A sermon on Ephesians 1:13-14 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 26 July 2020
Over the last few weeks we’ve been counting our blessings in Ephesians chapter 1. Two weeks ago, we looked at verses 3 to 6 at the work of God the Father and how he chose us to be his before the creation of the world. Last week we looked at verses 7 to 10 at the work of God the Son and how we have redemption in the blood of Jesus. This morning we are looking at verses 13 and 14 at the work of God the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, the Holy Spirit is often treated like the middle child of the Trinity. Overlooked and ignored. Naturally, we give great prominence to the Father, the creator and planner of everything. Naturally, we give a lot of attention to the Son, our Lord Jesus, our Saviour and Friend. But quite unnaturally, we often give little attention to the work of the Spirit in our lives. But as a baby, growing in its mother’s womb, is fed by the umbilical cord, so our souls are nourished by the Spirit. Like water fills a glass so the Spirit is the presence of God which fills our lives. Like a globe gives light only when the power is turned on, so our spirits are dead and lifeless without God’s Holy Spirit. When we ask the Father’s help to make a decision, it is the Spirit who gives our mind clarity and prompts our conscience. When we invite Jesus into our hearts, it is the Spirit who takes up residence.
Now usually, of course, the Spirit’s work is not threatened at all by our ignorance of him. Take my garbage collector, for example. I don’t know his name. I never send him a card on his birthday or give him a round of applause, but every Wednesday morning my garbage is gone. In the same way, the Spirit can work unobtrusively, unrecognised and unthanked. Because he is God. He does not need our permission to do his will in our lives.
But at other times, at crucial moments in our lives, if we are blind to the Spirit’s presence, when we are wilfully blind to his work, when we make ourselves deaf to his prompting and guidance, we deny ourselves vital resources for following Christ and pleasing God. We are told to count our blessings. But according the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 1, if we ignore the Spirit’s work there will be two blessings missing from our count. Verses 13 and 14 say,
Having believed, you were marked in him, that is, in Christ, with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
It starts, “Having believed.” The message here is for those who believe. Not just for those who dedicate themselves especially to a life of self-denial. Not just for those who have received a call to a special ministry in the Church. Not just for those who bring prophetic messages from God or who speak in strange languages. But the message is for all those who believe. Who, as Paul says, have heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation and believed, who have received Jesus as Saviour and Lord, who have redemption in him and the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit is not an optional extra like a roof rack or a rear spoiler for those with special abilities or for those who have been called to special ministries. But the Spirit comes standard for every believer like the seatbelts in your car.
He is, as he is described, the promised Holy Spirit. His coming was promised in the Old Testament in passages like Joel chapter 2 when the Spirit would come upon all God’s people. But more importantly, the Spirit was promised by the Lord Jesus himself to his disciples. At the Last Supper Jesus said to them, “It is for your good that I am going away.” They must have thought, “How can it be good for us that you are going away? Don’t go away. Stay here. Stay with us forever and never leave.” But Jesus said,
It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
This was Jesus’ promise, that everything that he had been for his disciples, their counsellor, their teacher, their guide, the Spirit would continue to be for them, and not just located in one place at a time, like a flesh and blood person like Jesus was, and not just for those twelve men and for a few extra followers, who were involved in Jesus’ personal ministry in Galilee and Judea, but in all who believe in him whoever, wherever and whenever they are. The Spirit is the answer to Jesus’ promise,
Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.
The Spirit is the answer to Jesus’ promise,
Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
If you trust in Christ for salvation, the Spirit of Christ is his presence in your life.
Verse 13 of Ephesians 1 describes him as a seal. Seals were imprints made in wax, usually by carving a pattern onto a metal object and then pressing that object in the wax when it was soft. When the wax cooled and hardened, the image remained. They were used for a number of purposes. The wax could be used to stop a scroll opening and unrolling and getting ruined. The tomb of Jesus was sealed by putting the governor’s seal in wax on a strip of paper which was then stuck with wax to the stone in front of the tomb and to the wall of the tomb to show if it had been opened or not.
But seals were also used as a stamp of ownership. A letter could be rolled up and then a seal used to prove it came from the person who wrote it. And that seems to be how it is being used in verse 13. We have been sealed with the Spirit. He is God’s stamp of ownership upon us. The message of the gospel is that in Christ God is ours. He is our God. The God who made us. The God who saved us. And when we receive Christ, when we believe that message, we are saying, “Lord, we are yours.” We are God’s and in Christ we belong to him. He is our shepherd and we are his flock, his sheep. We belong to each other and nothing can tear us apart.
So the Spirit’s special ministry, his service to us, is to reassure us that this is so. He is our rego sticker showing that we are part of the family of God. He is the birth certificate proving that we are children of God. Even when the Spirit makes us feel bad, convicting our conscience that we have done something that we should be ashamed of, the message still is, “I am only telling you this because I love you, because I am yours and you are mine.” How much more so, then, when the Spirit reminds us of the words of Jesus, when by the Spirit we cry out in prayer to our Father, when by the Spirit God opens our minds to understand his Word, when by the Spirit we find the courage to do what is right, when by the Spirit we find the grace to forgive what was done wrong.
This is the Spirit’s work and it confirms that our life belongs to God and that it is being renovated. Not perfect. Never perfect. But under construction. The Spirit is the seal that God is ours and that we are his.
In verse 14 the Spirit is described as a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance. To book a holiday, we might pay a deposit. To secure our purchase of a new home, we might pay a deposit. A deposit is a part payment, a first instalment, guaranteeing the full sum. An inheritance might come in instalments as well. We could write in our will that our children or other beneficiaries’ inheritance will be held in trust until they are 21 or 25 years old. But we can stipulate that they receive a fraction first up to tide them over until they come of age, maybe to pay for their education and upbringing. It is like a deposit, a portion guaranteeing the fullness to come.
This is the second great blessing of the Spirit’s work. The light of his truth shines into the darkness of our confusion. The warmth of his love glows in the coldness of our sometimes uncaring world. We have his strength in our weakness. His hope in our despair. He is the presence of the living and immortal God in our frail and mortal bodies. Every blessing from God seems like a mixed blessing. But the Spirit’s work is to remind us that one day every blessing will be pure and undiluted. That the darkness will be banished. That the cold will be gone forever. That one day death itself will die every wrong put right and every tear wiped away. With our own eyes we will see the true and living God. And we will share the fellowship which the Lord Jesus enjoys right now at the right hand of the Father.
What we have in the Spirit is an entrée. It tastes so good. But the portions are so so small, hardly enough for a growing boy. But only a fool would complain, because the wise know that the entrée is the promise of more of the same to come.
We overlook the garbage man and his work is still done. But we overlook the work of the Spirit at our peril. For he is the seal of God’s ownership that he is ours and that we are his. Whether we feel the warmth of his grace or his hand of discipline, the message is, “I love you.” And he is the deposit, the first installment of our inheritance, the promise of the fullness of God’s glory to come. When life is hard those are two blessings we must always count on.