Marked with God’s Seal

With the rise of AI and related technology, how do you determine whether a photograph or a video clip is authentic? How do you determine whether a product is genuine or a cheap knock off? More importantly, how can you be assured of the genuineness of God’s redemptive work in Christ Jesus? In Ephesians 1:11–14 Paul tells you that you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

God, who works everything according to his plan, has given you an inheritance. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. God works out everything. God has chosen you (or given you an inheritance), but that is part of a broader, sweeping, plan. Verse 11 looks back to verse 4. He works all things according to the purpose of his will. Paul’s emphasis is on God’s planning, ordaining, choosing, activity. Remember that verses 3–14 are one sentence! God’s plan, or decrees, are all-inclusive. Paul tells us God works out everything. Even seemingly insignificant details are included in God’s plan, Matthew 10:29,30. That comforts you in an uncertain world.

“Ephesians 1:11 may be the strongest and most comprehensive statement about God’s absolute sovereignty in the whole of the Bible. He is the One who works all things according to the counsel of his will. This is not a user-friendly universe for all and sundry. But Paul is stressing that, whatever the native tendencies of people and things, God works with and through all that happens.”

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, p. 17

Although even the sinful acts of men are included, God is not sinful! How can the wickedness on earth fit with the plan of a sovereign God? The arch-crime of history was the murder of the God-man, the Messiah. Men were responsible for what they did, but this was certainly part of God’s plan, Acts 2:23; 4:27,28. Yet God is perfectly sinless, James 1:13.

God does more than plan. He carries out his plan. In Christ you have obtained an inheritance. God’s plan is eternal. “The purpose of his will” looks back to his choice “before the creation of the world,” verse 4. God promised his salvation “before the beginning of time,” Titus 1:2. The eternal character of God’s plan means that is not contingent on human activity. God plans because he is the sovereign God. No one can resist his will, Isaiah 46:9,10; Daniel 4:34,35. All that he has planned will be carried out. Satan will resist, men will rebel, but none can stop God’s hand. God carries out his plan in history. God created all things. He oversees all that happens. The focus on the carrying out of the plan is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. First Jews, then Gentiles, were made to hope in him. God’s sovereign goodness is your comfort. You live in a wicked and dangerous world, but it is not out of God’s control. You may go through very difficult situations. You may suffer severely. Remember that God has all things, including you, in his hand. He is carrying out his plan. In Christ you have received your inheritance. God has chosen you for himself. In him you have received your inheritance. Moses, at God’s command, held out to Israel the hope of the inheritance they would receive in the promised land. God has done more than that for you. He has formed you into his people, the body of the risen, glorified Savior.

“Besides our receiving faith at the hand of the Holy Spirit and besides his enlightening of us by his grace… God also secures us in such a way that we do not fall away.”

John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, on Ephesians 1:13–14

Persevere because you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. God has given you his Spirit as a down payment. The Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, active in creation and throughout the Old Testament, before being poured out on the church at Pentecost specifically as the Spirit of Christ. God has chosen you. God’s plan centers, not around man, but his own glory. Yet his plan does include, not just selecting a people in general, but choosing you to be his child. That includes all involved: the sending of Jesus Christ to be your Savior, his perfect life, his death and resurrection in your place. God chose you to be his people. God, who formed you into his people, has sealed you with the promised Holy Spirit. The seal of a monarch was evidence of the authenticity of his document. The presence of the Spirit is God’s assurance that you are his. The Spirit, poured out upon the church at Pentecost, the Spirit who unites you to the Savior, is the guarantee of much more to come. A down payment is in kind. Your resurrection life will be fully characterized by the Holy Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 15. If God has done all this for you, he will not neglect you, he will not let you be overwhelmed by the problems of life. God’s eternal plan has worked itself out in history, and will not be complete until you stand with Christ in glory, praising him for all eternity.

“This Spirit equipped Christ himself for his work, leading him from his conception to his ascension. By his humiliation Christ was exalted to the right hand of he Father, glorified into life-giving Spirit, the acquisitor and dispenser of the Spirit who is now his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. By this Spirit he now also shapes and equips his church. The very first gift that believers receive is already communicated to them by the Spirit, who takes everything from Christ (John 16:14)…. In a word, the Holy Spirit dwells in them and they live and walk in the Holy Spirit….”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pages 251–252

Live to the praise of God’s glory! Cardinal Bellarmine once described the doctrine of the assurance of salvation as the greatest Protestant heresy. Hi concern about assurance reflected a concern of Rome that confidence would remove any motive for obedience. People who are assured of their salvation may be tempted to live wicked lives. Paul won’t let you go there! (Neither did Calvin, who treats sanctification in his Institutes extensively before discussing justification. God’s purpose in his plan is his own glory. God is not constrained by human action or will. His plan does not center around man. God’s purpose is his own glory. That includes even his infinite love for his people. Your salvation centers, not on yourself, but on your God. The glory goes to him, Romans 11:33–36. Respond with praise to God. Thank God that he is in control. Rejoice that his plan includes your salvation. Praise him for his sovereign will. But it is not that you simply praise God from time to time. You are to the praise of his glory. You live to honor him. Live in the trusting obedience that comes from knowing that you are in God’s hand. Live the kind of life that shapes each moment to God’s glory. Rejoice in the rich working of the Spirit who is the down payment, the guarantee of much more to come. The knowledge that God has included you in his plan can give you the strength to resist temptation, to live instead to the glory of the God whose heir you are.

God’s Spirit, working in your life this week, is not just a hint but a guarantee of far greater obedience, far grander worship, which will characterize you when the future inheritance has become a full reality. Rejoice in God’s plan, and live as those who are becoming what God wants you to be.