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Sealed by the Spirit

Sealed By The Spirit

Ephesians 1:13-14


Wilfredo Garza lived the life of an illegal immigrant for more than 35 years. Year after year, he eked out a living crossing the border from Mexico into the United States—some days finding work, some days not. Regardless, he was constantly looking over his shoulder. He was caught by the Border Patrol four times during that period and bused back to Mexico every time. Undeterred by each apprehension, he swam back across the Rio Grande to try again. The cycle would likely have continued for several more years if not for an amazing discovery. One day, Wilfredo worked up the courage to walk into an immigration lawyer’s office. There, incredibly, he found out that his father was born in Texas and spent time working there, which meant that Wilfredo was actually a U.S. citizen! All these years he possessed the very papers—his father’s birth certificate and work records—that proved his citizenship, and yet he lived in guilt and fear. Now he has a certificate of citizenship. Now he doesn’t have to sneak across the border; he can walk through the main gate.[i]


Actually a citizen, living like an illegal immigrant. “I want to be here. It’s good for me to be here. But I don’t really belong. Eventually, they’ll find out about me, and I’ll be sent back. I’m an imposter. I’m not a true citizen of this great nation.” Seems to me that many of us live in the Kingdom of God that way. We know what the Bible says about being chosen by God and redeemed by Christ. We know that God chose to redeem us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We know what the Bible says about having a new life in Christ, the old has gone and the new has been given us. But when we look at our own lives, they just don’t seem to match the picture the Bible paints of those who are forgiven by God. And so instead of living as children of God, we look at our own lives and think, “I just don’t measure up. I want to be a Christian, I want to follow Christ, but no matter how hard I try, I keep messing up. Maybe it’s all an illusion. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself. How can God really love me? Am I really a citizen of the Kingdom of God?” So maybe we try to fake it until we make it. If I try my best long enough, maybe it’ll stick. Or we view ourselves as imposters, illegal immigrants who don’t really belong.


As St. Paul concludes his 202 word long sentence that is Ephesians 1:3-14, a doxology, a spontaneous outpouring of praise for the grace and the goodness and the love of God, it is to this very problem that he turns. Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 1:13-14.


Paul is writing to gentile believers in the province of Asia who were often treated as outsiders in the Christian faith by Jewish Christians, even though the number of gentiles coming to faith in Christ soon far outpaced the number of Jews embracing Christ as Savior. Embracing others, outsiders, people who viewed the world differently and who thought and acted and dressed and talked differently was something that didn’t come naturally to the Jews at the time. At one time, Paul was in the same boat. He was a very conservative, highly educated Pharisee. At one point, after his conversion to Christ, he says that no Pharisee was a good a Pharisee as he was. That he was blameless before the Jewish law. That meant he kept himself distant from anyone or anything who could make him unclean. He was so passionate about the purity of Judaism that he sought to destroy any who would taint that purity. But his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road radically changed Paul. His personality didn’t change, but the entire orientation of his life changed. His worldview changed. His behavior toward those outside the Kingdom of God changed. He went from doing everything in his power to keep them out to doing everything in his power to invite them in. Even his view about who really is in the Kingdom of God changed. That’s what Christ does: he changes us. The orientation of our life changes. The direction of our life changes. So Gentile Christians were treated like, and often believed they were, illegal immigrants into the Christian faith. But Paul wants them to understand something that his relationship with Christ has taught him. He wants them to understand something about God, and about themselves as children of God.


In V. 13, he lays before them God’s plan for salvation; the steps they had already taken; the things that had already happened to them. They’re the same steps all who are in Christ have taken at some point in our lives. First, we heard the word of truth, the gospel or “good news” (that’s what gospel means) of salvation in Christ.


You see, there are two ways the Bible says you can get to heaven. Plan A is to earn it. That’s the performance plan. And to earn it you only have to do this: never sin and always do what’s right for the entire time that you live. Just be perfect. Since none of us qualify for Plan A, God came up with Plan B, which is this: You trust Jesus Christ when he says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He was the only perfect person who ever lived, because he was God. He came so we could know what God is like. And by trusting and establishing a relationship with him, you get in on his goodness. Ron Dunn took his young son to a carnival one time for his birthday. His son picked six boys to go with him, so Ron bought a roll of tickets. Every line he’d come up to, he’d pull off seven tickets and give them to all the kids. When they got to the Ferris wheel, all of a sudden there was this eighth little kid with his hand out. Ron said, “Who are you?” The kid said, “I’m Johnny.” Ron said, “Who are you, Johnny?” Johnny said, “I’m your son’s new friend. And he said you would give me a ticket.” Ron asked me, “Do you think I gave him one? Absolutely.”[ii] That’s the good news of salvation. That’s the word of Truth. That God has chosen to save us in Christ. That Christ has already died our death for us, and has given us his perfect life. Does that make me morally perfect? No. I still struggle with sin. But the Bible says that I am “in Christ.” And it is only because I am “in Christ,” it is only because Christ has paid my debt for me, that I am forgiven and made clean.


But more has happened than just hearing the word of Truth. We have to hear it. That means our ears have to be open to hearing it and receiving it. But then something else happens: We believe it.


Rob Bell, who at one time was a pastor in Grand Rapids, tells the story of having breakfast with his dad and son at the Real Food Café on Eastern Avenue, just south of Alger in Grand Rapids. “As we were finishing our meal, I noticed that the waitress brought our check, then took it away, and then brought it back again. She placed it on the table, smiled, and said: “Somebody in the restaurant paid for your meal. You’re all set.” And then she walked away. I had the strangest feeling sitting there. The feeling was helplessness. There was nothing I could do. It had been taken care of. To insist on paying would have been pointless. All I could do was trust that what she said was actually true and then live in that—which meant getting up and leaving the restaurant. My acceptance of what she said gave me a choice: to live like it was true or to create my own reality in which the bill was not paid. That is our invitation—to trust that we don’t owe anything. To trust that something is already true about us, something has already been done, something has been there all along. To trust that grace pays the bill.”[iii] That’s what it means to believe in him. It isn’t something that we do just with our minds. I can believe that planes can fly. I can study and learn about and believe that the physics are true. But it is only when I get on a plan and put my trust in those physics that I really believe, as the Bible speaks of belief. It involves my whole self. It involves my mind. And my emotions. And my will. And my body. It involves all of me.


So when we hear the word of truth, the gospel of salvation; and then believe in Christ, something else happens. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Most of us don’t even understand what the Holy Spirit is about, much less what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. We know that God is trinity, or triune. Trinity is simply a squishing together of the words tri-unity. It means that God is three and also one. It means that the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are diverse and three persons and at the same time are so unified as to be one – a tri-unity. And we sort of understand the Father, and we get the Son. But we really don’t understand the Holy Spirit all that much. Spirit is something we have a harder time wrapping our minds around. And we never will understand Father, Son, and Holy Spirit completely. But this is what Scripture reveals about the Holy Spirit:


He is the “counselor” sent by Jesus to help his followers. “Counselor” is an English translation of the Greek word “parakletos,” which means “called to one’s aid” and is translated as “advocate” or “helper” or “counselor” in the Bible. And the Bible lists several things that the Holy Spirit does. He was involved in creation. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1:2). He convicts of sin. “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment …” (John 16:8-11). He calls us to Salvation. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). He gives us new life. “ … he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit …” (Titus 3:5-6). He lives in us. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). He gives power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He produces growth toward Christ-likeness. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). He provides spiritual gifts for the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). The Holy Spirit is the presence of God at work in and through and around you and I as followers of Christ.


And here in Ephesians 1, Paul lists two more things the Holy Spirit does. First of all, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” What in the world does that mean. Well, the word “sealed” can have a couple of meanings. First, it can mean the wax seal that seals an envelope, stamped with the seal of whatever important person is sending the letter. It guarantees the authenticity of what’s inside. If the seal is broken, you know that the letter was tampered with. But it also means a brand. In ancient days, people marked their livestock and also their slaves with brands. Today, we still use them, not for people, at least in America, but on livestock. You know, the brands that ranchers use to mark their cattle out west. Out on the plains on government land where more than one rancher have rights to graze their cattle and the herds intermix over the winter. When the cowboys ride up to get their ranch’s cattle, the check the brands, for the brands, placed on new calves before the cattle are sent out on the range in warmer weather, mark the cattle as owned by a specific ranch. And that is the sense in which Paul is using the word here. The Holy Spirit, taking up residence in your life and at work in you and through you, is God’s brand on you, that you belong to God. It is a permanent and irreversible marker that you are a child of God. The Holy Spirit in you is God’s way of saying, “This is my child. This one belongs to me. And nothing will ever change that.”


And as God’s brand on you, the Holy Spirit is something else. Look at V. 14. The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of your inheritance, in other words, of the reality that all of the benefits of a child of God in this life and in the life to come belong to you. The word means a down payment that guarantees complete payment. Our salvation in Christ is three-sided. It is a past fact, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for you and for me. It is also the present experience of everyone who claims Christ as Savior and makes him Lord. And it is our future hope, when redemption will be completed. St. John loved to speak at that future hope. He described it as a time when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). But he also describes it in this way: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). It is the time when the Holy Spirit’s work in us will be completed, when we stand before him and the rest of the transformation happens. And seeing him as he is will complete the task of making us like him, the very thing salvation has been about since the beginning. Not making us God. But making us like Christ, holy and blameless before him. The final transaction. He dies our death, so we get his life. It’s a pretty good deal!


Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Becky and I have. A few years ago Becky gave me some cash and assorted checks to deposit into our bank account. I was standing at the counter when the teller came back with our receipt. “I made your deposit,” she said. “But you still have a negative balance in your account.” Those words took a few seconds to sink in. We were definitely living paycheck to paycheck, but my heart started beating out of my chest when I realized that it was a Monday, and we had both just been paid the previous Friday. My first thought was, “Oh no. What did I do? Becky is going to kill me.” You see, I’m the spender in our family. That’s why she takes care of our finances. I have to answer for the money I spend. For a few seconds, I thought I’d really screwed up somehow. But then I pulled myself back together enough to mentally rehearse everything I’d done over the previous three days, and truth be told, I hadn’t gone anywhere. Hadn’t spent a penny. That’s when I realized we were the victims of identity theft. The integrity of our bank account had been broken. The bank investigated, found that our money had in fact been stolen by someone in Australia, and they replaced the stolen funds in our account. Well, in her book Because He Loves: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life, author Elyse Fitzpatrick writes: “ … identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use. Most of us are dismayed by this new cyber-age crime, and we wouldn’t assume that the theft of another person’s identity is acceptable behavior. The surprising reality, however, is that Christian’s are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity. They’re called “Christians” because they’ve taken the identity of someone else: the Christ. Not only have you been given an identity that you weren’t born with or that you didn’t earn the right to use, but you’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity brings! This is so much better than identity theft—it’s an identity gift![iv]


The good news of Jesus Christ is that God has chosen to save you in Jesus Christ, that in Christ you have been redeemed, your debt has been paid, your death has been died. It sounds too good to be true, I know. And so God has given us the Holy Spirit to show us how to live in the Kingdom of God, to give us the strength to live in the Kingdom of God, and as proof that we are in fact citizens of the Kingdom of God. You are not an imposter. Not an illegal immigrant. You are an adopted, Holy Spirit filled child of the King himself. You belong. Let us pray.

[i] Anderson Cooper, “360 Degrees, On the Border” (aired 5-25-06), CNN;

[ii] Rick Warren, “What Difference Does Easter Make?” (4-10-06)

[iii] Rob Bell, Repainting the Velvet Elvis (Zondervan, 2005), p. 151-152

[iv] Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life (Crossway, 2008), p. 51