This past Sunday, Aarik Danielsen preached on Ephesians 1:13-14, to get us back into the series, The Beautiful Mystery. Listen here or read the manuscript below.
What makes you feel secure? Your answer, even what first popped into your head, says a lot about you.
Some of you immediately went to external security: protecting your home, keeping your family safe. Maybe you rely on a good, old-fashioned deadbolt. Maybe you live somewhere with heavy iron bars on the doors and windows. Maybe you’ve dropped a bunch of money on a high-tech security system. Maybe your last line of defense is a gun.
Some of you don’t worry too much about that. You thought of something more intangible. If I get the right job; if I have enough money squirreled away for retirement; if my relationships pan out; if the right person becomes president, I’ll feel secure.
But here’s what we don’t recognize: We are only secure to the degree that we have control.
Maybe you have a perfectly fine deadbolt, but an intruder comes in through the window. I was reading this week about the most expensive security systems on the market — maybe you spent hundreds of thousands on bullet-resistant doors or a panic room. But what if someone catches you outside? Your gun might be at the ready, but what if a criminal has a bigger one or can get to his first? You can’t control that. You can’t account for everything. You can’t stop layoffs. You can’t control the housing market. You only get one vote. You can’t make your friends stay or keep your kids from growing up and hating you.
I am what scientists call a “small human man.” For 35 years, I’ve known it’s not a great idea for me to get in fights. So I’ve always relied on my mouth. I’ve bet my ability to talk myself out of trouble is greater than someone else’s desire to pummel me. I’ve bet right so far, but I can’t control someone else.
We also can harm ourselves in this quest for security. Sometimes the need for physical safety wrecks our inner security — it keeps us looking over our shoulder, or robs us of love of neighbor. Trying to achieve peace of mind often keeps us from valuing things and people the right way — no more and less than what they are.
Security, in a human sense, is an illusion. It is impossible.
We’ve been in Ephesians 1, reading what might be the greatest introduction to any letter ever. Paul has unpacked the wealth of spiritual blessings we have in Christ: We are chosen; we were predestined for adoption; we have been redeemed and forgiven; we have received lavish grace; we get to see God’s beautiful mystery unfold. We have received an inheritance — all that God has and is will be ours.
Now as Paul wraps up and prepares to pivot into the rest of the book, he makes another powerful statement. He wants us to know we are secure in Christ, to be assured that we will receive those blessings.
Every Christian feels insecure at one time or another. Some go through long periods of questioning, dark nights of the soul. Some of you have just come out on the other side; some of you are in it now and it’s hard. Others live with this sort of low-grade anxiety all the time — am I doing this right? Am I actually in God’s will?
Still others just feel like they can’t know. They’re mostly confident they’re in Christ, but have given up on knowing for sure. They shrug their shoulders and resign themselves to the uncertainty.
Along with Paul, I want you to know that we can be secure in Christ. We know Jesus’ words: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” At the risk of taking liberties with the text, I think Paul is saying, “If the one who controls the universe secures you, you are secure indeed.”
I want us to see four things this morning. First, we are saved by a sufficient gospel. Look back with me at v. 13: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise Holy Spirit.
I think we see at least three things in just the first half of that verse. The gospel is sufficient for every kind of person. Consider the power of those first four words: “In him you also ...”
Addressing the church at Ephesus, Paul acknowledges how the gospel is not just for God’s chosen people, Israel, but is also available through Christ to the Gentile. This is radical. Jews and Gentiles were enemies; as we’ll see in chapter 2, Gentiles were strangers to God and Israel. They were separated, alienated, “having no hope and without God in the world.”
No more, says Paul.
This changes everything. Paul is hinting at one of the great themes of Ephesians — the way God reconciles and redeems a diverse people. Ephesians has been a driver, and my great hope, as we’ve begun to pursue racial reconciliation as a Danielsen family and a Karis family.
Nothing else is sufficient to bring strangers together, to make enemies family, to turn rebels into beloved sons — no cause, no message, no power. The gospel cuts through hearts, it hurdles the walls we’ve built and does something miraculous.
We have a hard enough time with people we have a natural affinity for. We see this so readily in an election year: people unfriending each other, muting each other, calling each other out — and often that’s just the same party. Nothing will keep us together, not for long, other than the Gospel that is good news for all kinds of men and women.
The gospel is sufficiently true. The gospel is true — and not just in the sense that it is accurate. It is true in a way nothing else is. C.S. Lewis famously said he believed in Christianity the way he believed in the sun — “not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
The gospel story explains every chapter, every twist in our own stories.
Most of you have probably had the experience of hearing a song or reading a poem and realizing it put language to an experience or feeling you couldn’t quite express. That’s what the gospel does for us. It explains us to ourselves.
We are so quick to believe the fundamental lies of our time: That we can be whatever we want to be. That we have everything we need to be happy within ourselves. Yet, we look around and see the wideness of this gap between who we are and who we want to be.
The gospel shows us that gap exists because we are disconnected from what we need for flourishing — God and each other. It tells us only Jesus can span that gap because he is like us and not at all like us. It helps us see we are only truly ourselves when we are remade to enjoy God and give him glory.
The gospel is also sufficient to save. Paul calls it “the gospel of your salvation.” This is the only thing that works. There are no loopholes. There is no Plan B.
The gospel is no less than a story, but it’s something more. No less than something accomplished in history; but it’s more than that. It is expressed in words; but it is more than words. Romans calls it “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
It sounds like foolishness to those with hard hearts, but when it is heard and believed, it is sufficient enough to save. The God who spoke the world into existence — and came to Earth as the word made flesh — writes his word on our hearts and we are never the same.
Second, we are sealed by the promised Spirit. We see this at the end of verse 13. Something immediate and eternal happens when we put our trust in Christ — when we hear the word and believe it, we are sealed. Now and forever.
When I hear the word “sealed,” I immediately think of my time working at a Christian bookstore. In the music department, we had three sound booths where people could demo new music and try out accompaniment tapes.
The thing about those sound booths is most people thought they were sound-proof. Not so. You’d have some good old boy giving “I Can Only Imagine” his all and leaving very little up to the imagination.
I also had to re-shrink wrap CDs when they were opened or returned using a machine in the back. Other people did so well you couldn’t tell the product had opened. Mine often had jagged edges or little air bubbles that made it look like the CD had gone through a car wash.
That’s not what sealed means here — something that mostly works, but leaks sound or looks awful.
Here’s what it does mean: The Holy Spirit is a stamp of approval placed on God’s children. Paul was writing in a day where powerful people placed a personal seal on their letters or important documents. It verified that what was inside came from their hand and was true. It made it all the way to its destination without being tampered with or falsified.
I don’t know if anyone else gets excited about the Skymall catalog, but it’s the first thing I reach for when I fly. I never buy anything, but I’m fascinated by what’s for sale in there, especially the sports merchandise.
You can buy a signed Derek Jeter mini-bat or a piece of a basketball court signed by LeBron James and it comes with a certificate of authenticity, verifying they really signed it.
The Holy Spirit is our certificate of authenticity. It’s God’s way of saying “He is truly mine. She really has been remade from the inside out.” We are who he says we are; we are not pretenders or cheap copies; we will not be tampered with; we will make it all the way home in one piece. What has been your greatest achievement? Your kids? A business you started from nothing? Something you painted? How would you sign your name to it?
God’s glory displayed in salvation through Christ is his greatest achievement. He is willing to put his stamp of approval on us and the seal will never be broken.
What is your most prized possession? How do you keep it safe? I don’t have any really special heirlooms or expensive things, so books and records mean the most to me. Having a toddler in the house means guarding those things in a new, much more vigilant, way. But maybe you have a safe deposit box for a family heirloom or keep something under glass.
God’s people are his most prized possession and 1 Peter tells us “by God’s power” we “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” He guards us with his very self. From Satan. From ourselves.
Stop and marvel with me at how the entire Trinity is involved in our salvation: God the father plans it; Jesus earns it for us; the Spirit guards it and seals it in us. Amazing.
The Spirit is also a guarantee of what’s to come. V. 14: He is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.
The language Paul uses here is that of a down payment. The Spirit not only protects us and vouches for us, he is a promise to us. That every spiritual blessing we have will be ours in full.
Think about the divine help we receive from the Spirit now. That is a portion of what is coming to us. It is just a down payment on our future. Every time the spirit whispers truth to us, it is a down payment on never believing another lie. Every time he helps us fight temptation, it is the down payment on a sinless future. Every time he leads us to worship God, it is a taste of the day we will behold God in all his beauty and love him perfectly.
The truth of the gospel and the seal of the Spirit. That’s powerful. At the end of Romans 8, we read this list of everything that we might think is strong enough to wrestle us from God’s grasp. Circumstance, trial, disaster, persecution, spiritual powers, death. Paul concludes nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Derek Thomas explains this so well: "Let me make this perfectly clear: if Paul is asking, ‘Who can separate me from my love for Jesus?’ the answer is ‘almost anything.’ If I am dependent on the upkeep and quality of my love for the Savior, there is no comfort in this passage of Scripture. My love is weak and faint. It fluctuates with the passing of days. The very threat of pain, loss or hardship undoes my resolve. ... The proof that we are loved as Christians is not found within ourselves, but at the cross."
As we consider whether we are secure in Christ, we need to sit with this for a minute and really soak it in. What power does our sin have? Who do we think we are?
That we can somehow mess up enough to, once having been lost then found, be lost again. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” No one. Not even our worst enemy — which is us.
We have a toddler. It can be taxing enough to cart a 28-pound boy around. But it’s especially hard when he tries to wriggle out of your grasp. It’s kind of like wrestling a marlin. We are toddlers, always trying to get out of the grip of God. Inclined to rebel against him. Wanting to get free from what his commands require.
But the hold of God is more powerful than our attempts to get away. It is more persistent than our sin. It is more secure than all our attempts at finding security. The gospel is sufficient to save us. The Spirit is strong enough to keep us and hold us.
If those two things are true, I think we can be confident in two more. Third, God wants us to be secure. This might be one of the most pastorally sensitive subjects I’ve ever waded into. But while I approach it soberly, I do so with joy. Because I believe what I just said.
I remember as a kid, after trusting Christ, sitting in the Baptist churches my dad pastored every Sunday. I would hear how dire our state was without Christ and worry. “Did I do it right the first time? Did I really mean it?” So I would pray again, something like “God, if you’re not really in my heart, I want you to come in. Please, God.”
The feelings are more sophisticated as an adult, but I don’t think they’re all that different.
We encounter a crisis and it causes us to doubt things we’ve always believed. We feel dry and dead inside. Our prayers seem to go unanswered. We’re almost to the top of the hill, ready to conquer a certain sin, then we mess up and slide back down.
We stay in our own heads, trying to pull ourselves out of spiritual ruts, when what we need is community. All we can see as we look inside are the things we don’t like, the things that displease God, the things that make us unlovely. And we wonder.
Maybe we feel OK about ourselves. But it feels presumptuous to say we know for sure. We’re not depressed, but we’re also not experiencing the joy that comes with assurance.
And then there’s what I call the “check yourself before you wreck yourself” passages. Warnings to examine ourselves; words that urge us not to fall away.
Maybe you’ve read Hebrews 3:14 that tells us we’ll share in Christ “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” and you don’t feel that firm or confident.
Or Hebrews 6, that if you’ve tasted God’s goodness and fall away, it’s impossible to be brought back. You look at your weaknesses and wonder what it would take for you to fall away forever.
Maybe it’s 1 John 2, where he speaks of those who fail to persevere, proving they never believed at all. And, like a minor character in a horror film, you ask “Am I next?”
I don’t want to diminish those passages or ignore them. But we have to root our security in the words and character of God. In Scripture, we find clear and powerful statements.
In John 6, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
In John 10, he says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Jesus sounds pretty confident he will keep us till the end. Elsewhere, the NT writers tells us it’s possible to know that we know.
1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
And Paul writes with such certainty in Romans 8:30. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Once God starts something in your heart, the end is a done deal.
What about God’s character, as we see it revealed throughout Scripture? Is he trustworthy? Or is he the kind of God who likes playing with our heads?
It really bothers me when people, often in the church, look at Jesus’ teachings on hell and say he was just being symbolic. He was referring to real places to get the Jews thinking. He’s not actually talking about an eternal hell.
If he used symbolism, wasn’t it to paint a picture of something far worse? If not, you’re saying God uses scare tactics. He employs a lot of hot and heavy rhetoric to get us in line, but doesn’t actually follow through.
Similarly, when Jesus says he won’t lose anyone God gives him does he mean it? Or is he giving us a general sense of things, all the while knowing if we sin too much or violate heavenly ordinance 38.3, section C, we’ll be on the outside looking in?
What has God intended our salvation for? Is it all for the next life? If so, he might want us to spend every free moment making sure we get there. But, I think he wants us to enjoy it in this life too. We’ll never enjoy him if we’re looking over our shoulder, scared of our own shadow.
God is not your college girlfriend or boyfriend. He does not string us along or give us a false sense of security so he can get what he wants. He takes no pleasure in keeping us guessing. He doesn’t hope someone better comes along. He has the DTR talk from the very beginning.
When Adam and Eve sinned, we all lost something very important. We had been happy to be known by God, because we were certain we were loved by Him. Once sin entered, we needed to hide who we really were. It was too scary to to be known by God. Every one of us has been making fig leaves ever since.
Jesus died to reconcile us to God and win that back for us. To make it OK once again to be known by God, because we could be sure he loved. That God doesn’t want you to spend the rest of your life worrying that, if he gets to know you a little too well, you will find yourself outside his love. He’s not like that.
So, we need to go back to those hard passages and read them in light of God’s clear statements that, not only is it possible to be secure, but he wants that for us. He knows we will flourish most when we feel his embrace tightest.
I think those passages are meant to do different things for different people. For the church, they’re meant to remind us of the serious responsibility we have to assure each other and watch out for each other.
For those who truly know Christ, I think they’re supposed to sober us, to be the cold water that helps us wake up to the true nature of the Christian life. Ultimately, I think they’re meant to lead us to joy, to remind us if we have even a sliver of trust in Christ, we are certainly his.
And for those who don’t know Christ, or claim him but have never had a change of heart, they are meant to sound an alarm. To point out the dangerous footing they’re on and call them to repentance.
I don’t think we have too high a view of security in the church — I think we have too low a view of salvation.
Yes, many of us will experience great emotion as we come to know Christ. But a dip in those feelings doesn’t mean we have fallen away. I love my wife so much and there are many moments I feel in love, but if I felt the same way I did when I first kissed her every second of the day, I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job.
Salvation is not reciting a few words, being handed a get out of jail free card and getting on with your day. It is a call to die and die again and die again so that newness of life gets worked down into us.
You don’t have to agree with me to know God. Not by a long shot. But your views on this aren’t inconsequential. If salvation is a choice we just decided to make, apart from the effectual call of God, who’s to say we don’t make another choice to walk away? If we view it as a contract — I keep my end of the bargain, so God will keep his — then we do have to memorize everything the fine print and keep it. If it is all of God, that changes everything.
I want you to walk out of here feeling secure. But for the right reasons. How are we saved? Not by measuring up. Not by going 1,000 days w/o an accident. That’s not how we’re kept either.
Gospel logic tells us the one who saves you secures you. If you could do nothing to impress him or make him love you; how can you do something to alienate him? If God is for me, not even I can be against me.
The last thing I want to do is shake up those who know Christ or reassure those who don’t. Certainly much of the New Testament assures us that if we persevere to the end, we will be sure we knew Christ. But as Wayne Grudem has said, I don’t think assurance is just for the finish line. We don’t just set our watch for 30 years from now and hope we make it.
Are you putting your trust in Christ for salvation in this life and the next? Even as you experience some doubt and fear, do you, with Peter, say “Lord, where else would I go?”
Do you groan over the world in its present state? Do you long for it to be remade? Or do you think we just need to tinker a bit here and there and everything will be fine?
Do you groan over your sin? Often, Satan uses our recognition of sin to accuse us. But, if we see our sin at all; if we recognize it as an offense to God; if it drives us to our knees — that is a sign of faith! We couldn’t see that before we knew Christ! Remember the cross chart we’ve used 1000s of times at Karis: If you have a growing awareness of your sin, and if that awareness helps you see you need a Savior, the gospel is doing work in you.
Citing 1 John 1, Kevin DeYoung says, “Keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin.”
Do you have a love for God’s body? Do you long to be with his people? To confess your sins to your brothers and sisters? Or do you think you can make it on your own?
Are you bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t mean can you manage to not be a jerk for 24 hours? Or do you do random acts of kindness once a month? Is the love of Christ having its way in you and producing fruit that shows what he is like? That points to him, not you? That allows you to taste his goodness because you’re rooted in him?
Are you experiencing the witness of the Holy Spirit? Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” What does that mean? Do we just hope we feel like God’s children? Again, I think Derek Thomas is helpful here.
He says people have held different ideas: some compare this to “a kiss” of God on our soul. Some say it comes primarily as the Spirit uses Scripture to show us who we are in Christ. I think both can and do happen.
Thomas also says this: “The very cry itself is testimony (the Spirit’s testimony with us) of a work of grace in the heart. It is the reawakening of assurance. Amid troubled waters, a safe haven is discovered in the arms of a listening, waiting, loving, embracing Father.”
If, in the midst of a hard life, we desire to be near God, that is the Spirit saying we are his.
If all or most of those things are present in your life, I believe you can be sure. Some of these things will be more present than others in different seasons. Some may flicker on and off like a light but as Jerry Bridges says, it’s not a matter of perfection but “the dominant direction of our lives.”
Don’t mistake the insecurity of a fallen world for insecurity in Christ. Circumstances will shift beneath our feet. People get sick. Things break. Love dries up for a time. The world does what it does; but God does what he does — he hangs on.
We mistake slowness in our growth for a lack of faith. Brothers and sisters, if we have any faith at all; if we are making any steps forward, slow as they might be; count it all joy. God has begun something in you and he will bring it to completion.
Here’s the last thing I want you to see: Our inheritance should spur us on to lead insecure lives. The Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
We’ve just finished reading about all these glorious spiritual blessings that are ours and, so, in the context of the passage, it’s fair to think of this as our inheritance. But there’s something else happening here: the phrase “until we acquire possession of it” can also be translated “until God redeems his possession.”
From what we know of Scripture, this makes sense too: God’s purpose in history is to win for himself a people. He has redeemed us in one sense; he will fully redeem us in the future.
The way these two ideas interact is so glorious. The inheritance cuts both ways — we inherit every spiritual blessing. God inherits us. We are doubly secure in these truths.
Inheritances can ruin lives. The easiest way to misinterpret this passage would be to get comfortable or assume it doesn’t matter how we live. God’s got me, so I’ll jump off this bridge; God’s got me, so I’ll sit here in my couch. Both are equally offensive to what God has done for us. Security does not equal comfort. In fact, in God’s economy, the two are polar opposites.
The promise of inheritance should lead us to reject what the world calls security. I don’t completely understand how all this works, but God uses our perseverance as a means to our security. He begins a work in our heart, keeps that work going in our discipleship and deeds, and he keeps us running all the way to the end.
When Brooke and I were coming home from South Africa with Sibu, our first — and longest — flight was 17 hours from Johannesburg to Atlanta. For a 2-year-old, he did really well. He slept about 10 hours on the plane — which is great, until you do the math and realize he was up for 7.
It’s not uncommon for adopted kids to have issues with food. It makes them feel secure, like they have some control. He’s gotten better with that, but he definitely found security in food on the plane. He was constantly eating while he was awake — he probably ate as much as Brooke and I combined.
In hindsight, I wish there was a way I could have gotten through to him and said: “Buddy, don’t you know where you’re headed? Don’t you know what’s waiting for you? You’ll never want for food again. You don’t have to grab every morsel that’s around you. You can relax into our love.”
I think at times God looks at us, grasping for security wherever we can get it, wondering if we’re safe in him, and he screams from his word: “Don’t you know where you’re headed? Don’t you know what you have waiting for you? You’re safe with me.”
Because we will inherit all of God and he will inherit us, we can do what the world calls foolish and know we’re safe. We can risk big things for God. We can obey him when the world calls it a straitjacket, knowing we’re actually flourishing. We can keep going, keep worshipping, even when we don’t feel like it, because of what’s ahead.
This inheritance is inexhaustible. Blowing through your inheritance usually is a bad thing. We can spend and spend and keep coming back for more, because we know God’s riches won’t fail or run dry.
I want to close by telling you a little about what my last year has been like. As Brooke and I prepared to become parents, it became apparent that I had not fully dealt with some trauma from childhood. It was really coloring my view of being a father. It was causing all this anxiety and uncertainty to well up in me.
So, with the counsel of the elders, I began seeing a Christian counselor. I also began taking anti-anxiety medication. By God’s grace, with the help of these things and especially my wife, I’m seeing progress. Not as fast as I like, but it’s happening.
Maybe some of you have been through something similar. I tell you all this hoping you’ll feel some relief or less stigma knowing one of your elders has too. Maybe some of you hear that and it negates what I’ve said the past 40 minutes. You think I sound weak. But that’s the whole point!
I’ve been anxious about so many things. I’ve had questions and doubts about who I am and how I can even be used by God. But one thing I’ve never doubted is that God was holding onto me.
I have felt out of control. When I have looked inside, I have felt scared and insecure. When I have relied on myself, I have seen just how weak I am.
I don’t know why God hasn’t given up on me, other than what Paul says at the end of v. 14: it’s “to the praise of his glory.” Somehow God gets more glory hanging on to a weakling like me, then letting me go or waiting till I get it together.
If it was up to me, I would have been done a long time ago. But my God has saved me, he has sealed me and he will carry me all the way home.
This morning, if you feel like I have, there is hope. They say if you love something, set it free. Thankfully “they” didn’t write the Bible. He will not let you go.
If you’ve tasted God’s goodness, if you have been drawn near but you feel far, maybe even too far gone. Take courage from R.C. Sproul’s words: “True Christians can have radical and serious falls but never total and final falls from grace.” Hallelujah.
If you recognize the Savior I’ve preached about this morning, know he has put his seal on you and rejoice.
If you don’t, or if you look at your life and realize you’ve never born fruit, you’ve never really had a hatred for your sin or a love for the things of God, hear me: You will find in Him a God who will love you forever. He will pull you close; believe that he is who he says he is; he will not fail you.