Sealed by the Spirit to the Day of Redemption
In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, 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 levels you may feel as if you are out on a ledge forty stories up in an unpredictable wind. You feel yourself losing balance and falling, and every brick you grab pulls out of its mortar.
Feeling Secure in the Most Dangerous Mission
So let's make sure we understand this from the outset: when you swore allegiance to Jesus Christ, you signed up for the most dangerous mission in the world. 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:
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. (2 Corinthians 11:25–28)
How could a man so frequently subject to danger, so opposed from every side, so weak with hunger and sleeplessness—how could he avoid a nervous breakdown? And not only avoid a nervous breakdown, but be so stable and powerful in his soul 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 one 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.
Scriptures That Seem to Rob Us of Security
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 threatens us and seems to rob us of security. And I don't think there will be any deep, abiding sense of security in God until we own up to these passages of Scripture and see how they relate to the assurance of God's love and power.
Nine New Testament Witnesses
For example, take this sampling from nine New Testament books.
- 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, "I preached to you the gospel . . . by which you are saved if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain."
- 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."
- Philippians 2:12, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
- Colossians 1:21–23, "You who were estranged . . . Christ has reconciled . . . in order to present you holy and blameless . . . provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel."
- Hebrews 12:14, "Strive for peace and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."
- 1 Peter 1:17, "If you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile."
- Revelation 2:10, "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life."
All of these passages teach that the test of genuineness for the Christian is perseverance in faith and holiness of life. They warn us that the attempt to offer security apart from lasting faith and loving lives is perilous. We might succeed and give someone security at the price of destruction.
God Threatens Our Security in Everything but God
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.
Therefore, 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. 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.
God's Desire for His People to Feel Secure in Him
Now let's look at this morning's text 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."
God's Purpose to Glorify Himself
The first and most important thing to see in these three verses is that they 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. The most basic fact you can say about the righteousness of God is that he 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.
Those Who Believe
The second thing to see is that the people whose inheritance God guarantees are the people who believe the gospel (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, therefore he is utterly committed to those who trust him.
God's Decisive Steps to Magnify His Glory Forever
Therefore, 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 secure for himself the magnification of his glory forever: he seals the believer with the Holy Spirit, and guarantees that we will come to our inheritance praising his glory. God is so passionately committed to having a people for his own possession who live forever for the praise of his glory that he is not about to let our eternal destiny depend on our native powers of willing or doing. He commissions his Holy Spirit to enter our lives and to make us secure forever.
What Does "Sealed" Mean?
There are two great words here that aim to help us feel secure in God's love and power: the word "sealed," and the word "guarantee." Let's see if we can unseal this word "sealed" and look inside. What does it mean that believers have been sealed by the Holy Spirit (v. 13)? The word is used at least three different ways in the New Testament.
- In Matthew 27:66, the tomb of Jesus was secured by sealing it and putting guards around it. In Revelation 20:3 God throws Satan into a pit and seals it over so he can't escape. So one meaning is locking something up, closing it in.
- Another is found in Romans 4:11 where Abraham's circumcision is called the sign and 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.
- A 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.
So what did Paul mean in Ephesians 1:13 when he said that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit? No matter which of these meanings you use the basic truth is the same.
- If the Spirit seals shut, the point must be that he seals in faith and seals out unbelief and apostasy.
- If the Spirit seals us as a sign of authenticity, then he is that sign and it is the Spirit's work in our life which is God's trademark. Our eternal sonship is real and authentic if we have the Spirit. He is the sign of divine reality in our lives.
- Or if the Spirit marks us with God's seal, he protects us from evil forces which won't dare to enter a person bearing the mark of God's own possession.
However you come at this message contained in this word "sealed," it is a message of safety and security in God's love and power. God sends the Holy Spirit as a preserving seal to lock in our faith, as an authenticating seal to validate our sonship, and as a protecting seal to keep out destructive forces. The point is that God wants us to feel secure and safe in his love and power.
What Does "Guarantee" Mean?
The other word Paul uses to drive this home is the word "guarantee" in verse 14. "You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit which is the guarantee of our inheritance." Noël and I ran out of gas at the intersection of 66th and Penn on Thursday. I ran up the street to Al's service station and got a can with two dollars' worth of gas and said I would be right back and buy 15 dollars' worth. But I had to leave my driver's license. Why? Because it was a guarantee I would come back and finish my business. They knew that driver's license was valuable enough to me to give them a sense of security that I would come back with their can and pay for my gas.
God's Message to Every Believer
So then, what is God saying to us when he gives us his Holy Spirit and calls him a guarantee or a down-payment? He is saying, "My great desire for those who believe in me is that you feel secure in my love. I have chosen you before the foundation of the world. I have predestined you to be my children forever. I have redeemed you by the blood of my Son. And I have put my Spirit in you as a seal and a guarantee. Therefore, you will receive the inheritance and praise the glory 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."
"Let me say it again: I have chosen you," says the Lord. "I have predestined you; I have redeemed you; I have sealed you by my Spirit. Your inheritance is sure, because I am passionately committed to magnify the glory of my grace in your salvation."
When peace like a river attendeth your way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever your lot—I have taught you to say,
It is well, it is well, with your soul.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org