So far in our study of Ephesians, we’ve been seeing what God has done for us, and it’s quite a bit if you’re keeping count. We received grace and peace as well as every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. He has made us holy and blameless and adopted us because He wanted to. He makes us accepted in the Beloved, redeems us, forgives us, and gives us revelation – He tells us what the world is about, what we’re doing here, where we’re headed, and why sometimes things seem so beautiful in this life and other times they feel so hopelessly broken. And last week we saw that He has given us an inheritance, something to look forward to, in Christ.
But how does all this happen, how do we go from being spiritually destitute sinners to beloved saints? How does the transformation take place?
Well, remember last week we said this opening burst of praise from Paul to God for all that God has done for us, begins by addressing the things God the Father has done in vss 3-6, and then what Christ the Son has done for us in vss 7-12, now this morning we look at how we respond to Christ and what happens with the Holy Spirit in vss 13-14.
Read with me if you will:
Eph 1:13 In Him (that’s Jesus, who we just read about in vss 7-12) you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
So, we have here a chronology, a play by play review of how ordinary human beings become extraordinary, supernatural, saints. And remember that this change is essential to being a Christian. As we have seen in our previous studies of this passage, when we become a Christian God moves us from one condition to another. We are no longer the same. The Bible talks about us being born-again, it talks about us being adopted, it talks about us walking in the Spirit instead of walking in the flesh, being in the light instead of being in the dark.
There are all these references to change, movement from one category to another and they all occur under the umbrella of the term we call salvation or conversion; it is an essential and personal experience. And I mean essential according to it’s most basic definition, this is not hyperbole or exaggeration.
Christianity depends entirely upon individuals having an experience of transitioning from one condition to another. If that transition has not occurred, then you are not a Christian. You can be born into a Christian family, you can be born into a so-called Christian nation, but you cannot be born as a Christian. Every individual must have personal experience of this transformation.
Now, everyone will not have the same experience, by that I mean, the details involved may vary.
Some people will be radically transformed in an single instant. They may have a tremendously powerful experience of salvation in which their entire life is radically altered. They may experience instantaneous deliverance from life-dominating sin. They could go from being an addict to completely sober instantly. They could go from being totally disinterested in spiritual things to an unstoppable evangelist who can’t tell enough people about Christ.
This kind of people tend to have amazing stories of their radical conversion and we drag them out in front of others to share what happened and everybody says, WOW! This is the kind of conversion experience had by Paul, the man who is writing the letter to the Ephesians. He was instantly and radically spun around 180 degrees in life. It’s often a very powerful emotional experience.
But other people are slowly transformed in a way that seems blurry and hazy compared to the clarity of a radical conversion. If the radical conversion occurs in a tight dot, the slow transformation occurs in a broad circle. The famous Christian author C.S. Lewis had this kind of an experience. After his mother, who he loved dearly, died of cancer when he was 9 be became an atheist in response to the grief. But as life went on he was continually surprised by joy, this unexpected experience of a pleasure that shouldn’t be there if the world is just cold biology working itself out. Eventually he became convinced that a god, of some sorts must exist and that God was reaching out him, coming to him even as he tried to ignore God. He writes:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
But at this point all Lewis believed was what most people alive today believe – that there is a god of some sort. A ‘man upstairs.’ Very few people actually deny the existence of some kind of God. But this view, this general agreement that yes, there is a god, is not the same as being a Christian. You can believe in a god without having an experience of salvation or conversion. But you cannot believe in Christ without it.
That moment came two years later for Lewis. One night he was up late talking with two of his closest friends, J.R.R. Tolkein and Hugo Dyson about Christianity and how mythical stories can point us toward deeper truths. It wasn’t the first time they had discussed such topics, but this is the one stuck.
The next day Lewis and his older brother took a trip to the zoo. Lewis was riding in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle and thinking about all these things and at some point he was convinced. In what can only be described as a non-dramatic, non-sensational, practically boring conversion story, he would later write:
“When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”
Pretty bland, right? And yet take a look at the life this boring conversion produced. Here’s a man who went on to define Mere Christianity, or the basics of the Christian faith for an entire generation of people on top of writing nearly 50 other books that become classics for children and Christians of all ages.
The conversion stories of Paul the Apostle and CS Lewis the Oxford scholar are radically different, but both produced lives that had been obviously transformed, there was ‘fruit’ evidence, of the change in their lives, and both came to the change through the same process:
They both trusted in Jesus, after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation; and were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of their (and our) inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
So let’s make a few observations about that process. What is involved?
First, they heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. But those are church words; non-religious people don’t talk like that. So what does it mean? Well, gospel is the Old English way of referring to good news, gōd meant good. And all the back in the year 725 in the famous story of Beowolf you can find the word spell being used to refer to a story or a message. So, gōd spell = good news. And what is the good news about? Paul says you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
OK, but our salvation from what? Sometimes we have to go back and ask the most basic questions to remember what we really believe. I was asked the question this week: can you have Jesus as your Savior, but not your Lord? And my response to that is: well, what is He saving you from? That’s what a Savior does, right? He, saves. This is the gospel, the good news, of our salvation. So, salvation from what?
And the answer is sin.
But what is sin?
The simplest way I can answer that question is: it’s doing what you want to do instead of what God has said. When we make our own choices without any recognition of or submission to God, when we live as though the chief decision making authority in our lives is our own desires and dreams, that’s sin.
We have a lot of freedoms living in America, and that is a good thing at times, it is a great thing, but it can also be a bad thing when it gives us the impression that life really is all about us and our family, our friends, doing what we want, getting what we want, with no acknowledgement of the desires of a holy God who is ever present and has an opinion on things.
There are rules He has given to all humanity. He says things like don’t worship any other gods, not to use His name as a swear word, to honor your father and mother, not to murder other people, not to have sex with someone who is not your spouse, not to steal, not to lie, not to covet things that belong to other people or lust after their spouse.
It’s a pretty good list, and the things on it make sense to most people. We hear things like and say, yeah, that’s pretty good. People should do those things, or not do those things as the case may be.
But here’s the deal: we all recognize it’s a good standard, but what happens when we don’t keep it?
When we break one of these rules given to us by God, what happens? Are there any consequences, is there any punishment? Governments have laws and bad things happen if you break them. Classrooms and schools have rules and bad things happen if you break them. Sports and games and competitions have rules and bad things happen if you break them. Parents have rules and bad things happen if you break them. So, what about God? What should happen if we break His rules?
Bad things. Right?
And in this case, the bad things, means there are sometimes immediate consequences for our sins, but there is always, and for everyone an eternal consequence of suffering in Hell. According to the Bible, Heaven isn’t automatic for everyone. Now, that’s not what most people think, but it’s what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells us there is a punishment for ignoring and breaking God’s rules, and that punishment is called Hell.
But the Good news, the gōd spell, is that we don’t have to go there because Jesus came and was punished in our place. He subbed in for us. He threw Himself on the grenade of God’s wrath and fury and saved us. It all happened on a rugged cross built by Roman soldiers outside the city of Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus laid down His life as a sacrifice for rebellious, defiant, selfish, guilty people like you and me.
And that is why those who believe this message, this good news, are called Christians and not Jesusians. It’s Christianity, not Jesusianity. Because Christ means savior. Jesus was His name, Christ was His role, it’s what He did, He saved us. And now our whole identity as Christians is a reminder of that fact.
If you are a Christian today, it is because at some point in the past someone explained these things to you, “you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” and you believed and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. It may have been a radical conversion in one explosive moment, or it may have been a slow process of realization without a single defining moment, but you can, without a doubt, point to a moment or a season when things changed. There was a before and an after you came to understand the gospel.
And that brings us to the second thing that is involved in our conversion which is, a fantastic collision between free-will and pre-destination. These seemingly incompatible ideas are slammed together in the same breath as Paul praises God. He just finished telling us in verse 11 that we are
predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will
Do you remember that from last week? We said it means that God knew what He wanted, thought about the best way to make it happen, and then did it and nothing could stand in His way. We are predestined to be adopted by Him the Scripture says. But now Paul goes on in the very same breath, in the very same sentence in the original language to say that we have trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
So, which is it? Did God predestine us to salvation or did we hear about salvation and trust and believe it ourselves?
I don’t know exactly how it works, but it seems pretty clear the answer is both. God wanted it to happen, knew it would happen, and made it happen, and yet we who praise the name of Christ apparently willingly went along with it by trusting and believing when the good news was presented to us.
In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that those of us who have heard this good news have an obligation to share it with others – to evangelize, and this is why we are sometimes referred to as ‘evangelicals’ though that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. So, on the one hand, God has predestined people to be saved, but on the other He has commanded others to go and tell everyone who will listen.
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
Matt 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
And in his letter to the church in Rome Paul asks
Romans 10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
God wants to save people. It is His will. But He also wants to us people like you and me to tell them. We get to be His representatives. The Bible refers to us as ambassadors. One of the reasons we’re left on this earth is to spread the good news of what Christ has done and to glorify Him as we trust Him.
And that brings us to the third thing that happens in our conversion – when we believe we are sealed, sealed for the coming redemption.
Eph 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Notice this is a past tense thing – it has already happened to the Christians reading this letter. You were sealed with Holy Spirit.
OK, so what does that mean? Well, first lets think about what seals do, they authenticate and show ownership or authority.
Seals were used in the ancient world in most of the same ways they are today. They would be used on cargo and letters to guarantee the validity and integrity of the contents. So, the Holy Spirit is a seal upon us, closing us up, guaranteeing our contents until we arrive safely home in Heaven.
Seals also speak of ownership and authority. They were used to recognize a finished transaction. Today we still say things like “mark your territory”, “stake your claim”, or “put a ring on it.” These are all ways to show ownership or relationship. This word seal could even be used of branding an animal. Again, it’s putting an external symbol on something to prove that it belongs to or is related to or is under the authority of another.
And that means whatever is bearing the symbol, or whatever has been sealed, is protected by the authority and power of the person represented by the seal.
What does that mean for us? It means anything done to you is something God takes personally. You belong to Him.
Think about how a government would react if someone insulted or physically assaulted their Ambassador. Think how a rancher would react if someone stole his cattle. Christian, you bear the seal of Almighty God. You are His, you were bought with the blood of His Son and now you’re waiting for the time when He picks you up and brings you home.
Eph 1:13 you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is proof to us of what lies ahead, He is “the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” He is proof that God really has accepted us. We really are His.
The idea here is that you put you down proof of your commitment but the project isn’t complete. A good example of this is getting engaged. Paul says here that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. The word for guarantee in Greek is arrabonna. And if you go to Greece today this is the word they still use for an engagement ring.
Now think about that. The Bible tells us that we, as Christians, are looking forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the time when we are joined with Christ forever in Heaven. And right now, we have His engagement ring, the Holy Spirit in our lives. Proof of His commitment to us and what is to come.
In fact, maybe some of you singles might want to cling to that promise – you do have a ring. God has given you one. You have something to look forward to. We all do.
We were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession to the praise of His glory.
Every person who is in Christ, who has been adopted by God, who has been predestined for salvation, who has heard the word of truth, the good news, and trusted it, believed it, responded to it, has all of these promises, right here and right now. And you have even more coming your way. The Bible says:
1 Cor 2:9 “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
All you’re experiencing right now is just the down payment. Things get better, much better, from here.
And if you’re not experiencing this, may I ask, why not? What is keeping you from trusting? What is keeping you from believing?
Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict people of sin, and righteousness and the judgment to come. You’ve been sitting here this morning listening to the gospel, the good news, of what God has done. Will you respond? Will you confess your sins to Him and ask for forgiveness? He’s given you this amazing chance to hear what He says, to learn about who He is, what He is really like, and what He has in store for you. You’re predestined to be here, but now will you trust Him in response?
If so, talk to Him directly. There are no special words, it’s not a formula, or a magic spell, He looks into the depths of your heart and soul and knows what’s really going on. He’s speaking to you. Just respond back with acceptance. Acknowledge your sin, acknowledge His authority, and receive His forgiveness. You might experience something radical, or something mundane, but the Scripture says if
Romans 10:9 if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Let’s pray. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life  22 September 1931.