The Spirit and our future hope

Have you ever heard the phrase “too heavenly minded to be any earthly use”?  It expresses the idea that someone can be too wrapped up in thoughts of heaven and Christ’s coming again, that they can be so future focused that they are not plugged into reality now, that actually they have their head in the clouds. It was often used as a disparaging comment. But it was and is incredibly unhelpful.

Paul in Ephesians gets the church to focus their thinking on both the present blessings that they enjoy but also the certainty of their hope in the future.  We live in a world where our future is not certain, the last year has taught us that, though to be fair so has history.  We don’t know what will happen in 5 years time, will the church be experiencing persecution, will we still be a democracy, what will life look like?

The Ephesians lived in a world that was similar to our own where the future didn’t look certain and Paul writes to encourage them to get their focus right.  He tells them that God will one day reconcile all of creation to himself in Christ, and that in Christ all people are reconciled vertically – to God – and horizontally – to one another.  And he calls for those two realities to influence and affect their thinking and living.

I’m going to focus on 1:13-14 in this post. God sends his Spirit to indwell us so that we keep our present status in view and to enable us to live in the light of our heavenly reality now and our certain future when Christ comes again.

The Holy Spirit marks God’s people

Ephesians begins with the Apostle bursting out in praise of God for what he has done, for the blessings he lavishes on his people.  Paul praises God that the believer is; chosen(4), adopted(5), given grace(6), redeemed(7), has had the mystery of God’s plan of salvation history revealed to them(9), and has a great and certain future to look forward to when Christ comes again(10).

And in(11-14) he continues his praise of God; firstly for having chosen for salvation Jews who have put their faith in Christ, and secondly for having included the Gentiles in his plan of salvation – destroying the old divisions and creating his glorious church diverse but united in the gospel.

As Paul writes he’s calling the Ephesians to join with him in praise of the God who saves us despite ourselves. Who plans and prepares a salvation to which we do not contribute.  In (2:1)Paul reminds these believers that whether they were Jews or Gentiles they were dead before God – not just physically but spiritually.  

In Genesis 2:17 God promises Adam and Eve that if they take of the fruit they will surely die, have you ever noticed that in Genesis 3 after the fall as they are judged and God keeps his promise that they will die they don’t die physically not straight away anyway.  But they do spiritually because they are exiled from God, they can no longer be with God, they can no longer live under his reign and rule and every other catastrophe flows from that exile, that spiritual death.  And a dead person cannot bring themselves back to life.

Imagine for a minute that I dropped down now and my heart stopped beating.  I can’t bring myself back to life, what I need is someone else to perform CPR, or for the ambulance to be called and the paramedics to get the defibrillator and shock my heart back into action.  

So it is spiritually, both Jew and Gentiles in Ephesus – and we with them – are spiritually dead before God, and a corpse cannot bring itself back to life.  We’re dead until God by his Holy Spirit works to convict and convert, until he enables us to have faith in Jesus Christ bringing us new life.

But that is not all the Holy Spirit does, he then goes on to indwell, to live in the believer so that having been born again they can live for God in Christ.  (13)“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit in the believer functions as a seal, he is a mark.

It’s the idea of a mark used to brand something, maybe a slave or an animal.  It was a sign of belonging, when you bought an animal from the market you would brand it so that everyone knew it was yours.  But it was also a sign that anything with that seal on was under its owners protection.

In Ezekiel 9v4-6 the mark of a seal is put on the heads of those who are truly God’s people, the remnant who are faithful to God, who share God’s concerns.  And that mark showed who they were, it identified them but it also brought protection and security when judgement came (6)”but do not touch anyone who has the mark.”  They were safe because they were God’s people.

In Revelation 7 as John is given his glorious vision of salvation history we see God’s people sealed, and that seal shows they are God’s and are under his protection.

This mark, this seal(13), this indwelling of the Holy Spirit happens “when you believed”.  It’s not a later feature, it’s not connected with baptism or any other event, when you believe in Jesus Christ as your saviour at the moment of your new birth, as you accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord you are sealed in him.

Do you see the wonder of our salvation?  Nothing of us and all of God.  And God in his love and great mercy gives us his Holy Spirit to assure us of our being his, of our being sealed but also protected.

Maybe you struggle with assurance, there are times when you wonder; am I really a Christian or not?  You flit between thinking you are and thinking you’re not.  So often we think of our relationship and status before God as being performance related.  So if we’ve had our quiet time, done this and not done that… God must love me.  But when we fail to have our quite time, when we let God down we’re wracked by guilt and find ourselves questioning whether we ever were saved, how can God love me?

But in Christ you are sealed and the Holy Spirit testifies to it.  It is not performance related it is God secured.  It’s not about what I do but about what God has done.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is a pledge of a certain future.

But that isn’t all, the Holy Spirit isn’t just a seal on the believer he also helps us to live looking to the future, because he is the “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…”.  The term comes from the commercial markets of the day.  It was used of the first payment made by a individual towards the purchase of something and that first payment formed a agreement that the rest would be paid in full.

The Holy Spirit indwelling the believer is the first payment, and the promise of the full inheritance to come.  His coming is God’s promise that we will inherit what he has prepared for us fully when Christ comes again.

I wonder how you think of that inheritance?  The cartoons portray it as being dull, it’s sitting on a cloud strumming a harp for eternity.  But the Bible calls for us to long for Christ to come again, for the new creation, for the new heavens and new earth.  For 1v10 everything united under Christ. A world, a universe without flaws, without sin, without sadness, without grief, pain and mourning.  A world that is marked by the curse reversed – right relationship with one another, with the world and all flowing from a right relationship with God.

And the Holy Spirit given by God, living in us is the guarantee that that future which the Bible sets before us is waiting for us, that it is certain, that God is not finished with us yet but that he will complete what he has started.

The Holy Spirit helps us to live as those who belong to the kingdom on earth as we long for the kingdom to come and for God’s reign and rule be fully established.  That means practically that our lives now will be lived with a mixture of joy and groaning.  

We are God’s children, that is our reality, and one day we will fully experience that reality but for now we may struggle with talking to our Father, listening to him and living for him.  We are new creations and one day we will be finally and fully recreated but for now we battle with the sinful nature, with doing the things we don’t want to do and failing to do the things we ought to do.

We are awaiting for a world recreated but for now we live in a world that is disjointed and sick with sin and that means we will groan as we see suffering and death and experience pain and mourning.  But the Holy Spirit within us will make us long for the new creation where everything bad is undone, God’s kingdom and rule are established forever, and the Holy Spirit will make us long and pray for Christ to come.

Our future inheritance is certain and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee.

The Holy Spirit helps us to live as God’s people, marking us as his saved and redeemed people who live under his protection, shelter under his salvation, transforming us and making us long and look for our certain future.

Paul does not call on the Ephesians not to be too heavenly minded but to be more heavenly minded.  Our problem is not being too heavenly minded but not being heavenly minded enough, being too attached to this world.  God gives us his Holy Spirit to makes us certain that as his children redeemed in Christ the inheritance is ours and that we must now live looking for it and longing for it.

In 1915 Earnest Shackleton led an expedition to the South Pole which went horribly wrong, there ship the Endurance was trapped in pack ice and sunk and the crew were left stranded on Elephant Island.  Shackleton and some others left to get help.  It took over three months, but every morning the skipper on the island would get the men up and call them to be ready for Shackleton to return that day.  He reminded them daily of their hope so that they were ready and lived accordingly.

The Holy Spirit is given as a seal and a deposit so that we live looking, live longing, and live ready for Christ to come and our glorious future to be realised and God to be glorified through it. 

For we are God’s people, his God’s possession, who live by God’s will and for God’s glory.

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