he has guaranteed our inheritance to the praise of his glory. God has an unwavering commitment to his own glory. Everything he does, he does to heighten the intensity with which his people praise him for his glory.
The second thing to see is that the people whose inheritance God guarantees are the people who believe (v. 13). ("You who have believed were sealed.") There is a direct connection between believing God's Word and living for the praise of his glory. One of the greatest ways to honor people is to trust them. And since God is committed to his own honor above all things, he is utterly committed to those who trust him.
The third thing to see from this text is just what you would expect. Since God does all things for the praise of his glory, and since believing his Word magnifies that glory, therefore God takes decisive steps to seal the believer with the Holy Spirit as our guarantee. God is so passionately committed to having a people for his own possession that he is not about to let our eternal destiny depend on our powers of willing or doing. He commissions his Holy Spirit to enter our lives and to make us secure forever.
There are two great words here that aim to help us feel secure in God's love and power: "sealed," and "guarantee." I told you earlier that we would look at the Scriptural meanings of “sealed and I have already alluded to several meanings of the word. Now I want to dig a little deeper. The word “sealed” is used at least three different ways in the New Testament.
One meaning is locking something up, closing it in: Jesus was sealed in a tomb. Revelation speaks of the time when God will seal Satan in a pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:3)
Another meaning is found in Romans 4:11 where Abraham's circumcision is called the seal of the righteousness he had by faith. And in 1 Corinthians 9:2 Paul says that his converts are the seal of his apostleship. So a second meaning of sealing is giving a sign of authenticity.
And the third meaning is found in Revelation 7:3 where the seal of God is put on the forehead of God's servants to protect them from the wrath coming upon the world, of which we’ve already spoken.
So which meaning did Paul mean in Ephesians 1:13 when he said that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit? All of them!
If the Spirit seals us shut, then he seals in faith and seals out unbelief.
If the Spirit seals us as a sign of authenticity, then the Spirit's work in our life is God's trademark.
Or if the Spirit marks us with God's seal, he protects us from all evil forces.
However you come at this word "sealed," it is a message of safety and security in God's love and power. God sends the Holy Spirit to lock in our faith, to validate our sonship, and as to protect us from destructive forces.
The other word Paul uses to drive this home is the word "guarantee" in Ephesians 1: 14.
I recently read about a pastor who tells about running out of gas while driving downtown. He ran up the street to a service station and got a can with two dollars' worth of gas and said he would be right back and buy 15 dollars' worth. But he had to leave his driver's license. Why? Because it was a guarantee he would come back and finish his business. They knew that driver's license was valuable enough to him to give them a sense of security that he would come back with their can and pay for his gas.
The Holy Spirit is our guarantee or our down-payment. God is saying, "My great desire for those who believe is that you feel secure in my love. I have chosen you. I have predestined you. I have redeemed you. And I have put my Spirit in you. Therefore, you will receive the inheritance of my grace forever and ever. And I tell you this here in Ephesians chapter 1 because I want you to feel secure in my love and my power. I don't promise you an easy life. In fact, through many tribulations you must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22). I don't promise always to speak in soft tones of approval, but to warn you in love whenever you begin to seek security in anything but me."
What is the greatest significance of this sealing of the Holy Spirit? It speaks of a finished transaction. When important legal documents are processed, they are stamped an official seal to signify the completion of the transaction. This sealing also implies ownership: God has put his seal on us because He has purchased us to be His own (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So, the believer belongs to God, and is safe and protected because he is a part of a finished transaction. According to John 14:16-17, the Holy Spirit abides with the believer forever. It is possible for us to grieve the Spirit and thereby lose the blessings of His ministry (Eph. 4:30). But He doesn’t leave us.
Just as a signature on a letter attests to the genuineness of the document, so the presence of the indwelling Spirit proves we are genuine believers. As Romans 8:9 says: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”. The witness of the Spirit makes our profession of faith authentic, and seals us as God’s special people