The Presence of the Spirit
October 22, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
Paul, In Ephesians 1:3-14, clearly lists incredible blessings “in Christ”, and then gives us two markers to assure us that we are truly “in Christ”.
A. There are incredible blessings in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-11)
- Heavenly blessings: The spiritual world is a place of blessing where Jesus won ultimate victory over Satan, who may be still active in the world, but we need fear because of believers’ spiritual armor.
- Chosen: If we are in Christ, God the Father chose us before we were born.
- Purity: Our position is that we are blameless in God’s sight. Our experience is that God is moving us as believers toward purity and away from sin.
- Adoption: Through God’s Son, each of us is adopted with the same status as Jesus. When the Father looks at us He sees Jesus.
- Family: In Christ, we were not just adopted; we were adopted into a spiritual family.
- Redemption: Christ as a human ransomed us from our sin, paid the price (his blood) to secure our release.
- Forgiveness: Because Christ was human He could pay for our sin. Because He was divine, He could pay for everyone’s sins once and for all, bringing us into His family. In experience, when we continue in disobedience, we still need discipline, repentance, and forgiveness.
- Insight: Through Christ, we have insight into God’s big-picture view of history with meaning, purpose, and hope because God plans to renew all things through Christ and place all things under His headship so that this world can be what it was meant to be.
- Purpose: In Christ, we each are given gifts to play a role with meaning and purpose in building His Kingdom.
- Release: In Christ, in the future, we will be done with sin and the brokenness of this world so that we can experience complete freedom in the new creation as children of God.
- Inheritance: In Christ, we have an inheritance (Eph. 1:11a). We are joint heirs with Christ’s victory, resurrection, authority and we will inherit His Kingdom.
- Providence: In Christ, God is working for our good through and in ALL the events of our lives “according to the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:11b). We are not alone.
B. Evidences that these blessing belong to us (Ephesians 1: 13,14).
- Belief: Most of the blessings above we cannot perceive. Our own faith, where God helps us to turn our wills in trust to Him, assures us that we are “in Christ” (Eph.1:13). We may not have figured it all out, but we believe and commit our lives to the Gospel story of redemption and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
- The Holy Spirit’s presence: The Holy Spirit’s presence in our daily lives assures (seals) us that we are in Christ (Eph.1:13,14; Romans 8:9). Some experience the Spirit strongly; others of us need to pay attention, listen, and look for the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
- Which blessings listed by Paul in Ephesians 1 are most important to you at this point of life?
- What would it be like to live in light of these blessings (Phil.4:8) instead of the tyranny of our daily crises? Is it even possible?
- Have you, or at what point did you turn your will to trust in God to become His child? And now, can you get past your doubts and failures to daily trust in Him to transform you?
- How specifically has the Holy Spirit proven Itself in your life? In the past and present.
- Are you convinced that you are truly “in Christ”? Does Ephesians 1 help you?
I want to read from the New International Version, a little bit more literal of a translation, the passage that Beau and Kelley read earlier – this doxology that Paul gives us in Ephesians 1:3-14. This is the last time we will read it. As I read it, I want these words to cover you. I want them to soak into you and find their way into your heart. I want them to change the way you look at yourself, and the way you look at God, and the way you look at the world. No matter what kind of week you have had – whether it’s been a spiritual high, whether it’s been more like warfare in the trenches, whether you feel great about yourself or terrible about yourself, whether it was a delight to come to church this morning or a struggle – just let these words soak into your soul. Christian, listen to what God has done for you – Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
– Ephesians 1:3-14
If you’re new around here, let me say this sermon is not going to be a standard, stereotypical Perry Creek sermon! We don’t usually read the passage that we are going to preach on three times in three different translations! I usually start with an introduction – some sort of captivating story or really funny joke to warm us up to the passage. Today’s sermon is going to be unusually content-heavy. There are a lot of theological terms in this passage. There is a lot of insider Christian speak and a lot of theological shorthand. So we are going to have lots and lots of content! This passage that we’ve been looking at over the last three weeks is a beautiful description of what we believe God has done for us in Christ. I want that passage to soak into us this morning. I really want us to get what the Apostle Paul, who wrote this, is saying in these verses, because Paul is showing us our blessings in Christ. So let’s just jump in. My first point is simple:
There Are Incredible Blessings in Christ
As we have talked about this passage over the last few weeks – as Beau, and Kelley and I have read it to you today – you can see that there are incredible spiritual blessings in Christ. If you are in Christ, you have already received amazing benefits – some of which you probably were not even aware of and some of which you may not fully understand, but they are blessings. Paul certainly doesn’t list all of our blessings in Christ here. There are many others, but he does list many of them here. In fact, in the first seven verses of this passage – the verses we’ve already looked at – Paul lists ten blessings of those who are in Christ. Some of these we’ve looked at in detail. Some we haven’t. Let me just go over these quickly:
1. Heavenly Blessing. The first one is that through Christ the heavenlies, the spiritual world, has become a place of blessing. We talked about this at length. Jesus has won the victory over Satan and his spiritual forces. Though they are still active in the world, they don’t need to be feared any longer. God has given us ultimate victory. If we are in Christ, He has given us armor and weapons for the battle that the forces of evil cannot defeat. Through Christ, the heavenlies are a place of blessing.
2. Chosen. If you are in Christ, you were personally chosen by God, the Father, before the world began. He set his affection on you. Before the world was created – before Christ died – before you were born – before you chose God, He chose you. He pursued you to bring you to Christ. That’s a deep truth, and one that none of us fully understands. It is a humbling, awe-inspiring truth that has changed my life! It makes me love God all the more! He chose us.
3. Purity. If you are in Christ, Paul tells us that God chose you so that you could become holy and blameless before him. In other words, God is moving you toward purity and away from sin. Some of you have a particular sin that just eats your lunch. Maybe it’s a habit, or an addiction, or maybe a sinful response to certain circumstances. You long to be set free from that sin and to end your struggle with it. Well listen, God is already on that. He is going to work in your life to keep moving you – sometimes gently, sometimes very firmly – away from that sin and towards purity until you are holy and blameless in his sight. You are already holy and blameless in Christ. Now God will work to make that not just your position, but your experience as well. He has given us purity.
4. Adoption. Paul says that God predestined us to be adopted as his Sons. Now that may sound a little strange at first. We may expect Paul to say that God has adopted us as his sons and daughters. That’s what would make sense to us. But the language Paul uses here is very deliberate. He says “adopted as his Sons.” The reason he says that is not that he’s sexist. Rather, Paul is pointing out that it is through the Son – through Christ – that each of us is adopted. If you are in Christ, God has given you the status of his own son Jesus. When it comes to our family relationship – our standing before him, when God looks at us He sees Jesus. God has become a loving Father to us! We are adopted through Jesus. That means we get the fifth benefit, which is:
5. Family. In Christ, you weren’t just adopted. You were adopted into a family. Some of you have really found Jesus for the first time right here at Perry Creek. You’ve noticed that there is kind of a family feel around here. That’s not by accident. We are your spiritual family. Sorry about that, but we’re it! Complete with crazy aunts and uncles and hyperactive nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters that can love you like nobody’s business one minute and drive you crazy the next! Seriously, in Christ you have a family – a place you belong!
6. Redemption. In Christ, we have redemption. We talked about this at length last week. Christ redeemed us. He ransomed us. He paid a price to secure our release. Paul tells us the price Jesus paid was his blood. Because he became human, Christ could willingly sacrifice his life in our place – paying the penalty for our sin. That is the basis for our next blessing, which is:
7. Forgiveness. Because Christ was human, he could pay for my sin. Because he was divine, he could pay for all of my sins and for all of your sins. There is more than enough grace to cover all your sins. All your sins – past, present, and future – are already paid for by Jesus’ death. Now when I say our sins are all forgiven, that doesn’t mean that God automatically approves of all my behavior. It doesn’t mean I never need to confess my sin or deal with it. Part of what it means to have God as our Father – part of what it means for him to move us towards purity – is that he does discipline us. There are times when disobedience needs to be dealt with, so I may need to confess my sins and repent. But those times don’t change my status of being in the family. That’s not at risk. In Christ, we have forgiveness.
8. Insight. In Christ, Paul tells us that we have insight into God’s big-picture purpose for this world. It is through Christ that we have that. Did you know that? That’s one of the main differences between the Christian view of history and a sort of secular view. To the Christian, history is meaningful. It has a purpose. There’s hope! Scripture tells us where this world came from, and why it’s here, and where it’s going to. God has a plan. His plan is to renew all things through Christ and to place all things under the headship of Christ, so that this world can be what it was made to be! We have insight into his plan. Because of that, we have:
9. Purpose. In this bigger story of God renewing the world and placing it under Christ, we each have a role to play. We are given giftings that are not random to help us build up the body of Christ. We are given resources that can be used to further his kingdom. This is our ultimate purpose. This is what we’re here for. We’re not here just to be comfortable or to build a big pile of stuff. We are here to build Christ’s Kingdom, and that’s where our ultimate purpose and meaning are derived. We have a purpose.
10. Release. Remember last week, we said that redemption means to secure the release of someone by paying a price. We said there are two parts to redemption: The payment part – which we see in forgiveness – and the release part. In Christ, in the future we are going to experience the release of redemption. There is a time when the Bible says we will be revealed for who we truly are in Christ. We will experience what the Bible calls “the freedom of the Sons of God.” There will be a time when we will be done with sin and with the brokenness of this world. You and I will be able to experience life as we were meant to experience it in the new creation.
Look at that list. That’s a lot of blessings. That’s ten points! You guys didn’t think I could do that did you? Some of you thought I would explode if I didn’t do three points! It’s a lot!
Paul’s not done yet! As we come to our passage today. Paul lists two more blessings for us. Look at verses 11-12. The New International Version puts it this way:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
– Ephesians 1:11-12
There are two other benefits that I see in those verses. I’m going to be brief here, because I really don’t want you to go into a coma! The first is what I would call:
Look at the first half of verse 11. The New International Version says “in him we were chosen.” Now when we first read that, it may sound an awful lot like what Paul said earlier in verse 4 of this chapter. Paul said
God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
– Ephesians 1:4
So when we read the New International Version translation, it may sound like Paul is simply repeating himself here in verse 11. But he’s actually not. Paul uses a completely different Greek word here in verse 11 than he used in verse 4. This word relates not so much to the act of choosing as it does to obtaining an inheritance. In fact, the English Standard Version, which some of you may have, translates it this way: “In him (that is, in Christ) we have obtained an inheritance.”
Now there’s a lot of technical information behind that that we don’t have time to go into, but let me just say we have an inheritance in Christ. The Bible says that Christians are actually joint-heirs with Christ – meaning that on some level what he inherits we inherit.
- His victory becomes our victory
- His resurrection becomes our resurrection
- His authority, becomes the authority by which we will rule in eternity and we will inherit his Kingdom.
It’s a rich truth. I wish I understood it better. I wish we had more time to talk about it. In Christ, we have inheritance. Now the last blessing Paul lists in verses 1-13 is this:
Look at what Paul says in the second half of verse 11 again:
In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. Again, this is similar language to what Paul has said earlier in this passage. Only this time, he says this is all done “according to the plan of the One who works all things according to the purpose of his will.”
In this verse, Paul just piles up one word after another that relates to God’s Sovereignty – his control over events. There’s a lot we could say, but the basic takeaway for the Christian is this: God is working through the events of your life. The old Puritans used to call it “Providence.” It means that if you are in Christ, you are not alone in this world. Do you know what a blessing that is? You are not alone! Events in your life aren’t random! God is working all things for you after the counsel of his own will.
Now that doesn’t mean that God causes every single thing that happens in your life. It doesn’t mean that if you accidentally put on one blue sock and one brown sock that God caused you to do that. It doesn’t mean that if you get cancer, God gave it to you.
He doesn’t cause everything, but he does oversee everything. He has the ability to control, to manage, to supervise everything. So if we are in Christ, we can be assured that God is working in the events of our lives – both the pleasant events and the unpleasant events – for our eternal good. We’re not alone. He is working for our good in his providence.
OK, so those are the blessings – twelve blessings that Paul lists for us in Christ here. That’s a lot! A lot of content. Look at that list again. Do you see that? Christian, you need to know something: All of these things – all these blessings – belong to you in Christ. If you are in Christ, they are yours! They belong equally to every Christian! This list isn’t based on how long you’ve been a Christian, or whether you are super-gifted, or whether you know your Bible forward or backward. These blessings – all twelve of them – and more, many, many more – are yours if you are in Christ. There are incredible blessings in Christ.
But that raises an important question. A question that each and every one of us needs to ask. The question is this: How do you know? How do you really know whether you have these blessings or not? Think about it. Some of these blessings – in fact most of these blessings – are not things that you can perceive. You can’t see whether God chose you before the foundation of the world. You can’t see your adoption into his family. You can’t see your redemption, or God’s plan, or your future inheritance. So how do you know if these things really belong to you? There are incredible blessings in Christ. How do you know if you are in Christ?
Paul knows that’s an issue. He knows we need assurance of that. So at the end of this passage, this doxology, he moves from the general concept of these blessings to the actual experience of his readers. He gives them two evidences – two markers – that they can look for in their lives to see if they are in Christ and, therefore, whether these blessings really, truly belong to them (and ultimately, this shows us whether they belong to us). So my second point today is:
Evidences That These Blessings Belong To Us
Two ways of knowing that we are in Christ and that these blessings are ours. In verse 13, Paul moves from the general concept of these blessings to the Ephesians actual experience. Look at what he says:
And you also were included in Christ how do they know? when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
– Ephesians 1:13-14
How do they know they have the blessings in Christ? How do we know? Paul gives two evidences:
Look at verse 13 again. Paul says:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed,
– Ephesians 1:13
They know that they are in Christ by faith. They have believed. They have come to the conclusion that they need a Savior and responded to this gospel call to place their trust in Christ. They are depending on him to make them right before God and save them. They believe that he will do that. They believe.
Let me ask you a question: Do you believe? Do you believe this gospel that we proclaim here at Perry Creek? Do you really believe it’s true? For some of you, that may be an easy answer. You know that you believe. Others of you, if you’re being honest, may have to think a little more. It’s an important question. I will never ask you a more important question than the simple question: “Do you believe the gospel?”
Now notice I didn’t ask: “Do you have it all figured out?” You may have questions about some of the things you read in the Old Testament. Or about the people who have never heard the gospel. Or about how the fossil record fits with the Bible. Or about some of the things you’ve seen Christians do. You may have questions. That’s OK. I have questions about some of the same things.
But I didn’t ask if you have questions. I asked “Do you believe the gospel?” Do you believe this basic narrative of the Bible? I’ve said it before, the Bible fits together. It’s not a bunch of random writings, like some other holy books. It’s not a list of rules. It’s one big story of how we were created in the image of a loving perfect Creator. But we’ve sinned. We’ve disobeyed him. We’re not what He made us to be. But He sent his Son Jesus to show us what God made us to be and to die in our place on the cross. God raised Jesus from the dead to show us that he was innocent and that we could share in his resurrection life.
That’s the basic story line of the Bible. Like I said: “I’ll never ask you a more important question than whether you believe that.” Because if the answer is “Yes, I believe” then the Bible would say that all these blessings belong to you. You don’t have to work for them. You don’t have to engage in ceremonies or earn them in any way. If the answer is “yes,” you have God’s blessing, God’s family, God’s forgiveness, God’s purpose for your life, God’s guiding providence. But if the answer is “no,” Scripture would say you have none of these.
Some of you are learning about this. You’ve just become familiar with the gospel story, and you are weighing it. That’s OK. But I want to be clear. There’s really no half-measure here. It’s OK to have questions, but in the end, you either believe the gospel or you don’t. You have heard the gospel. You know the story. If it’s true, God has given that which is most precious to him. He has given the life of his Son. He has nothing more to give.
He asks one basic thing of you: Your faith. If you won’t give that, none of this can be yours. It’s all just a fairy tale to you. But if you believe it – although you may have questions, although you will not be perfect, although you may struggle with doubt – the Bible says all of these blessings belong to you! The first evidence that we are in Christ is our faith. But there’s a second evidence given in this passage and that is:
2. The Holy Spirit’s Presence
Look at verse 13b-14 again. Here’s what happened once the Ephesians believed: Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession to the praise of his glory. Paul compares the Holy Spirit to a seal here. A seal can serve many purposes. A seal can protect the contents of something, so it’s not tampered with. A seal can certify the genuineness of what’s inside, like a seal of approval. But more than anything else, in the way Paul is using it here, the seal is a mark of ownership. It shows who something truly belongs to.
The other day I was accused of stealing something. I was in the Pillar office when Zach Nelson, one of the other guys there, came in and saw a book on my desk that he thought was his. He said “Oh, you borrowed my book – did you like it?” I said “I don’t think that’s your book, Zach.” He said “I’m pretty sure it is. Mine has a really unusual cover just like this.” Then he looked in the book and he really got alarmed, because I had highlighted it and scribbled notes all over it! He accused me of theft, which is fair. They say most Christians are great bookeepers!
Do you know how we settled the argument? Zach has a seal. He has a stamp that he marks all his books with to show that they are his. That seal was not on that copy of the book, but it was on another copy of the book that we found later in Zach’s office! My point is this: that seal was a clear reminder of who that book belongs to. Could we have figured that out without the seal? Probably, but that seal is an easy, quick, clear way to tell who the owner is.
Paul says that our seal – the clear reminder of our ownership – the thing that marks us off as believing in God – is the Holy Spirit. Aside from belief, the clearest evidence that we are in Christ is the Holy Spirit.
It’s always been that way! Since Jesus left this earth, the clearest evidence of who belongs to him has been the Holy Spirit. That’s how the church started at Pentecost. They were marked with the Holy Spirit. If you read the book of Acts – when the gospel spread to the Jews in Samaria – the Holy Spirit fell on them and everyone knew they belonged to Christ. The same thing happened when the Gentiles accepted Christ. If you read the story, Peter didn’t want to go to the Gentiles. He thought the gospel was only for Jews and people who had converted to Judaism. So God had to send him a vision three times and a group of guys to take him to the Gentiles to get him to go. He was reluctant! But as he preached, the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles. They began to praise God and speak languages they didn’t know. The Bible tells us that once Peter and the disciples saw that, they immediately knew that those Gentiles belonged to Christ!
Now my point is just this: The Holy Spirit’s presence in your life assures you that you are in Christ and that all these blessings are yours. Aside from belief, the clearest evidence that we are in Christ is the Holy Spirit. In fact, Romans 8:9 says “If anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” The Spirit is our seal.
At this point, some of you are extremely happy! You have experienced the Holy Spirit in a very strong way, and you know exactly how he shows up in your life! I think of Obbie Clemmons. That woman loves the Holy Spirit. He is active in her life! I have had her pray special prayers for me through the Holy Spirit. I have had her write me – or tell me – things that I am going through that she could not possibly know. When I ask her: “How did know that?” She’ll say “The Holy Spirit told me.”
Some of you are like that. You have a strong experience of the Holy Spirit, and he confirms that you are in Christ! But others of you may have a different experience. Maybe you’re a little concerned right now. You haven’t spoken in tongues. You’ve never done anything miraculous. You wonder “How would I see the Holy Spirit in my life?” Well, you’ve got to pay attention to the Spirit. The Bible tells us again and again to be spiritually minded. You’ve got to look for the Holy Spirit’s activity in your life and listen for his voice.
If you do, you’ll see the Holy Spirit doing in your life – some of the things that Scripture says he will do for the Christian. You may experience the Holy Spirit in prayer, when prayer transforms your heart or your mindset as you are talking things out with God (Comforter). That’s the Holy Spirit! He will do that for you! Or maybe he will give you a very clear, very specific answer to prayer. You may experience the Holy Spirit as he opens your eyes to spiritual truth. The Bible says “The natural man does not receive the things of God,” but the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to spiritual truth while we are reading our Bibles or in the middle of a sermon like this. The Spirit can do that. The Holy Spirit may convict you of sin. Everybody has a conscience. There have been a couple of times in my life when I believe the Holy Spirit directly told me to stop doing something, and I knew that was God! The Holy Spirit does that. The Holy Spirit may give you a special love or special compassion for someone. Doug and Kathy Starkey are back from Mexico. I’m guessing that they experienced the Holy Spirit this week as they served people in the name of Jesus.
If you are a believer in Christ, there are many ways that the Holy Spirit will manifest himself in your life. He will do all these things and more. I’ve tried not to mention spectacular manifestations of the Spirit, because I don’t want you thinking that unless you do miracles, the Holy Spirit isn’t in you. But if we learn to see the Spirit and respond to him, not only will he do more in our lives as we yield to him more and more. But he will also confirm our faith. As we see the Spirit – as we recognize the way that God is moving in our lives and transforming us – we will know that we belong to Christ. We will know that we are in him. We will know that these blessings are ours.
If you’ve never paid attention to the Spirit, why not? Why not ask him to guide you? Why not ask him to change you? If you’re unsure about your faith, why not ask him to reveal spiritual truth to you?
There are incredible blessings in Christ. We know those blessings are ours through two things:
- Belief, and
- The Holy Spirit