May 6, 1984
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
Sealed by the Spirit to the Day of Redemption
In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according
to the counsel of his will, 12) we who first hoped in Christ have been destined
and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. 13) In him you also, who have
heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him,
were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14) which is the guarantee of our
inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
God's great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power.
Everything else in life may be unstable -- our health, our family, our job, our
education, our society, our world. At any of these levels you may feel as if you are
out on a ledge forty stories up in an unpredictable wind. You feel yourself losing
balance and falling, and every brick you grab pulls out of its mortar. So let's make
sure we understand this from the outset: when you swore allegiance to Jesus Christ
you signed up for the most dangerous mission in the world. How did Paul describe
it? Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword -- we are
regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (Rom. 8:35-36). Listen to this condensed
autobiography of the apostle:
Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have
been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent
journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people,
danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea,
danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night,
in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from
other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches
(2 Cor. 11:25-28).
How could a man so frequently subject to danger, so opposed from every side, so
weak with hunger and sleeplessness -- how could he avoid a nervous breakdown?
And not only avoid a nervous breakdown, but be so stable and powerful in his soul
as to carry the weight of many floundering mission churches and write letters that
changed world history and dream as an old man of yet reaching Spain with the
gospel! The stability and power of the apostle Paul came from one great discovery:
that God's desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power
even if everything else in the world is uncertain. That's what I want you to feel today
as a child of God.
One of the great obstacles to the enjoyment of this security is the apparent
contradiction found in so many New Testament scriptures. Just when we start to
feel that we are eternally secure in his love, along comes a passage of scripture that
threatens us and seems to rob us of security. And I don't think there will be any
deep, abiding sense of security in God until we own up to these passages of
scripture and see how they relate to the assurance of God's love and power.
For example, take this sampling from nine New Testament books. Romans 11:20-
21, "Unbelieving Israelites were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand
fast only through faith. So do not become proud but fear. For if God did not spare
the natural branches, neither will he spare you." 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let anyone
who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." Also 15:2, "I preached to you the
gospel … by which you are saved if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain." 2
Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourself to see whether you are holding to your faith.
Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless you fail to
meet the test!" Galatians 6:9, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due
season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." Philippians 2:12, "Work out your
salvation with fear and trembling." Colossians 1:21-23, "You who were estranged …
Christ has reconciled … in order to present you holy and blameless … provided that
you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the
gospel." Hebrews 12:14, "Strive for peace and for the holiness without which no one
will see the Lord." 1 Peter 1:17, "If you invoke as Father him who judges each one
impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time
of your exile." Revelation 2:10, "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of
All of these passages teach that the test of genuineness for the Christian is
perseverance in faith and holiness of life. They warn us that the attempt to offer
security apart from lasting faith and loving lives is perilous. We might succeed and
give someone security at the price of destruction.
But it would be a terrible misunderstanding if we thought that these scriptures were
written to threaten our security in God. Exactly the opposite is the case. They are
written to threaten our security in everything but God. If you find your security in
health, the Bible is a threat to you. If you find your security in your family or job or
money or education, the Bible is a threat to you. And in threatening all these utterly
inadequate foundations of security, the Bible drives us relentlessly and lovingly back
to the one and only eternal and unshakable foundation for security -- God. All the
threats and warnings of the Bible declare with one voice: sin is an effort to feel
secure in anything other than God.
Therefore, when God demands on the one hand, "Turn from sinning or you will die,"
and on the other hand, "Feel eternally secure in my love, and you will live," he is not
demanding two different things. Sin is what you do when you replace security in
God with the other things. So when God threatens our feelings of security in the
world, it's because he wants us to feel secure in his love and power. The threats and
promises of Scripture have one message: seek your security in God alone.
Now let's look at this morning's text and see one of the clearest statements that
God's great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and power. Eph.
"We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the
praise of his glory. In him you also who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of
your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy
Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,
to the praise of his glory."
The first and most important thing to see in these three verses is that they begin
and end with God's ultimate purpose to glorify himself.
Verse 12: "We were destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory." Verse
14: he has guaranteed our inheritance to the praise of his glory. The most basic fact
you can say about the righteousness of God is that he has an unwavering
commitment to his own glory. Everything he does he does to heighten the intensity
with which his people praise him for his glory.
The second thing to see is that the people whose inheritance God guarantees are
the people who believe the gospel (v. 13). ("You who have believed were sealed.")
There is a direct connection between believing God's word and living for the praise of
his glory. One of the greatest ways to honor people is to trust them. And since God
is committed to his own honor above all things, therefore he is utterly committed to
those who trust him.
Therefore, the third thing to see from this text is just what you would expect.
Since God does all things for the praise of his glory, and since believing his word
magnifies that glory, therefore God takes decisive steps to secure for himself the
magnification of his glory forever: he seals the believer with the Holy Spirit, and
guarantees that we will come to our inheritance praising his glory. God is so
passionately committed to having a people for his own possession who live for ever
for the praise of his glory that he is not about to let our eternal destiny depend on
our native powers of willing or doing. He commissions his Holy Spirit to enter our
lives and to make us secure forever.
There are two great words here that aim to help us feel secure in God's love and
power: the word "sealed" and the word "guarantee." Let's see if we can unseal this
word "sealed" and look inside.
What does it mean that believers have been sealed by the Holy Spirit (v.
The word is used at least three different ways in the New Testament.
1) In Mt. 27:66, the tomb of Jesus was secured by sealing it and putting guards
around it. In Revelation 20:3 God throws Satan into a pit and seals it over so he
can't escape. So one meaning is locking something up, closing it in.
2) Another is found in Romans 4:11 where Abraham's circumcision is called the
sign and seal of the righteousness he had by faith. And in 1 Cor. 9:2 Paul says
that his converts are the seal of his apostleship. So a second meaning of sealing
is giving a sign of authenticity.
3) A third meaning is found in Revelation 7:3 where the seal of God is put on the
forehead of God's servants to protect them from the wrath coming upon the world.
So what did Paul mean in Eph. 1:13 when he said that believers are sealed
with the Holy Spirit?
No matter which of these meanings you use the basic truth is the same.
1) If the Spirit seals shut, the point must be that he seals in faith and seals out
unbelief and apostasy.
2) If the Spirit seals us as a sign of authenticity, then he is that sign and it is the
Spirit's work in our life which is God's trademark. Our eternal sonship is real and
authentic if we have the Spirit. He is the sign of divine reality in our lives.
3) Or if the Spirit marks us with God's seal he protects us from evil forces which
won't dare to enter a person bearing the mark of God's own possession.
However you come at this message contained in this word "sealed" it is a
message of safety and security in God's love and power.
God sends the Holy Spirit as a preserving seal to lock in our faith, as an
authenticating seal to validate our sonship, and as a protecting seal to keep out
destructive forces. The point is that God wants us to feel secure and safe in his love
The other word Paul uses to drive this home is the word "guarantee" in verse 14.
"You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit which is the guarantee of our
inheritance." Noël and I ran out of gas at the intersection of 66th and Penn on
Thursday. I ran up the street to Al's service station and got a can with two dollars'
worth of gas and said I would be right back and buy 15 dollars' worth. But I had to
leave my driver's license. Why? Because it was a guarantee I would come back and
finish my business. They knew that driver's license was valuable enough to me to
give them a sense of security that I would come back with their can and pay for my
So then, what is God saying to us when he gives us his Holy Spirit and calls
him a guarantee or a downpayment?
He is saying, "My great desire for those who believe in me is that you feel secure in
my love. I have chosen you before the foundation of the world. I have predestined
you to be my children for ever. I have redeemed you by the blood of my Son. And I
have put my Spirit in you as a seal and a guarantee. Therefore, you will receive the
inheritance and praise the glory of my grace for ever and ever. And I tell you this
here in Ephesians chapter one because I want you to feel secure in my love and my
power. I don't promise you an easy life. In fact, through many tribulations you must
enter the Kingdom (Acts 14:22). I don't promise always to speak in soft tones of
approval, but to warn you in love whenever you begin to seek security in anything
but me," says the Lord.
"Let me say it again: I have chosen you," says the Lord. "I have predestined you; I
have redeemed you; I have sealed you by my Spirit. Your inheritance is sure,
because I am passionately committed to magnify the glory of my grace in your
When peace like a river attendeth your way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever your lot -- I have taught you to say,
It is well, it is well, with your soul.