The Lord's Day Morning
August 14, 2005
“Assured by the Spirit of Promise”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one, as we look again at this great prayer.
While we were looking at Ephesians 1:10 and 11 and 12 last week, we noticed the Apostle Paul praising God that God in His mercy had made these Jewish Christians, of whom Paul was a part, His people. God's people belong to Him, and God has done this by His own will, and that He's done this for His own glory, and Paul glories in that truth.
And in the passage we're going to study today, he applies this same truth to the Gentile Christians in the congregation in Ephesus. Let me draw your attention to the first words of verse 11. The end of verse 10 reads “In Him” [and then the beginning of verse 11] “also we have obtained an inheritance….” Now notice the we and then look at the beginning of verse 13: “In Him you also, after listening to the message of truth….” Why does Paul change from we in verse 11 to you in verse 13?
Because in verse 11 he is speaking specifically about how God in His mercy has reached out to Jewish Christians: He has called those who are the nation of Israel to saving faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says He's done this first. They were the first to hope in Christ, Paul among them. And so Paul is recalling to the Gentile Christians in Ephesus how in His mercy and in His plan He had saved this body of believers even out of Israel, even while much of Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah and went on in unbelief, yet He had saved to Himself a people out of Israel.
And then in verse 13 he turns his attention to the Gentile Christians there in Ephesus. He says ‘He's done the same thing for you as well.’ One of the things that will come out of our study of this passage is Paul's emphasis is that there are no second-class Christians. Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians — all saved by the blood of Christ, by the plan of God, by His mercy and grace, all adopted into His family, all given the fullness of the inheritance of His Son, all called a special, chosen possession of the Father. And so Paul is calling on us to luxuriate in the glorious truth of God's mercy to us.
And so let's prepare to hear God's word beginning in Ephesians 1:13. Before we do, let's pray and ask His help.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your word of truth. This is the gospel of our salvation, and so we pray that You would give us ears to hear that truth and hearts of faith to respond to it in belief and trust. We ask, O God, that Your word by Your Spirit would pierce our hearts, and that we would render back to You grateful praise and faithful obedience. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
We live in a narcissistic culture; that is, a culture that is preoccupied with itself. We live amongst a selfish people. We like to think that it is “all about me.” You've heard the joke of the young lady who had gone out for the first time for dinner with a rather self-absorbed young man, and after he had regaled her for about 45 minutes about the glories of the manuscript that he had just submitted for publication, he said to her, “But enough about my book; let's talk about me!”
Now, she should have immediately said, “You know that phone number that I gave you? Burn it!”
But we live in a self-preoccupied culture…you’ll perhaps remember back to 1992 and the election campaign between the first President Bush, Bush ‘41 they say in Washington now, and Bill Clinton, who at that time was a dark-horse Democratic candidate. And you’ll remember the images that the media played over and over during the town hall debates of President Bush looking at his watch during the debate, wondering when it was going to be over, or becoming irritated with some of the questions that were asked, or not knowing what a grocery store scanner was. And the media conveyed to the nation through those images that he was a President who was out of touch with the average American, didn't know the things that we experience in our lives, and didn't connect with us well, wasn't concerned about us–while, at the same time, Bill Clinton masterfully was able to work the crowd. When questions would be asked to him by an angry audience participant, questions for which perhaps his answer from his particular political views would not have been welcomed, he would masterfully say things like, “That is such a good question. You know, the most important thing about that question is not the answer: it's that you asked it, and I just want you to know that in my administration you will be first, you will be most important…” and we should have predicted it right then! He won a tremendous victory at the polls. Why? Because he had made it “all about me.” It's all about us. That's the way we like to think about life: it's all about me.
And even when we come to church, we like it to be “all about me.” We want it to minister to us where we are. We want it to be about things that will help us in our daily life. We want the focus of the ministry of the word sometimes to be about our primary concerns, and that's why Paul's prayer here is so helpful, because Paul makes it clear that it is not until we are decentralized, it is not until we are taken out of the central focus of life and God is placed in His proper place — which is first, which is on the throne, which is at the center of everything — it is not until God is the center of everything that we ever find true delight, true satisfaction, true happiness, true wholeness.
Isn't that interesting? It's one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. It is not until God is at the center that we experience true exaltation, for until we become last we are not in the position to be exalted with Jesus Christ; until we are humbled, we cannot be raised. And it is when God is at the center, when God is at the center of life, that we are best off, and our deepest and realest needs are most attended to.
And we learn that lesson in this very prayer. Here is Paul speaking to Ephesian Christians who are experiencing persecution. They’re marginalized in society. They face many doubts and uncertainties. They bring many anxieties with them when they come into their little fellowship in this home in Ephesus to worship the living God through Jesus Christ, and yet Paul begins this book by speaking about God, about who He is, about what He has done, and about what He has given to us. The focus is on giving praise to God. We've said it over and over: in verses 3-14, Paul's focus is doxology, or adoration or praise to God. He's taking the eyes of all the Ephesians–and our eyes, too, friends–and he is pointing us to God, and he is saying “Give praise to God with me.”
But the irony is when we take our eyes off of ourselves, off of our circumstances, off of our needs, off of our situations, and when we get out of the mindset that “it's all about me,” it is precisely at that moment when we are focused on God that we find that God in His mercy takes care of us better than we could have imagined, better than we could have asked or thought. And that's what I want you to see in this great passage today.
There are two or three things before us in particular that I would draw your attention to. First, in verse 13, once again Paul emphasizes that God in His mercy has made you His special possession, and so Paul is giving praise to God for this.
Then, in verse 14, you’ll see again that Paul calls on you and me to give praise to God because God has given to us His Holy Spirit.
And then finally, at the end of verse 14, you’ll see that Paul again calls us to praise God with all that we are and all that we have and all that we do.
I. You, too, gentiles, having heard and believed the gospel were marked by and with the Spirit as God's own possession.
Let's begin in verse 13 and look at Paul's words here. Here Paul is calling on us to give praise to God; in fact, he himself is giving praise to God because God has made us His possession. Listen to his words:
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
Paul is saying ‘Gentile Christians, you, too, having heard and believed the gospel, were marked by and with the Spirit of God as God's own possession.’
Now, that would have been tremendously meaningful for both the Jewish and the Gentile Christians, because every good Jewish believer would know that in the Old Testament Israel was called God's own possession, God's special people, God's heritage, God's inheritance, the thing in which God delights. And Paul is saying to these Gentile Christians in Ephesus that you, having heard the gospel; you, having believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; you are now declared in God's giving the Holy Spirit to you, you are now declared to be God's own possession.
If I were to paraphrase verses 13 and the first part of verse 14, I'd do it something like this: Paul is saying that in Christ, having listened to the gospel and believed, God has assured you of His promise to you by giving you the promised Holy Spirit, who promises to you God's inheritance for you and in you, with a view to God's inheritance in you, and all to God's praise.
Paul is saying that we praise God because we realized that in His mercy He has made us His possession. And I want you to notice three things in particular out of verse 13: notice the hearing, the believing, and the assurance. We’re told that, in Him, you also, after listening to the message of the truth, Paul says to these Gentile Christians, you have heard the truth. Now, it is a blessing of God to be able to hear the truth; not only to simply hear it proclaimed, but to be able to really hear it with understanding. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in the Parable of The Sower and The Soils, makes it clear that not everyone who comes in contact with the word of God really hears it and understands it and embraces it. In fact, in most of the soils there is a rejection of that word, but Paul is saying to these Ephesian Christians ‘You heard the truth. When you heard the gospel proclaimed, you understood that it was true. You harkened to it; you really listened to it.’
Let me stop and ask you today: When you gather at the gathering of worship with the people of God called First Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning or Sunday evening, or in the Sunday School, or on Wednesday nights, do you hear the word of truth? Do you really understand and believe the truth which is being proclaimed? How do you listen when you are gathered at church? Do you listen like a child who is looking at a television show or playing a video game, or on the internet, when that child's Mom is trying to get that child's attention? “Honey…Honey…Honey! Honey!!! Listen to me!!!” “Huh? What’d you say, Mom?” Is that how you listen when the word is being proclaimed, or do you hear with attentiveness the word of truth, the only gospel of salvation?
The Apostle Paul is saying of these Ephesian Christians that they heard; but they not only heard, they believed. Notice what he says: “…Having also believed the message of truth, the gospel of salvation….” The gospel must not only be proclaimed, it must not only be heard, it must be believed, if we are to be saved.
And the Apostle Paul is saying to these Ephesian Christians ‘When we preach the gospel, you believed it. You didn't say ‘Well, that's very nice and interesting, but we're not going to do anything with that.’ You responded in belief, you trusted in Christ, you believed the message of salvation.’ And again, this is so vital for us to realize today. Some people hear the gospel proclaimed and their response is ‘Well, that's all very nice, but it's not for me.’ Or other people are indifferent to the gospel. Some people are actually angered by the gospel, offended by the gospel.
And some people say, ‘Well, that's true for you, but there's also something that's different that's true for me, because all roads lead up the mountain.’ There are various responses to the gospel, but there's only one saving response to the gospel, and that is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in that gospel as the only way of salvation, as the One who purchases for us the forgiveness of sins, who cleanses us, who gives us the blessings of being adopted into God's family and eternal life forevermore. And Paul is saying to these Ephesians ‘You believed! When we preached the gospel, you responded by hearing and believing the truth.’ And then he says ‘You need to understand that God has sealed you with His Holy Spirit. He has marked you out as His own possession, and thereby He has assured you of receiving His inheritance, and He has assured you of His love for you.’
Isn't it beautiful? The Apostle Paul is saying to these Gentiles, ‘God has placed His mark of ownership on you by giving you His Holy Spirit.’ Isn't it interesting? From Old Testament times, as a way of assuring God's people He often gave them signs or marks whereby they would know of His love for them, and they could be reminded and brought back to obedience in response to His blessing to them by living a life of faith and faithfulness.
So, for instance, to the children of Israel He gave the signs of circumcision and Passover, and of the Sabbath Day, and to Christians He has given the signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper. But isn't it beautiful that the Apostle Paul here does not say that God has given us a “thing” or a “right” as the mark or seal or sign of His ownership, but He has given a Person–an awesome, divine, most powerful person: the third Person of the Trinity. The mark of ownership that God has given to believers is the third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. His indwelling of us, His possession of us, is a mark of ownership. Salvation is by faith alone, and all those who trust in Christ alone are marked out as God's, as belonging to God, and are assured by the Holy Spirit, and Paul is saying ‘Gentile Christians, you understand what God has done in order to prove to you that you, just like Israel, are His treasured possession. He has given you His Holy Spirit.’
Now, that's very significant, my friends. I remember a friend in seminary who came from a particular theological perspective saying to me once, “You know, it's wonderful to be a Christian, but I just wish that I could have been a Jewish believer, because God's blessings are especially on the Jewish people, and I wish that I could have been a Jewish believer.”
Well, you see what the Apostle Paul is saying to these Gentile Christians in Ephesus: God has heaped on you every spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ, and you are every bit as much God's possession as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their promises belong to you. As you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has heaped His promises on you; He has made you His special possession; and He has sealed that possession–He has assured you of that promise by giving you not a thing, but the Holy Spirit Himself. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
II. The Holy Spirit is promised, confirmation of God's promises to us and ownership of us, the deposit of our future inheritance and God's of us.
Now, this is a glorious truth, and Paul continues it in verse 13, and here's the second thing I want you to see. Paul says that “…Having…believed, you were sealed in Him [in Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.” So as Paul began this prayer by pointing us to God in praise because He's made us His possession in Christ, now he praises God because He has given you His Spirit.
And I want you to notice what he calls the Spirit here. He calls the Spirit the promised Spirit, or the Spirit of the promise; he calls the Spirit a seal; and he calls the Spirit a deposit, or a down payment. I want to look at each of those three things that he says about the Spirit here.
Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is the promised Holy Spirit, and that He is the confirmation of God's promises to us and God's ownership of us, and that He is the deposit of our future inheritance and God's inheritance of us. So let's look at each of these three things.
First of all, he calls Him the Holy Spirit of promise. Now this means a lot of things, but one thing it means is that this Holy Spirit being given to the Gentiles was prophesied of by the prophets in the Old Testament. There are many examples of this. Let me just show you one.
Turn with me in your Bibles in the Old Testament to the Minor Prophets, and turn with me to the Book of Joel. (It's right before the Book of Amos and right after the Book of Hosea, which, thankfully, are among the larger of the Minor Prophets!) And so if you’ll turn to Joel, nestled as he is between Hosea and Amos, and turn to the second chapter and the twenty-eighth verse, you will see Joel prophesying under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit saying “And it will come about after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind.” And if you’ll go on down to verse 33, he continues to say, “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.” Now, when was this fulfilled?
Well, the Apostle Peter tells us that it was fulfilled at Pentecost. Turn with me to the Book of Acts, chapter two. You remember when the apostles were gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and lit upon them as with tongues of fire, and the multitudes that had been gathered for Pentecost began looking at the apostles as they spoke, saying ‘These men are drunk!’ And the Apostle Peter stands up, in Acts 2:14, and says
“Men of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day [only nine o’clock in the morning; how could they possibly be drunk?]. But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel….”
and then he quotes that great passage from Joel.
In other words, as the apostles and the disciples prophesied and spoke in tongues under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter is saying that the promise of God, the prophesy of Joel, is being fulfilled: that the Holy Spirit is coming upon us. And a great multitude, we're told in Acts 2, came to faith in Christ. Verse 41: “…There were added that day about three thousand souls.” And they came from all over the place, as Luke has told you back in verses 9 and 10. They came from all over the place, these people who had come to faith in Christ.
But you’ll remember, if you’ll turn forward to Acts 10, that Peter's had even more to learn about the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. You remember, Peter was called to go preach the gospel to a Gentile household, the household of Cornelius, and he did so. And he went there, and in Acts 10:34, after preaching the gospel to them and seeing them respond, he says
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.”
And then, if you’ll turn over to the end of the chapter, Luke tells us in verse 44 that when
“…Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.”
And so when Peter had reported this to the church in Jerusalem, we read in chapter 11, verse 18, that
“…When they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles…the repentance that leads to life.’”
In other words, when those Jewish Christians heard that the Holy Spirit had manifested Himself upon the Gentiles, they knew that the Gentiles had been brought into the family of God and had received the fulfillment of this promise which had been made through the prophets of old. They were included in God's family; they were included as God's own possession. And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Gentile Christian, God has marked you out as His own possession by the promised Holy Spirit, so that you would know that God's promises to you are yea and amen in Jesus Christ.’
But he doesn't stop there, does he? He also says that we were sealed (verse 13) – “…sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit….” That is, the Holy Spirit is the seal; He is God's mark of ownership. You know that a brand is often put on an animal to indicate who owns it, and very often stamps or seals are affixed to official documents to indicate our ownership of them. And again Paul is saying that it is the Holy Spirit who has been given as the mark of God's ownership of us, and knowing that we are owned by God produces assurance; and, so, the very purpose of being sealed with the Holy Spirit is that we might be assured that God's promises to us will come to pass.
And in connection with that, Paul says a third thing. Notice what he says: that the Spirit (in verse 14) “…is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” The Spirit is a pledge, or a deposit, or a down payment, guaranteeing us that we will receive God's inheritance, and guaranteeing us that we are God's inheritance. Just as an engagement ring is a pledge of marriage, just as a deposit on a house is a partial payment indicating that the fullness of the amount will be paid to the owner or to the bank eventually, so also the Spirit is given to us as a deposit, as a down payment, by God, indicating to us that He will give us the fullness of His blessing. The Holy Spirit applies the redemption accomplished in Christ to us, and is a down payment assuring us that God will give us the fullness of His inheritance.
Just as in olden times dowries would be given as a pledge indicating that a husband would take full care of a wife, so also God gives the Holy Spirit as a down payment of His full blessings. You know, the King James, I think, spoke of the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, and I've always wondered whether that's where the name of the old Mississippi bank–it's not around anymore–Deposit Guaranty…I've always wondered whether that's where it came from. I need to find one of the founders somewhere and see if we can find where that name came from, but that's what the Holy Spirit is: He's a deposit, or a down payment, guaranteeing our receiving of the full inheritance of God. And so Paul is saying to us ‘You are God's possession, and by the Holy Spirit himself He has pledged to you that He will give you your full inheritance, and that you will be His inheritance in Jesus Christ.’
And my friends, those things are life re-orienting. They’re absolutely life re-orienting. To realize that we belong to God, that we are God's special possession, changes the way that we approach life. And to realize that God has given us His inheritance changes the way we look at the finest, the most wonderful things that this world has to offer. You know, there are many wonderful things in this world that are good in and or themselves, but if we love those things more than we love God and more than we love the prime blessings of God, we have become idolaters.
You know, we ourselves have been given so many things that those many good things often distract us from the first and the best things. And realizing that God has granted us the fullness of His inheritance causes to pale in comparison the greatest things that we can experience in life.
You know, you may be sitting here today and you may be thankful for many things. ‘Lord, You have given me many friends,’ you may be thinking. And you delight in having those friends. Or you may be delighting in the fact that you are near to family, and you know so many people that are displaced and far away from their families. Or you may be delighting in the fact that God has given you a good job, or you may delight in the schools that your children are going to. I know that very often I talk with Anne about how thankful we are that we have children who are able to go to the day school, and we talk about how we could be many other places and not ever be in a place that had a more wonderful school for our children to go to. But if we value those things, all of those good things, any of those good things, more highly than the inheritance that God has pledged to us in the Holy Spirit, we have missed the first things, the best things, the most important things. And the Apostle Paul calls on us with the Ephesians to give praise to God because of this gift of the Spirit.
III. All to the glory of God.
And finally–this is the last point–he says in verse 14 that we have been given the Holy Spirit as a mark of God's possession of us, to the praise of His glory. All of this is to the praise of the glory of God. Paul again is calling on us to praise God with all that we are and all that we have, and all that we do. We've been chosen as God's unique treasure in Jesus Christ. We've been called to live for His glory, and so the whole of life is to bear the marks of our realization that God has chosen us for Himself and endowed us with an inheritance beyond our comprehension, and that is a life re-orienting truth. Once again we see how–in giving praise to God for who He is and what He has done, in displacing ourselves from the center of our concern–we suddenly realize that in giving back to God praise, He has provided for us richly beyond all that we could ask or think.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that by the Spirit You would cause us to love the best things; that we would love and seek after God, and His kingdom, and His inheritance, rather than following after love of mammon, and things, and the delights of this word–however glorious they may be. And we ask, O God, that You would do this: that You would change us and that You would grow us by the Spirit, who assures us of Your promises. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove]
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.