The Holy Spirit Seals Us For Redemption
When I was in elementary school, we had three recesses – two shorter 15 minute ones, in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon, and then a longer one at lunch. And every day that it was nice enough to be outside for recess we’d run out to the grassy field beside the playground, pick teams, and play touch football. The school actually let us play tackle football for about a week one year, until the parents complained about torn and grass stained pants. Or we’d play kickball. Or dodgeball.
Do you remember picking teams at recess? The alpha kids, the strong, athletic ones, were always the captains. And they chose their teams, alternating back and forth. The rest of the athletic kids were taken first. Then the normal kids. You know, the ones who could play good enough. Then the bottom of the barrel. The kids who weren’t as big and strong, who weren’t as athletic. I was athletic, but I was painfully thin. Today I’m right at 6’ and I weigh about 185 lbs. and most people would say I’m more on the thin side. When I was a senior in high school, I was 6’ and weighed 125 lbs. 60 lbs less than I do right now. When I was in elementary school …. Well, I was known for getting good grades. But I was painfully thin. I wasn’t one of the good looking, popular kids. That awkward stage kids go through hit me early and stayed late. In high school things were a little different. I was a good basketball player. But I really didn’t grow into myself until college. In elementary school … my nicknames were “skinny bones” and “skeletor.”
I wasn’t picked first or second. I was picked when the captains were down to their last grudging choices. Entertainer Garrison Keilor had his own experiences like mine. He describes it this way: The captains are down to their last grudging choices: a slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it. They choose the last ones two at a time – “you and you” – because it makes no difference. And the remaining kids – the scrubs , the excess – they deal for us as handicaps. “If I take him, then you gotta take him,” they say.
Sometimes I go as high as sixth, usually lower. But just once I’d like Darrel to pick me first and say, “Him! I want him! The skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes. You, c’mon!” But I’ve never been chosen with much enthusiasm.
I know that feeling. I guess that’s why it felt so good to get my varsity letter in basketball and track. To make the team. To have the coach look me in the eye and say, “I want you.” We all know what it feels like to NOT be chosen. Maybe for you it wasn’t sports on the playground at recess or in gym class. Maybe it was the role in a play or musical, or a spot in a band, or a spot in a choir. Maybe it was a job you really wanted. Maybe it was the guy or the girl you really liked. We all know what it feels like to not be chosen.[i]
Do you ever think about the fact that you are so valuable to God he chose you early – and with enthusiasm. There’s a spot in his team for you. It’s a spot only you can fill, and he wants you in it. There’s a jersey with your name on it. You see, not only does God choose you, he puts his seal on you. And that seal … is the Holy Spirit. Turn with me to Ephesians 1. We’re going to be looking at Vv. 11-14, but I want to take you up to Vv. 3-8 first.
Isn’t that incredible? That God chose you. That before he created the cosmos, “before the foundation of the world” Paul says, he chose to love you. To offer his grace and forgiveness to you. A spot on his team. A place in his family. I love that Paul uses the word “lavish” to describe God’s love for us. “Redemption … forgiveness … grace … which he lavished upon us.” God’s lavish love.
And we respond to God’s lavish love, we receive this lavish gift, by repenting and believing. To repent is to turn away from something. When we repent, we are turning away from our sin and selfishness and toward God. In a sense, repentance is saying, “You’re right God. I am a sinner. My heart consistently wants to do its own thing. I really am dead in sin and I need your forgiveness. I need your mercy.”
Belief is the second step, and it’s more than just agreeing with God that I am a sinner who needs God to save me. It means I confess that Jesus IS the Son of God, that he died on the cross for my sin, and that God raised him from the dead. AND it means that I place my trust in him to do for me what I cannot do for myself. Belief is something that involves more than just my mind. It involves my will and the choices I make too. In a few weeks, very early in March, we’ll begin the season of Lent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter, with an Ash Wednesday service. And during that service, which will be at 6 pm on Wednesday March 2 here in the sanctuary, each person attending will be invited to come forward and have ashes placed on their forehead in the sign of a cross. More or less. Sometimes its hard to get ashes to do what we want them to do. And as you receive the ashes, you’ll repeat these words. “I am dust, and to dust I will return.” That’s a way of repenting. When I say, “I am dust,” I am saying that I am a finite human being whose existence is marred by sin. That I am dead in my sins and in need of a savior.
And then you’ll say, “Tonight, I repent and believe the good news.” That’s belief. That’s saying, “I believe, place my trust in, and accept God’s gift of forgiveness and new life.” And when we do that, God gives us the Holy Spirit as a seal. His seal. Look at Ephesians 1:11-14.
Paul starts by saying that as God’s adopted children, recipients of his lavish love, we have an inheritance. Paul actually uses the word “adoption,” “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ,” up in V. 5. Adoption. Sons and daughters. (The word translated as sons actually means children.) Inheritance. Those are family words. Family concepts. In Christ, God welcomes us into his family as adopted children. In God’s family, God is our loving heavenly father, and Christ is our savior and our brother.
This is the family we are adopted into. Late last fall one of the television networks ran a live, televised version of Annie. It’s the story of a little orphan girl, little orphan Annie, who has no rights to anything, no claim to anything or anyone. She lives in an orphanage where, along with the other children, she’s mistreated. Abused. And forgotten. Until Mr. Warbucks decides he wants a child in his home over Christmas, and then decides to adopt her. And in the moment he adopts her, she becomes his legal child, the same as if she were born his child. All of the rights and privileges of being the child of the very wealthy Mr. Warbucks suddenly belong to her.
The same thing happens to us. As we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to repent and believe – remember, without the Holy Spirit drawing us to God, we can’t even repent and believe, because we are so dead in our sin – and then Christ’s death is counted on our behalf, and we receive the gift of life and become a member of the family of our lavishly loving heavenly father. And our inheritance as children of God is life. And the word used to describe that life is “eternal.” It is a life that doesn’t fade, that doesn’t come to an end. That life is our now, and we are living in it as children of God. And then, when these earthly bodies wear out and die, or are destroyed, we, as children of God, receive new bodies that will never wear out and cannot be destroyed, and we will go on living in the presence of God forever. We will die, but we will not experience death, because we belong to Christ, and our last breath on this world will be followed by our first breath in the next.
Philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard said, “Well, what Jesus teaches us is that within his presence and with his Word we begin to live in heaven now, and that’s why he says that those who keep his Word, will never experience death, as human beings understand it. There is a continuity of life through what we view as death from this point of view, because we do see people die. Their bodies stop working, but they continue to exist as the people they are in the presence of God. I think many people realize they’ve died until later. Then they recognize that something is different.[ii]
That is our inheritance as children of God. And God gives us the Holy Spirit as his seal and guarantee of that inheritance. What in the world does that mean?
A seal is, first and foremost, a mark of ownership. Much like farmers and ranchers brand horses and livestock, God gives us the Holy Spirit as his seal, his claim to ownership, in our lives. It’s God’s way of saying, “You belong to me.” And that’s significant. It means that Christ owns you. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The price God paid for you is the life of Christ. So you no longer belong to yourself, and you no longer belong to this world. You belong to Christ. You are owned by Christ.
And that comes with both great benefit and great responsibility. Because you belong to Christ and he has placed his seal, the Holy Spirit, on you, you have the resources of the Kingdom of Heaven behind you. You are safe and secure. A seal represents not just ownership but authority. The Holy Spirit, the seal of the Kingdom of God, represents the authority of heaven, not just in your life, but over your life. You are no longer for sale. The transaction has been completed. And anything or anyone who seeks to do you eternal harm will have to answer to God, and go through God, to do it.
Even as Satan sought to destroy Job’s life and through that, his faith, he could do no more than God allowed. Job’s life, even in his darkest and most painful days, his children dead, his riches stolen, his body in physical agony and sickness, he was completely, safely, and securely in God’s hand. Yes, God allowed Job to be pushed to the brink, but God never left his side. And Job was never outside of the authority and protection of the Kingdom of God, even in his suffering. Nothing that could eternally destroy Job, nothing that could steal his eternal life, could touch him.
In his book Identity Matters, Christian author Terry Wardle tells a story from his childhood. Terry had a hand-me-down, fixed-up, big, blue girl’s Schwinn bike. One day his mom finally let him venture outside his own neighborhood. Wardle tells what happened next:
I had broken free of the constraints of my little neighborhood, and now I was on my own to experience a grand adventure. I felt like a somebody, even on a big, blue, girl’s Schwinn bike. With saddlebags! As I crossed the railroad tracks and then rumbled over a small creek on a single-lane bridge. The bridge, made of wood and steel, was no big deal. But on that day long ago it became a bridge too far. As I began to cross, four teenage boys stepped onto the far side of the bridge. I intended to pass on by.
They had other things in mind. One of the boys grabbed my handlebars and spun my bike to an abrupt stop. “Hey, where do you think you’re goin’?” he snarled, as another boy chimed in, “Yeah, kid, where ya goin’?” Instantly I knew they intended to beat me up. I was petrified. I couldn’t fight or break free to run, so I stood there frozen. Suddenly one of the bullies asked, “What’s your name?” I answered him in a high-pitched preadolescent, quivering voice, “Terry Wardle.”
The three remaining teenagers got a bit silent and looked at one another nervously. “Are you related to Tom Wardle?” Tom was a much older cousin, who happened to play defensive end on the high school football team. But I lied and told them Tom was my brother. They immediately backed off. One of the boys straightened out my shirt, and started saying, “Hey, we were just funning you. No harm. You’re a great kid, and … if anyone ever gives you any trouble, you tell us and we’ll take care of you.”[iii]
That had nothing to do with Terry Wardle. It have EVERYTHING to do with the authority of Tom Wardle, star defensive end on the high school football team. And suddenly, nothing could touch him. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on you, guaranteeing that you belong to him, and that the resources of the Kingdom of God are at work for your eternal protection and security.
A seal represents ownership and authority, and the safety and security that come with it. A seal also represents authenticity. When a king placed his seal on a document, it signified that the document came with his authority, his army if need be, and it signified that everything contained in it was authentic. The real deal.
The Holy Spirit’s presence in your life is God’s seal of ownership and authority of you and over you, protecting you, and it is God’s promise of authenticity. That you are really his child. The real deal. And because of that, your inheritance, life, is guaranteed. Even as you walk in your finite body, eternal life is yours now. You are living in it now. And it will be yours fully when you move into the presence of God. When your days on this earth are done.
As we walk through this sermon series on who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does, we’ve encountered the Holy Spirit as the one who baptizes us into the body of Christ, the one who regenerates us for life, and now the one who seals us for redemption, guaranteeing our inheritance of life. The series isn’t over, but I’d like to close today with an extended time of prayer. This isn’t about a show, or an emotional response. This is a time for you and God, and for us as a body and God. Let’s all bow our heads and close our eyes. Doing this doesn’t somehow make us more holy. You can pray with your head up and your eyes open. But when we bow our heads, we’re acknowledging God’s greatness and sovereignty in our lives, and when we close our eyes, it helps us to focus on God and not on what’s happening around us or who might be watching.
I want to start by giving you the chance to “repent and believe,” as the Bible encourages us to do. One way to do that is to pray a prayer that includes three key words – sorry, thank you, and please. If you’d like to commit or recommit your life to Christ, I’d like you to raise your hand. Thank you. And I’d like you to pray this prayer with me …
Lord, Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. (Take a few moments to ask His forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience.) Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.
God has just placed his seal, the Holy Spirit, on your life. The Holy Spirit living in you, empowering you to follow Christ, opening your eyes to the truth of God’s word and promises, is God’s seal, evidence that you belong to him, not for his sake. He knows whom he has saved. But for yours. It is a source of hope and confidence and security.
So I’d like to invite anyone who would like to ask God to open your eyes to the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life, to give you a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit’s power in your life, to grant you a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to simply open your hands like this, like you’re receiving a gift, because you are, and pray this prayer with me …
Holy Spirit, I welcome You. Holy Spirit, I know that You are the Counselor of Truth, my help in need, and the One who fills me with the strength to follow Christ. Holy Spirit, I pray this very day to come into greater communion with You. You so graciously work to intercede for me to the Father, but also to comfort me with Your peace that goes beyond all understanding. Holy Spirit, please come.
Holy Spirit, today I ask for godly counsel and direction. As it says in Psalm 37:4 to delight in the Lord, so I boldly seek to do so today. Following the will and heart of the Father is my greatest desire, for I know His plans are best for me and, in the end, glorify the kingdom. Holy Spirit, please lead me by Your wisdom, discernment, and kindness throughout my life.
Holy Spirit I praise and thank You for the love lavished upon me. Holy Spirit, I seek and so earnestly crave to be in Your presence, to feel the inner work of You in my own heart and mind. You so graciously give comfort, truth, and love. Holy Spirit, I welcome You this very day. Holy Spirit, fill me. Seal me. Strengthen me to follow Christ in my daily activities, and to serve in this church in the space you have uniquely created for me to serve. In the Name of Christ Jesus, Amen.
[i] Robert Russell, The Southeast Christian Church Outlook (6-8-00), Louisville, Kentucky
[ii] Adapted from chapter 3 of Living In Christ’s Presence, “How to Step into the Kingdom and Live There” Conversation: Dallas Willard and John Ortberg
[iii] Adapted from Terry Wardle, Identity Matters (Leafwood Publishers, 2017)