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Sealed in the Holy Spirit

“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we should exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”

(Ephesians 1:11-13)

What then does it mean to say that believers are “sealed in the Holy Spirit”? The obvious use of the term “seal” has to do with the idea of closing something up with the aim of preserving it from decay or contamination. Thus, we might seal a bag of food for sale or a jar of produce so that we can enjoy it at a later date. We also seal our envelopes before mailing them so that no one may tamper with the contents therein. Jesus’ tomb was sealed with a large stone by the Romans in the hope that his body would not be taken from within (Matthew 27:66). 

There is another aspect of the notion of sealing that had to do with identifying official documents. And so, when a document was complete, an official would drip wax on the seam of the document (sealing it closed) and then would place a stamp in the cooling wax to identify whose document it was. We still see some documents sealed in a similar fashion or at least stamped with an official “seal” to identify its authenticity. It is this second use of the idea of sealing that is most important to understanding Paul’s language here, though the first use is also of great importance.

After Jesus feeds the five thousand, people come to him seeking more. Jesus’ response is as follows:

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you. You seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the bread and you were full. You should not work for food that perishes but for food that remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on this one the Father God has sealed.’”

(John 6:26-27)

There is much we could talk about from Jesus’ statement, especially in the contrast that Jesus makes between the benefits of our works, which we earn and perishes and the gift of God given through Jesus Christ that is eternal. Salvation, my friends, is a matter of grace and is the gift of God, not as a result of works, but then again, we will cover that a little later in this great book of Ephesians.

What is most important for our conversation here is the notion of God’s sealing. Who is the one who is sealed? In this case, it is Jesus. What is the sealing referring to? The idea of sealing seems to be a parallel to the idea of the signs which Jesus did — signs that identified him as the Son of God. Thus, the sealing in this case is that God’s hand was upon him not only for preservation, but as a sign to the world that he is who he said he is. 

But how, then, does this apply to our passage here in Ephesians? Paul often speaks of seals in his writings. In Romans 4:11 he speaks of circumcision as the seal of righteousness given to the saints in the Old Testament era. It was an identifier that they were a member of the covenant of God — an identifier that would later be replaced by baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). 

In 1 Corinthians 9:2, Paul also speaks about the seal of his Apostleship. Again, while Paul is certainly sealed in the hands of God, what is more important (in context) is the notion that this seal of his Apostleship is meant as an indicator to the People as to who he represents — who has called him as an Apostle. 

Yet, it is not until we arrive at 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 2 Timothy 2:19 (along with Ephesians) that this terminology is applied to all believers. In each passage, there is the notion that the seal is a guarantee of our salvation — that the Lord knows who are His. Indeed, we are sealed for eternity, but the reason that the seal is good is because it is God’s seal that is upon us — the seal of men will break down and be corrupted, but God’s will not be so.

And so, we return to Ephesians 1:13 (and its parallel in Ephesians 4:30), which speaks of us being sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. Again, while we are sealed from corruption, what is of greater significance is that of whose sign we bear — that of God the Father himself through God the Son, Jesus Christ. And thus, with those saints of the Old Testament who are spoken of as “sealed” by the Apostle John in Revelation (Revelation 7:3,4,5,8), we find ourselves joining them as those sealed for redemption and eternity as well. What wonderful assurance that the Christian can have, for our assurance does not come from within us or from that which we earn, but from God the Holy Spirit. It is his Word that we trust but it is also his Work that we trust when it comes to the promise of eternity.

Muddled Minds

“And when they blew the three hundred shophar, Yahweh set each man’s sword against his comrade and against all of Midian. The camp fled as far as Beth-Hashittah by Tsererathah and as far as the border of Abel-Mecholah above Tabbath.”

(Judges 7:22)

The Midianites are thrown into a panic. Operating at night, hurriedly throwing on armor and grabbing weapons together, they burst from their tents and fell into battle with whomever was closest — everyone assuming that the Israelites were in their camp. Surely too, this is not a simple matter of confusion, but God has muddled and clouded their minds as part of his judgment upon them. Being broken, the army soon finds themselves in route, fleeing toward the Jordan river to return to their homelands.

What follows is a bit of a geography lesson, listing some towns that are between the encampment and the Jordan. The first, Beth-Hashittah, literally translates to the “House of Acacia Wood,” a kind of wood prized by the Israelites, which would be used for items in the temple (including the Ark of the Covenant — Deuteronomy 10:3), and Abel-Mecholah would eventually give birth to the prophet Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). There is still some debate as to exactly where some of these villages are, but they are located on the west of the Jordan river and in between the encampment of the Midianites and the ford to cross the river at Beth-Barah.

We have spoken a great deal about God being the warrior of Israel and that in this and every case, it is God who brings victory, not the might of men. It is important that we be reminded as well of the fact that it is God who either opens the mind or clouds the mind to see Truth. How often it is that we can get frustrated with those unbelievers in our midst that just don’t seem to understand things in the way we do — they just cannot see the Truth as to eternal things around them. The answer has more to do with God not opening their minds than anything else. Indeed, we ought always strive toward making good arguments, but at the same time, the blind will remain blind unless their eyes are opened by a rebirth brought about by the Holy Spirit. So, pray for those with whom you will debate and discuss matters of eternal Truth. Apart from the Spirit, their minds are as muddled as that of the Midianites.

Righteousness from God dependent on Faith

“And that I might be found in him, not having my own righteousness from the Law, but rather through faith in Christ — a righteousness from God that is dependent on faith.”

(Philippians 3:9)

“Therefore, having been justified as a result of faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 5:1)

This is one of the most theologically significant verses in Scripture when it comes to the nature of the righteousness we have in Christ. Paul is making it very clear that the Christian does have a righteousness … a righteousness that comes not from the works of the individual (for our works are surely dung) but instead that comes from Jesus himself — the works of Jesus imputed to the believer. We might even say, on the basis of this text, that this righteousness is a sign that genuine faith has been given to the believer (a sign of rebirth).

I think that it is worth clarifying a distinction here between Paul’s language in this verse and the language he uses in Romans 5:1…namely the distinction between righteousness dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) and justification dikaio/w (dikaio’o). We should note that both are related words, the first being a noun and the second being a verb. They also both deal with a legal standing that one might have before a judge or a court of law. The verb, dikaio/w (dikaio’o) — “to justify” — refers to a pronouncement made by a judge that a person is righteous. The noun, dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — refers to that actual righteousness that a person has which is the basis for the pronouncement by the judge.

Why is this important? It is argued by some (incorrectly so) that the reason those justified are righteous is because of the pronouncement that they are righteous. Yet, that presumes righteousness to be an adjective and not a noun, and thus a description and not a thing. Yet, when the term dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — is used in Paul (and also in the LXX), it is a term that refers to the actual righteousness of the one coming under judgment.

Are we splitting hairs here? At first, it might seem like it, but let me explain a little further. If righteousness is something that is based on the declaration of God as judge, then it has been argued by some that the personal nature of salvation becomes something that God does for a group or a body of people — God declares the church to be righteous…further, your standing before God then relies on the standing of the church and not your own standing before God.

While Jesus did establish the church, our righteousness does not come from the church or our relationship to it. What Paul is teaching here is that God pronounces us to be justified because we are righteous. And why are we righteous? Certainly not because of our own works … they are dung … we are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. God gives rebirth, generates saving faith within us which imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, and then he declares what is so — that we are righteous…not by works of the law, but by the work of Christ. And faith, which Paul writes is the basis on which righteousness stands or falls, comes from and finds its power in Christ.

And folks, that is good news because our works are dung and the church has often misled, falling far short of what Christ instituted it to be. That does not mean that we abandon the church as some in the emergent movement have sought to do, but simply that we recognize that our standing before God is not built on the church. Yet, as people who have been made righteous, we are to work as the church to be salt and light, to disciple the nations, and to tear down the high places that this world has set up to rail against God. We have work to do as the church, work not done in our own strength, but in the strength that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit…and work that is done righteously not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.

Can I Grumble About It?

“Do all this without grumbling or debate,”

(Philippians 2:14)

Oh my. This is where we so often get ourselves in trouble. We know what the right thing is, we know we ought to do it, we don’t want to do it, but since it is the right thing we do it anyway — grumbling the whole time (at least to ourselves!). And here we go, we have the Apostle Paul telling us that we need to count one another’s needs as greater than our own and that we are to be obedient to Christ’s commands in all ways…but also that we are to do so without griping about it. Oh my. For some, I think that griping is a favorite hobby even, but no, not in the life of the Christian.

God’s interest is not just in our right actions. Were that the case, he would never have rebuked the wayward Israelites regarding their sacrifices…even to the point of saying that he hated and detested them. Why? Because their hearts weren’t in the right place. They believed that if they just performed the ritual in the proper way, then God would be pleased with them. God was not. And Paul echoes to us as well, in the Christian church, that God likewise will not be pleased by our service or by our offering of praise if our heart is in the right place.

Note that this also means that Christians don’t have carte blanche in their worship even if their heart is in the right place. for the Christian, the spirit of obedience must be joined with actions of obedience. Both go rightly together and cannot be separated in a life of faith.

And just in case you are wondering, the words that Paul uses here carry exactly the same connotations in English as they do in Greek. The word goggusmo/ß (gongusmos) means to talk about things in a low voice behind people’s backs or behind the scenes, typically in a way that voices a complaint. The word dialogismo/ß (dialogismos) means to debate or dispute someone’s reasoning…to argue about the conclusions of others. As fond of grumbling about our obedience as we might be, this too needs to be put to death in our lives.

True obedience follows a heart that is committed to Christ in all things and no matter the cost. That kind of heart does not typically develop overnight, but happens through training and conscious decisions to honor Christ in all things. It is a reflection of our love to God and his Son, Jesus. And a heart like this is equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Loved ones, embrace it…oh, and embrace it without grumbling or arguing about it…

Jesus is God!

“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 1:19)

The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.

What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.

But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

Come Out of the Closet!

“Now, I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me is rather for the advancement of the Gospel, so that it became known to the whole of the Praetorium and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ and many of the brethren, being persuaded in the Lord through my chains, are even more bold to speak the Word without fear.”

(Philippians 1:12-14)

And this is the end of Paul’s attitude that all experiences are opportunities to glorify God. It is not that Paul gets noticed or honored. It is so that Christ gets noticed and honored and it is lived out in such a way that should encourage other believers to live boldly as well. Thus even in the Praetorium (the Praetorium was the term applied to Roman governmental bodies and thus the Praetorian Guard were those soldiers charged with protecting the government and its officials). Because of the boldness of Paul there are some who are coming to faith even within the ranks of the Roman government and becoming bold in their own testimonies as to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Thus, O Christian, I set these words in front of you once again. Will you strive to be like the Apostle Paul? Will you speak boldly of Christ in whatever context you find God placing you in? Will your testimony be such that it encourages other “closet Christians” to come out of the closets and proclaim the good news that there is salvation from sins in Jesus Christ. Will your testimony of “Repent and believe!” be such that the Holy Spirit will use you in the glorious redemptive work of our Lord? So, Christian, will you do just that? The job of the pastor is not to fill the seats of the sanctuary…if that were the case, we best be entertainers and not preachers, teachers, and exhorters…the job of the Christian is to go out and to witness in such a way that people are receptive to the invitation to come. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration, repentance, and conversion, but will you be such a tool in the Spirit’s hands that he can use you in this glorious task? Paul bids you to follow his model.

Thoughts on Structuring a Discipleship Program

Recently, I was asked for some input on how I would structure a discipleship program if I were to have about 6 months of fairly intensive time to work with a small group of men.  I thought that I would share my initial thoughts here.

 

When I began doing homeless ministry, I spent some time looking at some of the sermons found in the book of Acts to gain some insight into a model to base evangelistic preaching/teaching on.  The model I came up with covered things in this order:  1) God’s glory, 2) man’s fallen state, 3) the work of Christ, 4) the promise of salvation coupled with the hope of ongoing sanctification in this life.

 

Unpackaging this in terms of a longer study would look something like this:

 

I.  God’s Glory

            a.  Who is God?

                        i.  names of God which reflect God’s character

                        ii.  character traits of God 

            b.  What has God done?

                        i.  Creation

                        ii.  Ordaining and Governing history

II.  Man’s Fallen State

            a.  What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

                        i.  the doctrine of the Imago Dei

                        ii.  human dignity as a result of the Imago Dei

                        iii.  the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei (how do we imitate God?)

            b.  What happened when Adam and Eve sinned?

                        i.  Genesis 3

                        ii.  The promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3

                        iii.  Inherited sin guilt and the impossibility of our paying God back that sin debt on our own merit

            c.  How has the fall corrupted and contorted the Imago Dei?

                        i.  Our aversion to the things of God and suppression of the truth

                        ii.  The problem of pain–why do bad things happen to good people?

III.  The Work of Christ

            a.  Who is Jesus and why is a Savior important?

                        i.  the person and character of Christ

                        ii.  the names of Christ

                        iii.  the Old Testament prophesies of Christ

                        iv.  The work of a mediator and paraclete

            b.  How Did Christ save us?

                        i.  the  preexistence of Christ

                        ii.  the humiliation of Christ in life and in death

                        iii.  the exaltation of Christ and his ongoing work as mediator at the right hand of God the Father

IV.  The Promise of Salvation and the Hope of Sanctification

            a.  Who is the Holy Spirit?

                        i.  the person of the Spirit

                        ii.  the work of the Spirit

            b.  What is Faith and how is that tied to salvation?

                        i.  The nature of Faith (Hebrews 11:1)

                        ii.  Regeneration, Conversion, Repentance

            c.  What does it mean to be saved?

                        i.  Justification

                        ii.  Adoption

            d.  What happens next once I am saved?

                        i.  Sanctification as a means to prepare for glory

                        ii.  Living all of life “Coram Deo” or “Before the Face of God”

                        iii.  2 Peter 1:3-11 and adding to the faith as “Partakers of the Divine nature” (untwisting the Imago Dei–like having broken bones set)

                        iv.  The fruit of the Spirit

                        v.  The gifts of the Spirit

                        vi.  Glory

 

Create a Clean Heart in Me: Psalm 51 (part 11)

“A heart that is clean, you must create in me, O God;

and a spirit that is steadfast, you must continually renew in my being.”

(Psalm 51:12 {Psalm 51:10 in English Bibles})

 

Oh, how little man can do on his own!  It is God who providentially equips him to do anything of lasting value.  Artists, composers, architects, writers, musicians, etc… all get their talent from the hand of God—whether they will admit to it or not!  Yet, there is one thing within which man can make no strides of his own—we are not providentially equipped or gifted in this area in any way.  This area God reserves for himself.  And that is the process of saving a man or woman and preparing that person for glory.  Paul poses the question of whether man seeks after God in Romans 3:10-18, and his answer is drawn from scripture, beginning with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 14:1-4.  Does any seek after God?  And scripture gives us a resounding, “NO!”

Oh, beloved, how highly we tend to think of our own actions!  Yet, salvation does not come from our works or from our will, but it comes from the will of God (Romans 9:16) and the exercise of his divine compassion on those he has chosen for his own.  In addition, as we reflect on both parts of salvation—the justifying work of God and the sanctifying work of God—we are reminded that both are again in God’s hands.  One is justified—made right with God in Christ—but only once in life—what God has done and promised to do, he will not relent upon.  Yet, there is an ongoing process of sanctification that is designed to grow us in our holiness, making us more like Christ, to prepare us for glory.  This work is ongoing, and it is a process that will not be complete until you cross over into eternity.  Yes, by seeking to be obedient to scripture and to apply the Ten Commandments to our lives, we participate in the process of our sanctification.  But a tilled field without seeds and rain will still produce nothing but weeds.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of the sins we need to put to death, empowers us to put them to death, and who works in our heart to illumine us toward right living. 

There is a clear recognition of this principle in this verse.  David has two requests of God (they are in the imperative, so do not miss the force of David’s plea to God):  a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.  Yet, the theology of these two requests lies within the verbs.  The first verb is the word, ar:b” (bara), which means, “to create.”  In scripture, this word is only ever used of God and it is only ever used of God’s creative work from nothing.  There are different words that describe when mankind makes something, but creation is limited to the hand of God.  David recognizes that the heart of man is not one that is basically good and just needs some cleaning up.  No!  The heart of man is dark and wretched, putrid and warped.  There is no cleaning up the heart of man, for sin has forever bent it toward evil.  Thus, when God calls a sinner to himself through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God does not simply go into the heart of man and scrub him out with steel wool, but he tears out that old wicked heart and creates a new heart and implants it into the new believer.  This is a once only act and it is an act that no one but God can do.

The contrast, though, is found in the second petition.  David asks that God would renew within him a steadfast spirit.  Rather than being the standard form of the verb (as we found in the first request), the verb is in the “Piel” construct, which implies not only intensification, but ongoing and repeated action.  In other words, in this verse, David is saying, “give me a new heart and never stop sanctifying my soul.”  Oh, were these things that we sought in our own lives!

The question that may be asked is whether or not David was “saved” prior to the writing of these words, for he is asking for a clean heart (something he would already have were he a believer).  Given the remarkable relationship that David had with God from the earliest days of his recorded life, it is hard to argue that he was not a believer.  Yet, even believers can loose their sense of assurance in the wake of grievous sins, which is what I would suggest we are looking at here.  This psalm is David’s desperate cry to God after one of the most wretched sins that a man can commit (adultery and murder of a friend).  How much we can learn from the saints that have gone before us, even in their darkest times.

Loved ones, may these words of David be your continual cry before the Lord.  In Christ you have been given a new and clean heart, but the old man still wages war against you on this side of glory.  That is why you need a daily, even moment by moment, work of the Holy Spirit in your life, to renew your spirit to the glory of God.  Oh, how dependent we are on the work of God in our lives!  And praise the Lord that it is no other way!

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

Leaning, leaning, save and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

-Anthony Showalter & Elisha Hoffman