Sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise
October 22, 2006
Our last time in Ephesians 1, I began the sermon by asking this question: What
is standing between you and God? And by the end of our text we saw that based on
the redemption through Jesus’ blood that we have in Christ, there is nothing
that stands between those who trust in Christ and God. I want to begin this
sermon today by posing another question to you, and that is this: On what basis
are you hoping for salvation? Is it your good works? Is it the fact that you
were born into a Christian family? Is it that you are a long standing member of
a church? As we look at our text this morning, Ephesians 1:11-14, we will see
the Biblical answer to this question, and that is that for those who are in
Christ, the basis for hope for salvation is the unchanging purpose of God.
But before we get into our text this week, let us look back at what Paul has already spoken of in this passage. You will recall that these verses are located in a eulogy that Paul is writing of God, blessing Him for what He has done in Christ. In fact, this is the final section of the eulogy that begins all the way back in vs. 3, all centered on the main proposition of these verses: God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He has chosen us in Him, He has predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus, He bestowed grace on us in the Beloved, we have redemption in Him, He has lavished grace on us, and He made known to us the mystery of His will.
But what is our guarantee of these blessings? How can we know these are true? How many people do you know that call themselves Christians, but who live their lives every day no different from those in the world? How many of us live that way? Constantly vacillating back and forth between holiness and holilessness? Caught between your spirit and your flesh? Which will win? How can you be sure? What if God tires of your struggle and casts you out into the darkness? Well, as we will see in our text this morning, there is one more spiritual blessing that is the guaurantee of all the others, and that is that those who are God’s possession have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise.
Let us read this passage once more, focusing our attention especially on vss. 11-14.
I. In Christ, God has chosen His possession.
This passage could be split into so many divisions, it is difficult to know how exactly to tackle it, but for our purposes this morning we will split this passage into two sections, vss. 11-12 under the heading In Christ, God has chosen His possession, and vss. 13-14 under the heading In Christ, God has sealed all believers with the Holy Spirit of promise. We will ask three questions of both section: What has God done in Christ? How has God done this? and Why has God done this?
A. What has God done in Christ – He chose His possession
So let us ask the first question of the text, What has God done in Christ? The answer is that He has chosen His possession. We notice right off that this passage is linked with the former section because Paul begins with “In whom.” Who is the “whom” to which Paul refers? It is “Christ” from vs. 10, the one in whom all things in the heavens and on the earth has been summed up. Throughout this eulogy, it is clearly seen that apart from our union “in Christ,” we have nothing. It is “in Him” that we have any spiritual blessing, let alone “every spiritual blessings” as Paul says in vs. 3.
Paul continues his discussion from vs. 10 of the work of Christ in revealing the mystery of God’s will to us by adding to the thought of what has been brought together in Christ. What has been brought together in Christ? In vs. 10 Paul says that it is all things in the heavens and all things on the earth. But here in vs. 11, it seems that Paul adds that it is also both believing Jews and believing Gentiles who are brought together in Christ. Let me show you why I say this.
This word “we” here, it is small, seemingly insignificant. But if you look closely in the context, Paul is about to make a distinction that is needful for our understanding. All through this eulogy beginning in vs. 3, we see Paul using the 3rd person plural personal pronoun “we” or “us.” He continues that usage here in vs. 11, but then makes a distinction in vs. 13 between “we” and “you.” I think that if we look at the context of vs. 11, we will see that Paul makes this distinction based on ethnic differences. The “we” of vs. 11 speaks to Jews who were trusting in the Messiah, in the Christ, as opposed to the “you” of vs. 13, which speaks of the Gentiles of the church at Ephesus who were trusting in Christ. To see this distinction better, let us look at this word eklhrwqhmen, which is translated differently among the English versions.
Some of your translations may have simply “In him we were chosen,” while others may have “In him we have obtained an inheritance.” This is a tricky word to translate because this is the only time it is used in the NT. We can get a clue to its meaning, though, from the noun that has the same root, which means “inheritence” or “portion”, and is used later in vs. 14. Based on this relationship between this passive verb and the noun, many translations bring out the idea of “we were brought into possession” or “we were chosen as God’s portion.”
Why does all this matter? We need to see that Paul is not simply reiterating what he has already said in vs. 4, “He chose us in Him from before the foundation of the world.” Here we see that whoever “we” may be, they “were chosen as God’s portion.” Do you recognize this terminology of being “chosen as God’s portion?” Think back to the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, the song that God taught Moses so that he would teach it to the people of Israel, and in vs. 9 the Song says: “For YHWH’s portion is His people, Jacob is His allotted inheritance.”
What Paul was trying to get across to the Gentiles of Ephesus is that there is a difference between the Jews who were in Christ and the Gentiles who were in Christ, and that difference was historical in nature. YHWH created Israel from that which was not a nation. He chose them as His own, when there was yet nothing to choose. He made covenants with them and promised to be faithful to those covenants. Remember what Paul said in Romans 9:1-6.
They are not all Israel who are from Israel. Now we could spend a long time in stepping through the ins and outs of Romans 9-11, but the main point that we need to gain from this passage is that the word of God has not failed! The promises have been fulfilled in Christ, and are flowing out onto the children of Israel. But we see that it is not all of the children of Israel according to the flesh who fulfilled the promise, because here in vs. 12 Paul clarifies it is the Israelites who have trusted in Christ who have been chosen as God’s portion.
B. How God has done this – He predestined according to His purpose
We see, then, that what God has done in Christ is to chose a people for His possession. But the question remains, how has God done this? In what manner did God bring them into His possession? Paul answers in the second part of vs. 11. “Having been predestined according to the purpose of the one working all things according to the counsel of His will.”
Here we go again, Paul brings up this predestination thing. But we see the importance of having a firm commitment to the sovereign will of God in predestinating people to salvation in Christ. You cannot get away from this word if you are an honest student of the Scriptures. You must deal with it at some point, because it is here in the text.
But what did Paul mean by it? Maybe he didn’t mean really to pre-destine. Maybe there is an easier translation. No, unfortunately not here. As we saw back in vs. 5, the word means “to decide beforehand.” Well, you may say, fine, it means to decide beforehand, but maybe that decision by God took into account my will and my desires. I will answer a hearty amen to that, but not for the reasons you may think. God did take into account our will and our desires when He predestined for salvation, but the accounting He took was that our will was dead in trespasses and sins, and our desires were for those things that were ungodly and would never lead us to God. And it was because of God’s accounting of our will and our desires that He predestined.
Let us look here at what Paul says was in God’s thought process (if we can speak of God having a thought process) when He chose as His portion by predestinating. Was it in accordance with man’s purpose? No, it was “according to the purpose of the one working all things according to the counsel of His will.” Again, God chose His possession by predestining according to the purpose of the one who works ALL things according to the counsel of HIS will. It is not our will, but His will that brings anything to the table in election or predestination.
Notice also that we do not have a God that set the world in motion and stepped away to watch the clock wind down. We are not talking about fatalistic deism, here. We see that while God chose in the past, and He predestined in the past, He is presently “working” all things according to the counsel of His will. God cannot be accused of neglect. He is imminent, presently involved in creation at every moment to bring about “all things.” There is nothing that happens outside of the counsel of God’s will. Nothing. And though it is hard at times to wrap our minds around the inescapable will of God, it is the most comforting thought and doctrine that we can have. There is nothing that happens outside the counsel of His will.
Back in Romans 8:38-39, Paul exclaims, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why does Paul have this confidence? It is right after this hopeful exclamation that Paul gives his basis for hope in 9:11, “God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
Back in Ephesians, we catch a glimpse of the awesomeness of God. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. The counsel of His will. Can you imagine, the Creator of all things, the One who has perfect knowledge and wisdom, who has them infinitely, who has had them eternally, taking counsel with His own will? Do you see the immensity of this thought. When God works in this world, He does so, not asking our permission. Not asking our opinions. He does not need our counsel. He has the perfect counsel that comes from His being Him!
Now, don’t take this thought the extreme. No, actually, take it to the extreme. There should be nothing to stop you from thinking of God’s immense counsel. Let me rephrase, don’t take this thought of God’s perfect counsel being the impetus behind His working in the world in the wrong direction. When presenting the truth of this passage to people who have not heard God’s sovereignty presented as it is in Scripture, one of the first reactions I always hear is, “Well then why do we pray? If He doesn’t listen to us when making decisions, why do we need to tell Him anything?” That is not the logical end of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, it is a misapplication of the doctrine.
If we approach God’s sovereignty with fear and trembling, as we should when facing a sovereign God, we do not react by retreating, we react with humble adoration. Since He does work all things, we beg and plead with Him, and if He does not grant our humble request, we do not spite Him for it. Rather, we take stock of our position as a servant of the almighty King of the universe and say with Paul in Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” God has predestined according to His purpose.
C. Why God has done this – So that the first believers would be to the praise of His glory
So, we’ve seen what God has done in choosing a people for His portion, and that this portion was the true Israel of promise. We’ve also seen how He has done this, by predestining according to His purposes. Now let us look at why God has done this. Vs. 12 says, “So that we, who have trusted first in the Christ, might be to the praise of His glory.”
It is here that we see more clearly the Jewish/Gentile difference. Paul was separating two groups: He, the other apostles, and the first believers who trusted that Jesus was the Christ, their Messiah; and the Gentiles who would later trust in Christ. These Jews who first trusted in Christ play a special role in the salvation-historical story, in that they were the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises of God to Israel in the OT. All of the covenants and promises were ultimately fulfilled in Christ, but it was also to those who are “in Him.” And by these Israelites actually taking part in the fulfillment of the covenant, these men and women who were part of a nation who continually spurned the covenant of God, who now upheld that covenant, were to the praise of His glory. It shows the true sovereignty and majesty of the plan of God.
But as we saw in the last sermon, there was another side to this coin of redemption in Christ. The mystery that has been revealed in the last times was that all things would be brought together in Christ. And while Paul clearly points to the Jewish believers as being saved to the praise of His glory, he does not stop there. In vss. 13-14, we see that the Gentiles are also redeemed to the praise of His glory, and it is there that we now turn and see that In Christ, God has sealed all believers with the Holy Spirit of promise.
II. In Christ, God has sealed all believers with the Holy Spirit of promise.
You may be thinking, “Well, we’ve just seen then that it is the Jews who were chosen and predestined, but I am not a Jew, what does this have to do with me? Maybe this election, which is what “to choose” means, and this predestination are not for the Church? Maybe it was all about Israel.” Please do remember, before you go down that road, that Paul has already addressed God’s choosing and predestining all believers back in vss. 4-5. Anyone who is “in Christ” has been chosen and predestined. Paul in vss. 11-12, though, simply is drawing a contrast. That it is the Jews, those who first believed, that were to the praise of His glory. But we too, as Gentiles, are to the praise of God’s glory. Let us look at the second section here, vss. 13-14, and see how Paul addresses us, asking the same three questions (with one change) of the text as we did above, What has God done? When has God done it? and Why has God done it?
A. What God has done in Christ – He sealed all believers with the Holy Spirit of promise
So let us again ask the first question of the text, “What has God done in Christ?” He sealed all believers with the Holy Spirit of promise. He begins again with “In whom,” this time referring to “the Christ” from vs. 12. We too, just as the Jews, are in union with Jesus. And we see here that it is “In Him we also were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” You see, though he didn’t explicitly refer to the believing Jews being sealed with the Holy Spirit in vss. 11-12, that is exactly what he was talking about. Here Paul goes into more detail about what happens when someone “trusts in Christ.” It is not a transaction at Walmart, where later on you can return your faith when you don’t need it anymore. You don’t have faith one day, and give it away the next. When you put your faith in Christ, when you “trust” Him, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Then the question is asked, “What does “sealed” mean?” And that is a good question to ask. Peter O’Brien notes that “In speaking of the Holy Spirit as a seal the notions of ownership and protection are in view. Cattle, and even slaves, were branded with a seal by their masters to indicate to whom they belonged.” We look to the OT and in Ezekiel 9:4-6, we see that God set a sign on those who were mortified because of the sin of their nation, “And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house.” God marked those who were His. In the NT, in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, we see there too Paul speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being sealed with the Spirit: “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.” God seals us to mark out His possession. The true Israel had already been marked, as is shown in vs. 11, God’s choosing of them for His possession. But by sealing the Gentile believers as well, we see that we too have been chosen as God’s portion. He has marked us for His own.
B. When God has done it: we having heard the word of truth and having believed
But what of conversion? What of faith? Paul is careful here in his theological teaching. In the Greek, the verse actually reads: “In whom also you, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also having believed, were sealed…” The subject (you) and the verb (were sealed) are split by these participial phrases. This is a common construction in Greek to be sure that the reader understands what modifies the verb before you actually get to the verb. And here in vs. 13, by inserting the modifying phrases the way he does, Paul gives us the co-incident occurrences that happen when we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
1. Heard and Believed
So the second question to be asked of the text is, “When did God seal us?” It was when we heard the word of truth and believed it. Paul inserts this appositional phrase to further clarify what he means by “word of the truth.” If you want to know what the word of truth is, it is the gospel of your salvation. The good news about Jesus, that there is salvation from sins, not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, was true! As could be evidenced by the presence of the HS.
But it was not simply when we heard the gospel that we were sealed and thus taken as God’s possession; it was when we heard and believed, for there are many who hear the gospel who never believe, and thus are not sealed, like the many disciples who followed Jesus, the Christ Himself, hearing Him, the author of the gospel, speak that same gospel, but in the end they were more impressed by His miracles than they were His person. To them, He was a great magician that could do neat stuff. How often is Jesus still approached with the same fervor for His “tricks” today. If you do everything just right, Jesus will bless you with immense money and power. If you have enough faith, you will get what you want.
But this is not the gospel, for it is not the word of truth. Because when one trusts in the word of truth, they are led not to the riches of this world, but to the spiritual riches that are in Christ. And we see that when one hears the gospel, and believes it, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
2. Down payment
Paul goes on in vs. 14 to give a description of the Holy Spirit: “Who is a down payment of our inheritance.” This language is used again to show the irrevocability of the work of the Spirit in the believer’s life. Once we are “sealed with the Spirit,” once we have been given this “down payment of our inheritance” as Paul says here, we have the promise from God, the same God who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we will be redeemed. Not speaking of the history past redemption that was secured in Christ’s death for sins, but the fulfillment of that redemption, the culmination that will happen when God brings forth the new heavens and new earth. When we are spared from these tabernacles of flesh and set free into perfected bodies. We will be redeemed.
We have the Spirit now as a down payment of that future redemption. The Spirit, though, is not simply a promise of the future inheritance; He is a foretaste of it. The great thing about our future state is not having a mansion just over the hilltop. It is not the absence of pain. It is not the presence of long missed friends and family. It is that God is there. The One for whom we were created, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, will be our full delight. The One who owns all things by fact that He created them will be our pleasure. And in having the Spirit now in this age, we have a bit of the future world because we are in communion with this God through the HS.
Do you notice the switch back to the 3rd person plural personal pronoun? Paul has gone from speaking of “we” the Jews who first believed, to “you” the Gentiles who were also sealed with Holy Spirit of promise, to now “our” inheritance. He has brought together these two groups, Jews and Gentiles, and joined them into one group – those who have the Spirit as a down payment. He will clarify this further when we get to 2:13-16, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” The two have become one, which is brought out further by the next phrase, “until the redemption of the possession.”
3. Redemption of the Possession
We have the Spirit as a down payment “until the redemption of the possession.” This is another translational difficulty. Some translations have “until we acquire possession of it,” relating acquiring the possession to the getting of our inheritance of the previous phrase in vs. 14. But the Greek has no mention of “we” in it. If anything, the strict translation “until the redemption of the possession” lends itself to being understood wholly differently. We don’t have the Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we redeem that inheritance. Instead, Paul is linking this thought with that from earlier, in that we have the Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until God’s possession is redeemed. Remember back in vs. 11, the Jews who first believed were brought into possession by God for God. In the same way here, all believers, not the Jews alone, are given the Spirit as a down payment until God redeems His possession. Yes, ethnic Israelites who believed were chosen as the possession, but those from every tribe, tongue, and nation were the scope of the whole possession. Remember 1:4, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him.” We, both Jews and Gentiles, were chosen for this.
C. Why God has done this: For the praise of His glory
But a question remains, just as we asked earlier of why the believing Jews were chosen as God’s possession, now we must ask the same question of the Gentiles, and as we look to the last phrase of vs. 14, we see that the answer is the same. It was for the praise of His glory that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. Why does God seal the Gentiles, when He has no responsibility to do so? There is no outside force causing Him to seek and save the lost. There is no “fairness tribunal” holding God up to a standard outside of Himself. If God has chosen, there is only one standard by which He does so and is held accountable by Himself, and that is what Paul said earlier in vs. 11, “according to the purpose of the one working all things according to the counsel of His will.” And what is the outcome of that purpose? That God’s glory, that which encapsulates all the divine perfections of our God, should be praised.
In conclusion, let me remind us of the question that I asked at the beginning: On what basis are you hoping for salvation? Do you hope for salvation because you see yourself doing good works? Do you hope for salvation because you see yourself as being a church member? Do you hope for salvation because you see yourself as a tolerant and fair person? Friends, after looking at what Paul has laid out for us this morning, surely we must all see that if we have any hope for salvation, any expectation for being found in Christ on the last day, it can only be that in Christ we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. For if we have been sealed, then we have heard the word of truth, we have trusted in the gospel, and upon doing so, we have shown ourselves to be marked out by God, having been brought into possession by Him. We are His, and there is nothing that can separate us from Him. Is that your confidence this morning? Is your hope in the omnipotence of God’s purpose? Or is it in the flippancy of yours? Put your trust in Christ, because in Him all of these spiritual blessings are yours, and are yours in abundance. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
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