Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/14/97
Today we bring to a close our study of "The Great Blessing," this grand overture to the Book of Ephesians, this single sentence in Greek that runs from v. 3-14. We have seen how it gives us God's eternal purpose to sum up all things in Christ through the salvation of sinful men. We've seen how it gives us the harmonious working of the whole Trinity to acheive that purpose: the Father in election, predestination, and adoption (v. 3-6); the Son in redemption and revelation (7-12); and the Spirit in conviction, calling, regeneration, and sealing 13-14). For the last couple of weeks we have looked at the role of the Holy Spirit in the great miraculous work God does to make us Christians. Having opened our ears to hear the Gospel, having brought us to faith, He seals us. We saw last week the function of seals, to protect and to authenticate. So we saw that the effects of the work of the Holy Spirit--conviction of sin, love for the Bible, faith, a spirit of glad submission to the Lordship of Christ, increasing and substantial (though not yet perfect) victory over sin, confidence in prayer, love. boldness in witnessing, the Fruit of the Spirit--are God's seal, attesting to us and to the observing world that our Christianity is genuine. Today in v. 14 we see another aspect of our sealing with the Holy Spirit: He thereby becomes the pledge of our redemption, i.e., the earnest and surety of our future inheritance.
Paul's thesis is this: Just as the work of the Holy Spirit is God's seal of authenticity assuring us that our present experience of Him is genuine, so also it is the pledge of our security for the future. The question is this: How do I know that I will finally be saved and come into the full possession of eternal life? I know that salvation is by faith, but I also know that I am by nature fickle and undependable. What if I do not persevere in faith unto the end? The answer is that perseverance itself also does not depend on me alone but on the ongoing work of the God who saved me in the first place. His seal, the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, is also the pledge that the work begun will be successfully completed (Phil. 1:6).
What is the exact nature of the pledge given? An ARRABON is an earnest, a down payment, a first installment which initiates the contract and binds one to complete or fulfill it. In modern Greek, it interestingly means an engagement ring. In the ancient papyri, it is a non-refundable deposit which closes the deal. If the purchaser fails to complete the payments, it is forfeited. If he does complete them, if he fulfills the contract, it counts as the first payment. Therefore, what Paul is saying by using this word is that when God gives the Holy Spirit, it is the first installment of "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" whereby he obligates himself to finish the transaction.
In other words, if you have (even faintly) the seal of the Spirit; if the ongoing work of the Spirit as we saw it last week is present in your life; if you know the conviction of sin, have a love for the Word of God, have faith in Christ as savior and lord, have known a different relationship to sin than the one of abject thrall you knew before your conversion, if you have a boldness in prayer and witness that you did not know before, if you love God and other believers, if your life is focussed on the glory of God, if you have, even in embryonic form the Fruit of the Spirit growing in you, then not only do you know that this is authentic and genuine Christian faith, but you may also be confident that God will keep you for final salvation through that same work of the Holy Spirit that you have already begun to experience.
The implications of such an Earnest are staggering. It means that if you are a true Believer, God has committed himself in the strongest possible way to your final salvation. Clearly, the more precious the pledge made, the greater the commitment that is expressed thereby. If I say, "If I don't keep my promise you can have a dollar," how much confidence does this give you? But if I sign a legal document giving you the title to my house and my car if I do not come through, you can be pretty sure I am going to show up and do what I said. Well, God has already given his Son for us. Now He also pledges His Holy Spirit. Remember: the ARRABON is a non-refundable deposit. It is forfeited if the purchase is not completed. So if the Holy Spirit is the down payment on your soul, this means that if God allows a Believer sealed with the Holy Spirit to go to Hell, the Holy Spirit would have to go to Hell. That is unthinkable. Therfore, do not fear! God will do whatever it takes to see to it that Phil. 1:6 is not made into a lie, to see to it that you persevere in faith and finally come to Heaven. Having committed both His Son and His Spirit, He is not going to turn back now.
Therefore, the Christian should approach the Christian life and spiritual warfare with supreme confidence in God. We are paralyzed until the issue of our own salvation, our relationship with God, is settled, for apart from Him we can do nothing. If it depended on OUR faithfulness, the assurance of salvation would never be attainable. But if it depends on GOD'S faithfulness, and on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, then lift up your heads! Your redemption draweth nigh. His commitment to bringing you to glory is unwavering, unflinching, or the highest order imaginable.
But you must understand clearly the ground of this assurance. This is not a doctrine of "Once saved, always saved," if by that you mean that having made a profession of faith you are eternally secure regardless of whether you persevere and continue in the faith. Rather, the ground of this assurance is the earnest of our inheritance which is the Seal of the Holy Spirit. The question is not whether you have ever "had an experience" or ever made a profession. The question is do you NOW know the conviction of sin, love for the word, faith in Christ as savior and Lord, victory over sin, love for God and the brethren, access in prayer, a compulsion to witness, the Fruit of the Spirit? Then I would say that not only is this real Christianity, but it is also the proof that God will never, ever, ever let you go. It is God's pledge that you will receive the full inheritance. But if not: while I have no right to judge, I must tell you that you have no biblical right to any ASSURANCE of salvation.
What then are the implications of the Earnest for the Christian life? That it is time for Christ's witnesses to stop slinking around on tiptoe and start marching boldly with definite strides behind the banner of the Cross, with the boldness that can only come from a well grounded and warranted assurance. It is no accident that this Epistle which begins with Sealing and the Earnest ends with the Spiritual Armor. The foundations are crumbling. This is no time for the trumpet to issue an uncertain sound or for Christian soldiers to be tentative in their warfare.
The earnest is a key to victory, for it is the first installment IN KIND on all the realities of heaven. It means that in the work of the Holy Spirit, we are already living in the power of the Age to Come. Imagine a missionary in a tropical jungle who has a refridgerator powered by a solar battery. He tells the natives, "I can make water as hard as a rock." The natives do not understand, for they are still living in the stone age. But the missionary is already living, even in their midst, in the power of the 20th century. This is the perfect picture of the Christian surrounded by worldlings. Love, joy, and peace are to them as inconceivable as ice. And they will continue to scoff at these claims until we open up the freezer and place the cube in their hands!
The world is not interested in our Christ because they have seen so little of what He can do. And it will continue to be uninterested in our Christianity until we become a generation of Believers who know what it means to be Sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise who is the Pledge, the Earnest, the First Installment in Kind of our eternal inheritance. May God make us to be that generation.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams